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It's odd to read a news story preoccupied with the question of whether it's actually a news story.
Jason Collins's first game in the NBA since he announced he was gay was either a historic occasion masquerading as nothing much or nothing much masquerading as a historic occasion. This uncertainty didn't exactly complicate the story— it was the story. At least as the story was told by Andrew Keh in Tuesday's New York Times.
Collins, signed to a ten-day contract by the Brooklyn Nets, took the court Sunday in LA against the Clippers. "Was it a big deal?" Not merely a question, this is the first line of Keh's coverage.
He thoroughly indulges himself in the occasion's ambiguity. He speaks to Collins's new teammates. "It was normal, not any different," says Joe Johnson. Says Deron Williams, "It just wasn't a big deal." Writes Keh, "The comments seemed oddly detached." I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, but I think Keh is signaling that the players' refusal to make a big deal of Collins's first game shows what a big deal it was. Keh goes on, "Perhaps the Nets did feel this way, oblivious to the significance." Or perhaps their "blase attitude" was their way of undercutting the game's "media crush" and "unusual scrutiny." Well, which was it? Keh doesn't care. Most of the time reporters try to resolve the contradictions they run into. Keh revels in his.
When Collins entered the game he was greeted with "polite applause." Keh comments, "The moment felt subdued, given the hype preceding it." Which, in his telling, isn't a sign that the media made a mountain out of a molehill. It's Keh taking the line that this was a mountain disguised as a molehill. Unless, of course, it was a molehill disguised as a mountain.
But the Times doesn't cover molehills. So there isn't much suspense about which camp Keh will eventually land in. Among Collins's teammates, he gives Paul Pierce the last word. "In the society we live in, this was going to happen eventually. This is the normal," Pierce says. "[Collins] is a guy that's going to be able to open up the door for athletes . . ." Meaning, Keh explains, parsing Pierce's words to suit his own ends, what is already normal in the American workplace has finally penetrated the workplace of professional sports.
"It was normal. It was extraordinary," Keh concludes. And the case that it was extraordinary is nailed down by everyone's determination to treat it as normal. The story ends not a word too soon, Keh's conceit having worn out its welcome, but let me close with a contradiction of my own: easy as it is to make Keh's story sound ridiculous, I'm not saying it isn't persuasive.