Jason Collins (B. 12/02/1978) Was born and raised in Northridge California along with his twin brother, Jarron. Both Jason and Jarron found basketball at a young age where the two brothers played throughout their youth. In high school, both Jason and Jarron won two California Interscholastic Federation State Titles and by the time they graduated, held a combined record of 123-10. After high school, both Jason and Jarron attended Stanford University and played in the Pac-10 Conference in which Jason was named for the first All-Pac-10 Conference Team. By the time his college career ended, Jason heled the highest Field Goal Percentage in Stanford History.

He was drafted right out of college in 2001 to the New Jersey Nets where he played for 7 seasons. Including carrying the Nets to their first ever NBA Finals appearance in 2002 against the Los Angeles Lakers and again in 2003. In 2008 he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies and from 2008-2013 he was traded to a handful of teams. Playing for the Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards.

By the end of the season, April 2013. Jason Collins officially announced that he is gay. In a personally penned article with Sports Illustrated (with the help of journalist Franz Lidz) that was shared online on April 29th and was the cover story for the May 6th issue, the first words were…

I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

In the powerful article, which drew a record 3.7 million visitors to Sports Illustrated’s website. Collins shares his story of why he chose to come out, how the process unfolded and the major influences in his life that helped him to decide whether or not to do it and when.

“No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.“

He became the first openly gay male active professional athlete in the NBA and the second openly gay male active professional athlete (after Robbie Rogers) within one of the five major American sports leagues (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS). By July 2013, Collins became a free agent and initially had a hard time finding a team to sign on with. However, by February 2014 he signed a 10-day contract with the Nets, who had since relocated to Brooklyn, after his first appearance with the Nets, he was eventually signed to a full season contract. He went on to adopt the number 98 jersey, which is the same number he wore with the Celtics and the Wizards. Collin’s wore the number to honor Matthew Shephard who was murdered in 1998 in Wyoming in a brutal anti-gay hate crime.

The overall response and reception Collins received in coming out was very positive. With fellow NBA athletes, including Kobe Bryant, and NBA commissioner David Stern offering support. Presidents Obama and Clinton expressed their support as did fellow gay athlete Martina Navratilova and Collins’ sponsor, Nike. Of course, there were critics as well, including ESPN Basketball Analysis Chris Broussard who stated that “Collins could not live an openly homosexual lifestyle and be a Christian.” Which Collin’s simply responded…

This is all about tolerance and acceptance and America is the best country in the world because we’re all entitled to our opinions and beliefs but we don’t have to agree. And obviously I don’t agree with his statement.”

Sales of Collin’s number 98 jersey became the best-selling item on NBAstore.com with the NBA announcing that the proceeds of the sales would go toward the Matthew Shephard Foundation and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Collins played for the Nets in the 2014 season and announced his retirement from the NBA after 13 seasons in November 2014.

By Dirk Smith