Former Boston Celtics center Jason Collins has come out as the first openly gay active player in the NBA.
The 34-year-old, who played 32 games in Boston before being traded to the Washington Wizards, admitted that he is gay in a piece for the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Collins, who is currently a free agent, said he didn’t set out to become the first openly gay athlete in a major professional sport, but he is “happy to start the conversation” by doing so.
“If I had my way, someone else would have already done this,” Collins said. “Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
The California native as drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2011 as the 18th overall pick in the first round, but he played his first seven seasons in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets. In addition to the Nets, Celtics, and Wizards, Collins has also played for the Memphis Grizzlies, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Atlanta Hawks.
“Ever heard of a parlor game called Three Degrees of Jason Collins? If you’re in the league, and I haven’t been your teammate, I surely have been one of your teammates’ teammates,” Collins said. “Or one of your teammates’ teammates’ teammates.”
Collins’ decision to come out started two years ago during the NBA lockout.
“When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want,” he said. “With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.”
While the lockout started the thought process of coming out, it wasn’t until a year later that Collins realized he needed to be open about his sexuality.
“I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade,” Collins said. “I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator.”
Collins said the recent Boston Marathon bombing also spurred his decision. “… I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect,” he said. “Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”
So far, Collins’ confession is being met with kudos. Baron Davis, who most recently played for the New York Knicks, tweeted:
— Baron Davis (@Baron_Davis) April 29, 2013
Collins also received a show of support from Former President Bill Clinton. Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, was friends with Collins at Stanford.
“…Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities,” Clinton said. “For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.”
Chelsea Clinton followed suit and showed her support on Twitter:
Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA. bit.ly/ZLei9F
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) April 29, 2013
As for why he chose to come out now, Collins said he felt he deserved to after his tenure in the NBA.
“I’m a veteran, and I’ve earned the right to be heard. I’ll lead by example and show that gay players are no different from straight ones,” he said. “I’m not the loudest person in the room, but I’ll speak up when something isn’t right. And try to make everyone laugh.”
Are you surprised that Jason Collins has come out as gay? Do you think other players will follow suit?
[Photo credit: Jason Collins / Twitter]