Jason Collins ’97 retires from NBA

Joe Levin

Jason Collins ’97, the first openly gay athlete to play in any of America’s major professional sports, announced his retirement Wednesday from the NBA.

Collins announced his decision in a letter to Sports Illustrated, the same forum Collins used to come out a year and a half ago, and a column on Derek Jeter’s The Players’ Tribune.

“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,” Collins wrote in Sports Illustrated.

The center played in the NBA for 15 years for a variety of teams including the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. After coming out, he appeared in 22 games for the Brooklyn Nets last year. He was not on a roster this season.

Collins will make an official announcement Wednesday night before the Nets game against the Milwaukee Bucks, coached by Collins’ former coach and teammate, Jason Kidd.

“It was Jason who cheered my decision to come out by posting on Twitter,” Collins wrote in Sports Illustrated. “Considering all the speculation about problems I might face within the locker room, Jason’s support was significant.”

Since Collins came out, Michael Sam became the first openly gay athlete to be drafted by the NFL, and Derrick Gordon of UMass became the first openly gay Division I basketball player. Both credit Collins for inspiring them.

Collins believes the fight for gay rights in sports is not over yet.
“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,” Collins said.

Collins averaged 20.2 points and 14.1 rebounds during his senior year at Harvard-Westlake and, along with his twin brother Jarron Collins ’97, led the Wolverines to back-to-back state championships in 1996 and 1997, losing only four games in the two seasons. The twins were both named McDonald’s All American game following their senior season.

Collins played college basketball at Stanford, where he averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his senior season. The New Jersey Nets drafted him 18th overall in the 2001 NBA draft.