Jason Collins, First Openly Gay NBA Player, Signs With the Brooklyn Nets

On Sunday, February 23, the Nets signed Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player. That night, after being an unsigned free agent since the previous spring, Collins played his first game as a Brooklyn Net against the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Collins began his NBA career with the Nets (while they were still located in New Jersey), playing with them for 7 years before moving to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Atlanta Hawks, the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards; after which, Collins went through the preseason and regular season as a free agent without any job offers. Collins can sign two 10-day contracts before the Nets must sign him or release him. 

Jason Collins, a 35-year-old center, came out as gay at the end of last season after playing with the Washington Wizards during the 2012-13 season. Collins became the first active male athlete from one of the four major North American professional sports (basketball, football, baseball, and hockey) to publicly do so. His outing was featured on the cover story of Sports Illustrated on May 6, 2013. Even though Collins' coming out was met with support and earned him a measure of celebrity, he received no new contracts to play in the NBA and was not invited to any teams' training camps. Martina Navratilova, a former tennis player who came out as a lesbian in 1981, called Collins a "game-changer" for team sports, noting that this is one of the last areas where homophobia remained. 

In a press conference before his first game with the Nets on Sunday, Collins seemed to downplay the signifigance of this event, saying, "I don't have time to really think about history right now. I just have time to focus on my job tonight. The pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight and last time I played in an NBA game was last April, so I think that's enough pressure right there." Collins was ready to get back into the NBA and was welcomed by applause when he entered the game in the second quarter.

Jason Collins tore the door off the last remaining (prominent) closet in America. Brian Ellner, a founding member of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit that raises awareness about homophobia in sports, reffered to this signing as "an important point on the continuum toward justice and a moment to celebrate." This moment was long overdue. 

When asked what message Collins might send to gay athletes who are watching him, he said, "My message to other athletes, period, is just be yourself. Be your true, authentic self and never be afraid or ashamed or have any fear to be your true authentic self."