Eighteen months after becoming the first openly gay man in one of the four major professional team sports, 35-year-old NBA player Jason Collins officially announced his retirement to Sports Illustrated.
Collins started in the NBA with the New Jersey Jets in 2001 and ended playing 22 games for the Brooklyn Nets since starting with them in February.
“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.
Collins will make the official announcement at the Barclay’s Center on Wednesday night, before the Nets play the Milwaukee Bucks, coached by Jason Kidd, his former teammate and coach.
“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 a great teammate,’” Collins wrote, adding that his announcement will be especially meaningful with Kidd there.
Collins also thanked Kidd for giving him a change, as many expected “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.”
Collins, who wore No. 98 as a tribute to Matthew Shepard, a college student who was beat to death in 1998 because of his sexuality, said his most poignant moment was when he met his family.
He received a standing ovation at the game in Denver, and was “humbled” to learn his No. 98 jersey became the top seller at NBAStore.com, with the proceeds from sales and auctioned jersey’s were donated to gay-rights charities.
After Collins came out, defensive end Michael Sam, came out soon after. He tweeted his congratulations to Collins Wednesday: “Congrats to @jasoncollins98 on the end of a long and successful career. Wishing you the best on what’s to come next, I know it’ll be great.”
Though there are still no publicly gay NFL, NHL or MLB players, Collins says he know they exist.
“Every pro sport has them,” he wrote. “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.”