Cause of death not immediately clear
ATLANTA -- Atlanta Hawks center Jason Collier died early Saturday after he had trouble breathing and was stricken in his home, his father said. He was 28.
General manager Billy Knight said the cause of death was not immediately clear for the 7-foot, 260-pound player. He said Collier had "no issues" in a preseason physical given to all players.
Jeff Collier told The Associated Press his son died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital and did not have any diagnosed health problems apart from his knees.
Team spokesman Arthur Triche initially said Collier possibly died of cardiac arrest, but would not provide details. He later said the team was not sure how Collier died. Collier's agent, Richard Howell, said an autopsy was being performed.
Later, Forsyth County Coroner Lauren McDonald said the family asked him not to release any preliminary results Saturday. He said he would make a statement Sunday.
"We'll wait until the experts can tell us, but there's no comments about any speculating at all that I'm going to do," Knight said. "Right now we just think about Jason and his family, his wife and a daughter. He was a good guy, a great teammate and a member of our organization. We're going to miss him."
The Hawks canceled an open scrimmage Saturday, but will play a preseason game on Monday night at Charlotte.
"We are saddened by the news of Jason Collier's sudden passing," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "He epitomized hard work, dedication and perseverance, and more importantly compassion, kindness and selflessness."
death of Jason Collier
The death of Jason Collier is a great tragedy for his family, the Atlanta Hawks and the NBA family. My deepest sympathies are with the Collier family. I remember when I played for the Washington Wizards during the 1996-'97 season and the team took a cruise together in early August. On the way back our assistant coach Derek Smith died of a heart attack next to me on the ship. Derek was a former NBA player who played 10 years and was an exceptional NBA athlete. After his death the doctors diagnosed he had an enlarged heart and was lucky to have played those ten years.
His death will cast a pall over the team for the rest of the season. This is already a young team and Collier was a popular player who had worked his butt off to get to the NBA. Even though Coach Smith died in August and we had almost six weeks to our first game it was still extremely difficult to play and not think of the tragedy.
Losing Coach Smith was unbelievably hard to deal with because he was such a great man and friend. He left a wife and two young children who were on the cruise ship at the time of his death. I'll never forget having breakfast with his children the morning after his death. It was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life.
On the team the people feeling the loss the most will be Collier's closest friends. Everyday they are going to have to look over at his locker and the memories are going to start hitting them. It takes a long while for players to get over the passing of a teammate because teammates are like brothers. These are guys who are around you everyday and who see you at your best and worst. They hear your bad jokes, make fun of you and most of the time have your back. The loss of Collier is going to damage these kids for a long while because they've lost their brother.
Tim Legler, NBA Insider
"You get a call and it's your daughter-in-law crying saying she's giving him CPR and trying to keep him going," Jeff Collier said. "I guess it took awhile for the paramedics to get there. He had a slight pulse when they took him and he passed away in the ambulance while they took him to the hospital."
Jeff Collier told the AP by phone from his home in Springfield, Ohio, that his son had knee surgery when he played in Houston.
"We don't know exactly what happened," he said. "I'm anxious to find out. But I guess it doesn't make a whole lot of difference at this point."
Howell said Collier and his wife ate dinner at a restaurant Friday night and then returned home, where Collier spent time playing with his daughter.
"He started feeling real bad in the middle of the night," said Howell, who spoke with Collier's wife. "It's just very sad. I'm totally stunned and devastated."
"He was a down-low comedian," Hawks captain Al Harrington said with tears in his eyes. "He always had a joke for something that you couldn't hear unless you were sitting right next to him. He was a hilarious dude. And it's crazy to me to think we'll never see him again."
Harrington and Collier sat near each other in the Hawks' locker room. He and guard Tony Delk took the news of Collier's death especially hard.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constituion, Delk said his and Collier's wives talked frequently and that their daughters played together often.
"Jason was just a different dude," Delk told the newspaper. "He lived out by Lake Lanier and nobody else on the team lives out that way. He used to talk about how his commute took forever. But he loved being by the lake."
Collier's death is particularly shocking in an era when an NBA player's health is so closely scrutinized. Eddy Curry, who was forced to miss time with the Chicago Bulls last year due to an irregular heartbeat, underwent numerous tests on his heart before his trade to the Knicks could be completed last week.
"I'm actually glad I took the test I did take [for the Knicks]," Curry told reporters before New York's preseason matchup with New Jersey on Saturday. "I had so many doctors look at everything about my heart to make sure I'm 100 percent ready to come on this court.
"But I hope [my situation doesn't overshadow] that something tragic happened and that it's a tough time for his family. You keep praying for the family and hope they make it through."
Collier was a part-time starting center the last two seasons after playing mostly as a backup in three years at Houston. He began his college career at Indiana before transferring to Georgia Tech.
Former Tech coach Bobby Cremins said Collier "was a happy-go-lucky kid." "He married an Atlanta girl and adopted Atlanta as his hometown," Cremins said. "He came back and got his degree, which I was very proud of."
Collier started 44 games last season for Atlanta, averaging 5.7 points and 2.6 rebounds in 13.5 minutes. With the addition of Zaza Pachulia, Collier was not projected as a starter this season but was viewed as a top backup. In two preseason games, Collier averaged 3.5 points and 3.0 rebounds.
Collier was drafted by Milwaukee in 2000 in the first round, the 15th pick overall, and was traded to Houston.
Jeff Collier said Jason had been married to Katie for four years and had a 1-year-old daughter, Elezan.
The elder Collier played at Georgia Tech from 1972-76 and said his son initially decided to wear the same No. 52 he did at Tech.
"He was a beautiful kid," Collier said. "Everybody he touched liked him. He played basketball from the time he was in the fourth grade until now. I don't think the kid was ever in a fight or an altercation."
Funeral arrangements are incomplete but the family plans a private viewing.
"Jason didn't really care to be a spectacle," his father said. "He would have wanted this to be a quiet thing. Instead of people being grim, he wants them laughing."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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