Collier's family, teammates celebrate his life at funeral
ATLANTA -- Jason Collier's family asked that his funeral service be a celebration of his life, but grieving Atlanta Hawks teammates, as well as former high school and college teammates and coaches, were still struggling Wednesday with the death of the 28-year-old center.
"Jason's untimely death has stunned us," former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said. "He will always be with us in memory and soul."
Collier, who began his college career at Indiana before transferring to Georgia Tech, played with Houston and Atlanta in a five-year NBA career that ended when he died early Saturday after he had trouble breathing at his home.
The Hawks arrived as a team and sat together during the service at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody, a north Atlanta suburb.
Among others attending were current Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, former Hawks general manager Pete Babcock and current Hawks president Bernie Mullin.
Also attending the service were members of Collier's Springfield, Ohio, high school team.
Sitting with Collier's Hawks teammates were coach Mike Woodson and general manager Billy Knight.
Collier's father, Jeff, said, "He was my best friend."
"How do you make a father proud? This is how you do it," said Jeff Collier as he unfolded his son's No. 52 Georgia Tech jersey, the same number Jeff Collier wore when he played at Georgia Tech.
Jeff Collier held the jersey throughout the service and managed a smile as he shared the story of encouraging his son to try another number when Jason, struggling with knee problems, had to take a job with a developmental league team.
"It wasn't very lucky for me and it's not lucky for you," Jeff Collier said he told his son.
Collier's wife, Katie, said Jason "was a messenger from God, an angel sent to touch my life."
Collier's mother, Joyce, asked those attending the service to "go home and hug those people you love while you have a chance."
Collier's framed Hawks jersey and a large photo of the player in his Atlanta uniform were displayed in the entry way into the church.
According to Forsyth County Coroner Lauren McDonald III, the full autopsy report may not be complete for several weeks. A preliminary report may be released as early as this week.
Collier's agent, Richard Howell, says he has been told Collier may have had an enlarged heart.
The Hawks will leave Collier's uniform in his locker through the season.
Hawks players also will wear black shoulder patches on their uniforms to honor Collier.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press