After playing basketball for four years at Harvard-Westlake, four years at Stanford University and for 12 years in the NBA before coming out as gay in April 2013, Jason Collins became the first openly gay male athlete to play in a major American sports league under a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets. Feb. 23. Now, Collins aims to return his focus completely to the court, signing with the Nets for the remainder of the 2013-2014 NBA season.
Collins made his re-debut for the Nets, for whom Collins played his first six seasons, in his hometown of Los Angeles right after signing his first 10-day contract.
“It definitely feels great [to be back],” Collins said. “It happened relatively quickly with regards to making it happen. I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario, going to a team where I’m very familiar with most of the guys, many former teammates of mine or of my brother [Jarron ’97]. And playing in Los Angeles with so many family and friends, it really was the best scenario for me.”
While Collins’ coming out created a media frenzy, Collins believes nothing has changed in the locker room, saying that “the locker room is as it has been for the past 12 years.”
Collins says that a heavy burden has been lifted now that he is playing without the mask he had on before coming out.
“Playing now much better because you don’t have to play with that stress of ‘is today the day that people figure out?’” Collins said. “That pressure, that stress is gone, you can just be yourself. With regards to my teammates, everybody treats each other with respect, and we’re a team.”
Among the Nets members already acquainted with Collins are head coach Jason Kidd, a Nets teammate during Collins’s first stint with the franchise, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, with whom Collins played as a member of the Boston Celtics, former Atlanta Hawks teammate Joe Johnson and Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, whom Collins’ brother Jarron played alongside.
While Collins finds most of the feedback towards him to be positive, the former Wolverine basketball star hopes to move on and define himself just as a player once again.
“It’s great that we’re celebrating each other’s differences and what makes us unique,” Collins said prior to his second game back. “And I do realize that this goes beyond the court, but that’s not biggest focus right now. My biggest focus right now is on basketball. Perhaps later down the road I’ll sit down and ponder that question and really think about that, but right now, I need to get ready for the Portland Trail Blazers.”
“I would expect any team would welcome a teammate, accept a teammate for who they are, and respect that teammate,” Collins added. “It’s all about the sport, regardless of whether it’s basketball, football, baseball, hockey or soccer. It’s all about the sport, and it’s all about winning.”