Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the NBA and in all four of North America’s four major sports, has retired after 13 seasons at the age of 35.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Collins Hinted at Retirement After the 2013-14 Season
Last season, after the Nets were eliminated from the playoffs, Collins was unsure of his future, according to comments provided by Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com. Collins told ESPN New York: “With regards to basketball, I don’t know right now. I am looking forward to enjoying this time with my loved ones, my family and friends and meeting a lot of great people over the summer and the next couple of months and enjoying my offseason.”
He was not on any active roster prior to this season.
2. He Was the 1st Openly Gay Athlete in America’s 4 Major Sports
When Collins came out of the closet in April 2013, he become first male professional athlete in all four of North America’s major sports to do so. He noted when announcing his retirement there are still no openly gay players in the NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball.
Collins stated in his retirement letter to Sports Illustrated, “Believe me: They exist, every pro sport has them. I know some of them personally. When we get to the point where a gay pro athlete is no longer forced to live in fear that he’ll be shunned by teammates or outed by tabloids, when we get to the point where he plays while his significant other waits in the family room, when we get to the point where he’s not compelled to hide his true self and is able to live an authentic life, then coming out won’t be such a big deal. But we’re not there yet.”
During his final season with the Nets, Collins wore the number 98 on his jersey in support of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student from Wyoming who was killed, 1998 was the year Shepard died.
It can be said that Collins paved the way for former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, but was later cut and released from the Dallas Cowboys practice squad in October. And also, guard for the University of Massachusetts Derrick Gordon, who became the first openly gay player in Division I men’s basketball last April.
Chelsea Clinton wrote a piece about Collins, a former college friend of hers Stanford, stating, “Jason’s kindness and fierceness alike derive from that word too often bandied about and too rarely true: integrity. Jason has always maintained he’s first a basketball player. He is. But he’s also a leader and an inspiration. For Michael Sam, Derrick Gordon and others whose names we may never know. And also for those of us lucky enough to be fans—or to call him our friend.”
3. Collins Came Out to His Family During the 2011 NBA Lockout
It was during the 2011 NBA lockout, that it seems Collins had to to reflect truly on his life, with his regular routine of basketball no longer there.
He wrote in a column posted Wednesday in The Players Tribune: “When the 2011 NBA lockout kept me away from my normal routine, I had way too much time on my hands to be by myself—my authentic self—and read about the fight for equal rights in the LGBTQ community. I would keep track of what was going on via OUTsports.com every day, making sure to clear my browser history and cover my tracks. With basketball distractions taken away, I finally had to confront the reality of my existence as a human being on this planet. What did I want my legacy to be? What did I want out of life?”
Collins also says his German Shepherd, Shadow, was who he had his most unguarded conversations with, “I had days and days by myself during the lockout and the only one I was able to have a full unguarded conversation with was Shadow, my German Shepherd. Granted, it was a one-way conversation.”
He first came out to his aunt Teri, with her initial reaction being “I’ve known you were gay for years.” He says it was the first time he felt comfortable in his own skin.
4. Collins Came Out Publicly in a Letter to Sports Illustrated
On April 29, 2013 Collins wrote in an open letter to Sport Illustrated, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay. I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
You can read the full letter here.
5. Collins Has Been Playing Professionally Since 2001
Collins joined the Nets, who were then the New Jersey Nets, in 2001 after being drafted in the first round out of Stanford. He has played for six different teams over his career, seven if you do not count the New York or New Jersey Nets as the same franchise. Collins has played for Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta, Boston, Washington and both of the Nets teams. He considers himself a defensive grunt.
In The Player Tribune, Collins recalls his battles with Shaq and the injuries that followed stating, “Later on that year, we faced the Orlando Magic in the playoffs, and I was given the unenviable task of guarding Dwight Howard. By that point, my battles in the post with Shaquille O’Neal over the years were starting to catch up with me. I used to play this game with Cliff Robinson where we’d come up with names for the moves Shaq used to punish you. ‘There’s the ol’ meat cleaver! Aw no, there’s the spine tingler!’ Shaq is responsible for a whole bunch of seven-foot-tall middle-aged men hobbling around America right now.”