A 7-foot tall Stanford grad, Jason Collins spent 13 years in the NBA, playing professional basketball for several teams, including the New Jersey Nets, the Atlanta Hawks and the Celtics. He made global headlines when he came out in 2013 as the first openly gay NBA player, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and was appointed by the POTUS to the White House Council of Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. Did we mention he’s really freaking tall? We caught up with Jason for some burning questions on how his height affects his lifestyle.
When did you realize you were growing taller than the average person your age?
I was in the 3rd grade when I first realized that my twin brother (Jarron) and I were extremely tall for our age. In the 3rd grade we were taller than our teacher–we were 5’3″. By 4th grade we were 5’7″; by 5th grade we were 5’11”; by 6th grade we were 6’2″; by 8th grade we were 6’6″; and, we ultimately topped out at 7’0″ around freshman year of college.
Did this affect you psychologically?
My quick growing definitely impacted my development in multiple ways. First of all, I was very uncoordinated because I kept growing so quickly. There was a large part of my youth when I had a tough time closing my eyes and touching my finger to my nose.
Also kids like to tease, and some kids definitely made fun of my height. My parents did a great job instilling a sense of pride in me about my height. They would say things like, “Being tall is special and everyone wants to be special like you.”
What was it like being so tall at a young age?
Around 12 years old is when I really fell in love with my height because that was when I started getting really good at basketball. In the sport of basketball, having height is definitely an advantage!
Another fun fact about “growing up tall” was that my shoe size was the same from when I was 10 years old until I was 17 years old. I finally maxed out at shoe size 17 when I was 17 years old. I was kind of sad when I was 18 years old and my feet stopped growing. Finding fashionable and affordable dress shoes after size 14 was difficult; usually we would visit every Nordstrom Rack in the Los Angeles area for the right dress shoes.
What are some things you had to do with your diet?
The types of foods that I would eat would be “anything & everything.”
Because I was growing so quickly as a child and I played sports, my metabolism was extremely high. I would burn a lot of calories in a day. My mom’s family is from the South, so she loved fixing us grits for breakfast in the morning. We usually ate grits and eggs with some kind of breakfast meat (sausage, bacon, or ham). For lunch she would fix us a sandwich with fruit and chips with some juice. Dinner was when we would eat bigger portions than most people. We ate typical “soul food” like chicken, greens, mac ‘n cheese, cornbread, etc…
What is your diet like now?
Nowadays, my diet consists mainly of Japanese food. I love seafood and sushi. I probably eat sushi 3 to 4 times a week. I guess I first fell I love with Japanese food in my late teens, but I love how simple and clean it is.
Are there some things you HAVE to eat and some things you HAVE to avoid?
When I was playing, I had to avoid desserts. I definitely have a sweet tooth and had to learn to eliminate bad desserts from my diet when I was training. For my diet now that I’m retired, I’ve had to learn moderation when it comes to managing my sweet tooth. I don’t burn as many calories as I once did, so I have to adjust accordingly.
Is a tall man’s diet stressful?
Having to maintain a diet isn’t stressful because of my height, but it was definitely stressful when I was a professional athlete. When you’re a pro athlete, you use your body for a living. You don’t look at food as food; you look at food as fuel. It comes down to what kind of fuel do you want to use to give you sustained energy to grow, build and repair your body. Pro athletes are looking for any kind of legal competitive advantage, and what kind of clean foods you use to fuel your body can be a huge advantage. Luckily though, because I am so tall, if I were to cheat on my diet, I could get away with it because I burn more calories than someone who’s shorter and doesn’t have as many pounds as I do.
Are there any health risks being so tall?
There are some health risks when you are very tall. I’ve had three former teammates who have had open heart surgery to repair defects in their hearts. Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers were famous basketball players who died on the court while playing. Nowadays, every NBA basketball player goes through extremely thorough physicals where doctors look over every aspect of our heart function. That’s how those three former teammates’ heart defects were detected.
What are the advantages of being tall?
There are so many advantages to being tall; but the best feeling is when I walk into a room and everyone’s head turns up and notices me. I love when people look up at me with a look of amazement and awe.
Are you hungry all the time?
I’m not hungry all the time, but I can definitely eat a lot of food still. I obviously try hard not to do that because that’s unhealthy to do.
Among the foods you eat, what are some of your favorites?
All things Japanese food.
Do tall humans eat more than, say, giraffes?
I have no clue (laughing).
Do you have any eating rituals?
I hate soy sauce but I love sushi. It’s weird but there’s something about the taste of soy sauce that throws me off.