Chances are only the most die-hard of basketball fans would know Jason Collins’ name if it were not for one thing: he publicly came out as gay back in April of 2013. Coincidentally, this was also the last time the 7-footer played in the NBA. His most recent game took place on April 17 with the Washington Wizards, just days before he made the announcement about his sexual orientation. Today, by signing a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets, Jason Collins is officially not just out of the closet, but back onto the court as well, making him the NBA’s first ever active openly gay player.
This is a monumental occurrence, not just for the NBA and the Nets, but also for Collins and the gay community as a whole. The 35-year-old center has never generated many headlines based on his play on the court; over his 12 years in the league, he has averaged just 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest. The 255-pound Collins has always made his impact quietly, however, and he has a reputation as a solid defensive presence who can hold his own against an opposing team’s center.
The Nets, looking for a player who can provide the team with depth at a big-man position, had been considering signing Collins for several days, and once they learned that highly sought-after free agent-to be Glen Davis would be joining the Los Angeles Clippers, Collins became their top priority. Brooklyn general manager Billy King referred to the signing of Collins as purely a basketball decision, stating that the team needed to add inside depth. Collins is expected to get playing time immediately, perhaps even as soon as tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The fact that Collins is out of the closet and back onto the court did got go unnoticed around the sports world, and the early reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Long-time NBA veteran Kevin Garnett, a former teammate in Boston, had nothing but praise for Collins, who he will once again get an opportunity to play alongside. The future hall-of-famer called Collins a great competitor with great character and expressed confidence that his sexual orientation would not cause even the slightest issue among members of the Nets.
The kind words did not stop there. Fellow gay athletes Michael Sam and Robbie Roberts also congratulated Collins, taking to Twitter to share their well wishes. Newly anointed commissioner Adam Silver released a statement congratulating the center as well, noting that he had realized his dream of returning to the NBA, and Miami Heat superstar Dwayne Wade made a point to welcome Collins back into the league.
It must be especially fulfilling for Collins, already open and out of the closet, to get back onto the court after almost a year off, and even if the Nets do not keep him beyond the length of the 10-day contract, this development will still be seen as a big win for the league, organization, and player. Collins has worked hard to keep himself in playing shape even while he was out of a job, and now he has the chance to demonstrate he can still provide value to an NBA team. In doing so, he has the opportunity to knock down a few more barriers that might have been blocking the route to a more accepting world, and that is not something to be taken lightly.
Commentary By Spencer Hendricks