When veteran NBA big man Jason Collins came out as being gay in April of 2013, the announcement came after his season with the Boston Celtics had already come to a close.
It didn’t make the announcement any less brave, but it did mean that there would be plenty of time for those around the league to digest the information before Collins would once again be an active player on an NBA roster.
That moment came in February of this year, when Collins was signed to consecutive 10-day contracts before eventually being inked for the remainder of the season by the Brooklyn Nets. He appeared in 22 games for Brooklyn, but was there more for his mentorship and veteran leadership abilities than he was for his on-court contributions.
Collins announced his retirement today after playing 13 seasons.
It has been 18 exhilarating months since I came out in Sports Illustrated as the first openly gay man in one of the four major professional team sports. And it has been nine months since I signed with the Nets and became the first openly gay male athlete to appear in a game in one of those leagues. It feels wonderful to have been part of these milestones for sports and for gay rights, and to have been embraced by the public, the coaches, the players, the league and history.
On Wednesday at the Barclays Center, I plan to announce my retirement as an NBA player. The day will be especially meaningful for me because the Nets will be playing the Bucks, who are coached by Jason Kidd, my former teammate and my coach in Brooklyn. It was Jason who cheered my decision to come out by posting on Twitter: “Jason’s sexuality doesn’t change the fact that he is a great friend and was a great teammate.”
Considering all the speculation about problems I might face within the locker room, Jason’s support was significant. It had been argued that no team would want to take on a player who was likely to attract a media circus from the outset and whose sexuality would be a distraction. I’m happy to have helped put those canards to rest. The much-ballyhooed media blitz to cover me unscrambled so quickly that a flack jokingly nicknamed me Mr. Irrelevant.
His time in the league while openly gay was brief in relation to the length of his career, and wasn’t completely without its struggles. But the perceived “media circus” surrounding Collins dissipated almost immediately, and his time in Brooklyn was relatively uneventful — as it should have been.