Tony Murray, Moral Support for a Gay N.B.A. Player, Dies at 60

Tony Murray, Moral Support for a Gay N.B.A. Player, Dies at 60

- in Basketball

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

When Jason Collins stepped onto the court on Feb. 23, 2014, as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, it was a historic event: He was the first openly gay player in the National Basketball Association, and this was his first time in uniform since he had come out.

Among the thousands cheering him on in Los Angeles, in a game against the Lakers, were his uncle, Mark Collins, and Mark’s husband, Tony Murray. “Congratulations,” they said to Mr. Collins over drinks after the game. “We love you.”

They were more than just supportive family members. Mr. Collins and Mr. Murray married in 2013, the same year Jason Collins came out in a cover story in Sports Illustrated. In that article, and in many other places, he talked about how important his uncles were to him as examples of gay men — and, as he began to tell people about his sexuality, how valuable they were as guides and advisers.

“For a confused young boy,” Mr. Collins wrote, “I can think of no better role model of love and compassion.”

They also paved the way for Jason to come out to his family by showing them that gay men were nothing to be afraid of. Some relatives had difficulty accepting that Mark Collins was gay — until they met Tony.

“I think once we saw how Mark and Tony were, the love they had for each other, we knew Mark was going to be fine,” Mr. Collins, who played for six teams in a 13-year N.B.A. career, said in a phone interview.

Mr. Murray died on March 16 at a hospital in Valley Stream, N.Y. He was 60. The cause was Covid-19, Mark Collins said.

Antoine Murray was born on Nov. 16, 1960, in Philadelphia. His father, William Murray, was unemployed; his mother, Phyllis (Turner) Murray, worked as an office clerk at a supermarket.

Along with his husband and nephew, he is survived by his sisters Cynthia and Darlene and his brothers William and Brian.

Mr. Murray graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in communications and received a master’s in education from West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

While in college he interned at WCAU, a TV station in Philadelphia, and was later hired there as a mail clerk. He rose steadily, becoming its manager of community relations.

It was that job, which involved a heavy dose of educational outreach, that took him to an educators’ conference in Philadelphia in 1995. Also in attendance was Mr. Collins, who is a social worker for the Hempstead, N.Y., public schools.

The two began a long-distance relationship, visiting each other and taking trips to explore their respective home states. They both loved casinos, and traveled to Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

They loved food, too. Along with vacations to foodie-friendly cities like New Orleans, Mr. Murray cooked for them at home, lavishly and often. His tastes were eclectic, but he had a spot for making huge spreads of soul food.

“When he cooked, he always cooked for 30 people,” Mark Collins said. “He didn’t know how to cook in small portions.”

After Mr. Murray moved to New York in the mid-2000s to work in administration for the YMCA, the couple settled in the Far Rockaway section of Queens. There they would host neighborhood barbecues on their front lawn, with Mr. Murray essentially catering the whole spread. He became one of the most popular people in the neighborhood, Mark Collins said.

Both Jason and Mark Collins described Mr. Murray as an old soul, relaxed and somewhat reserved, committed to his Baptist faith but adamant in defense of gay rights.

Mr. Murray and Mr. Collins marched every year in the New York City Pride parade, and in 2013 they traveled to Boston to join Jason Collins in his first Pride march. The basketball player was there at the invitation of Rep. Joe Kennedy III, his former college roommate, who was leading a contingent in the parade.

His uncles smiled as the crowd cheered for Jason.

“It was a beautiful day,” Mark Collins remembered. “Tony was so proud of Jason. He was just humbled by the whole experience.”

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