When I was a child, my family used to go to College Heights Church in San Mateo, California. We weren't particularly religious, but the minister was a dear friend of the family. I remember vividly, one day many years ago, when Teri Jackson, a large, beautiful, loud, loving woman—and the first female African-American Superior Court judge in San Francisco—brought her two nephews into the church to say hello. They must have been eighteen, tops? I don't think they were enrolled at Stanford yet, but they were well on their way to stardom. I was awestruck at their sheer size. If they were eighteen, I was twelve.
That was the first time I met Jason and, more to the point of this story, Jarron Collins.
This week, in Vegas, we had a chance to reconnect. Let me say it here: Jarron Collins is an awesome dude. I walked up to him, wondering if I wasn't overstepping some invisible boundary, wondering what Jarron would say. When I brought up the church, and told him I knew his aunt, his face immediately opened into a huge smile. He shook my hand with great force, his long, elegant fingers enveloping my entire wrist.
"Ah, that's so cool! What a funny connection!" he said.
I asked if we might perhaps find some time to talk while we were both in Vegas, and he gave me his phone number.
The next day, Monday, I interviewed him, standing just behind the court. He covered a wide variety of topics, including his defensive expectations for James Michael McAdoo and Kevon Looney. But many of the other things he covered—family, his ties to the Bay—stuck in my head.
Jarron, only 36 years old, looks and moves like he could still play. As we talked, his twinkling eyes drifted around the arena. There was a game transpiring, and our conversation was punctuated by squealing tennis shoes and the bellowing of the shot clock horn.
"Well, my mother is from the Bay Area," said Jarron, "She grew up in Daily City. I have a lot of friends and family, obviously, in the Bay Area."
I asked, "Just knowing your Aunt as I do, which is such a random connection, how has family really been a strength in your life through all the ups and downs of your career and now that you get to coach in the bay, and—"
"Family has been a HUGE part of myself, and my brother, and our lives, our basketball lives. You know, it's our...greatest strength. And, there's some strong women in our lives. My grandmother. My aunt, who you know, my mom. And, obviously my dad and my wife. All of us have Bay Area connections. And what's happened in our life, my life, my brother's life, has been fantastic."
He laughed when I asked him what it meant, with all his local ties, to be able to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.
"Forty years has been a long wait. So it's just tremendous to be a part of the organization that brought a championship back to the Bay Area. I don't know that, you know, so much time has passed that, I," he paused and laughed, "I get a true appreciation because we're already back in the gym right now trying to get better for next year."
"It's so weird," I said. "It's surreal."
"But," Jarron continued, "I think that, uh, as time goes on I'll have a ... an even further appreciation for the fact that we were—what we were able to accomplish this past year. But, already, my mind is already focused on next year and getting right back at it, because—you get that opportunity to pour champagne, you just wanna keep doing it, so..."
"With Gentry's departure, where do you see yourself fitting into the coaching staff? And, I mean, how Luke is coaching here, and... Are you gonna kinda just ..."
"Well, as far as our coaching staff, it'll all be worked out. Sooner rather than later. But I would just say that, for myself, I've had an invaluable experience working with Coach Adams. Getting to work with Coach Kerr. Learning from the recently departed...departed Alvin Gentry. Not departed, you know departed departed, but recently left Alvin Gentry. And all of us, we have just a great culture and environment. And, it's just, it's been fantastic. So I, for myself, learning from Coach Adams and where I fit on the coaching staff will all be determined in short order."
I asked if, with Kevon Looney's UCLA background, he's ever considered talking a little trash.
"No, no no," he said, laughing. "It's all Pac-12 love. Only because I'm surrounded by Wildcats, you know, in the coaching office. So, it's all Pac-12 love with that. But, you know, I'm very impressed with [Kevon's] skill set and what I've seen from [him]. And also, just, he's really coach-able too. Which I really enjoy just working with him. Because you tell him something and he's able to just make the adjustment out there in the game."
"Do you think that's he's gonna have a hunger and a chip from having fallen just a little bit?"
"That's probably a better question to ask him, but I think that, you know, I can say from personal experience, I think I was 53 or 51 or something like that. I had a HUGE chip on my shoulder when I came into the league. And I played ten years in this league. So, it would serve him well to have that chip, but again that's a question you probably want to ask him."
I asked him one last question, regarding an urban legend that had been recounted to me by SB Nation NBA League Manager Seth Pollack, but I'll leave that story to Seth. It is WORTH THE WAIT, though. Hints: Phoenix Suns. Robin Lopez. Anger. Broken doors in the practice facility. Really good stuff. Once Seth writes it up (for Bright Side of the Sun, which he used to manage), we'll run it over here on GSoM as well.
After the game, I waited in the tunnel for the chance to interview Luke Walton.
Jarron came strolling along, and when he saw me, he smiled wide, dapped me up and said, "Well THAT sucked, huh?"
And then he was gone. Out into the arena. To the bus. On an upwards trajectory within a first-class organization. Smiling, tall, and kind. Much the same way I remember him 15 years ago.