One of the biggest moments in sports history finally happened when NBA free agent Jason Collins was signed to a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets and hit the court the same night to face-off against the Los Angeles Lakers, making him the first openly gay player in major sports to play in a game. But before playing, Collins opened up to the press about the monumental moment and shared some advice for other LGBT athletes.
“Sometimes in life something happens and there’s an opportunity,” said Collins, who, after coming out last year, wasn’t invited to any training camps nor offered a contract with one of the league’s 30 teams . “I’m very thankful for this opportunity. That’s why I work so hard, why I train the way I do, so that when I do have an opportunity physically, I’m not worried about my conditioning or cardio or anything along those lines.”
Collins explained to the crowd that, although he was aware that it was a historical moment for him to become the first active openly gay player in one of North America’s four major sports, his mind was completely focused on the game at hand.
“Right now, I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, the game plan assignment,” Collins, sitting at a lectern, said less than an hour before the game Sunday night. “I don’t have time to really think about history right now.”
“Guys know what to expect from me,” Collins added. “They’re not like ‘he’s magically gonna have a 40-inch vertical and shoot 3s.’ My game has been pretty consistent. I’m a defensive player first, and that’s what I pride myself on. Now it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with coverages and assignments.”
According to ESPN, Collins will wear No. 98 on his shirt in honor of Matthew Shepherd, who died in a shocking hate crime in 1998. However, Collins’ shirt wasn’t ready in time for his first game, so he wore No. 46 instead.
For his first game with the Nets, Collins was able to enjoy a win with his teammates, having played 11 minutes in the Nets’ 108-102 victory, finishing with no points, two rebounds, a steal and five fouls.
Though his mind was on the game, Collins did explain that life after coming out had left him much happier than he’d ever been before when he was playing in the closet.
“Life is so much better for me. I don’t have to hide who I am; just be my normal self,” Collins said. “The past 10 months have been incredible. A lot of really cool experiences, learning a lot, making new friends and hearing peoples’ stories; overall, it’s been really positive.”
Before he finished his press conference, Collins made sure to spread positivity and left some words of advice for other LGBT athletes trying to make it in major sports.
“My message to other athletes, period, is just be yourself,” he said. “Be your true authentic self and never be afraid or ashamed or have any fear to be your true authentic self.”
We congratulate Collins on such a major accomplishment and we hope he not only shows that there’s hope for LGBT players, but that he’s a talented athlete who earned his spot on the Nets. – nicholas robinson