Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in American professional sports, announced his retirement from the NBA today. He ends a 13-year NBA career with the same team he started with as a professional athlete, the Brooklyn Nets.
At the time he made his NBA debut, the Brooklyn Nets were the New Jersey Nets and he was known as a pure center—a seven-foot defensive specialist with a team-focused approach. During his career, he averaged 3.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game but was best known for his leadership and presence. He played for six teams over 13 years.
Collins announced he was gay at the end of the 2013-2013 NBA season. He did not start playing right away but participated in LGBT causes. The Boston Pride Parade invited him to marshal and he decided to march. On February 23, 2014, he signed with the Brooklyn Nets and played 22 games last season, but did not play in this season.
In his statement to Sports Illustrated announcing his NBA retirement, Jason Collins explained it was time to be a spectator instead of a player. Citing lower back and knee pain, he claimed “my body was letting me know” it was time to retire. He considered retiring earlier but wanted to play as an openly gay basketball player first.
The official announcement of his retirement will happen Wednesday night when the Nets host the Milwaukee Bucks. This timing and location has special significance, as his best advocate, Jason Kidd, will be in attendance. Kidd was a former teammate and coach of his.
Expressing his gratitude to Kidd, Collins explained, that Kidd was the voice of reason when it came to locker room concerns and other assumptions about gay professional athletes. When he was able to end his career with no such concerns arising, along with Kidd’s support, he felt such issues were finally put to rest.
Collins described his reception after coming out as supportive and positive. When he took to the court in Los Angeles, he received applause. At his first home game after signing with Brooklyn, the audience offered a standing ovation. These experiences affirmed Collins’ feelings that the NBA would be a welcome place to him even after he came out as gay.
While on the road in Denver, Collins met the family of Matthew Shepard, who died after a fatal beating in 1998. His attackers targeted Shepard for being gay and the tragedy was classified as a hate crime. Collins adopted jersey number 98 to honor Shepard and proceeds from the sale of that jersey went to gay rights charities.
While very happy about his experience as an openly gay active professional sports athlete, Jason Collins believes more can be done. At this point, no major league baseball, NHL, or NFL players are openly gay. However, Collins has met them and emphasizes that each league has a few. It is his hope that there is more openness throughout all professional sports so players do not feel the need to hide or fear for their professional reputation and success.
The announcement of his NBA retirement is not an end to the public life of Jason Collins. He will continue as an NBA Cares Ambassador and enjoy current community outreach projects.
Commentary By Jocelyn Mackie
Photo By Keith Allison – Flickr License