After 13 years in the NBA, free agent Jason Collins will officially retire at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.
Collins became the first active out gay player in men's professional sports in early 2014. He was signed to the Nets in a series of 10-day contracts, then through the rest of the season.
Writing in Sports Illustrated, Collins explained the significance of Wednesday's game:
The day will be especially meaningful for me because the Nets will be playing the Bucks, who are coached by Jason Kidd, my former teammate and my coach in Brooklyn. 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 was a great teammate."
Considering all the speculation about problems I might face within the locker room, Jason's support was significant. It had been argued that 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. I'm happy to have helped put those canards to rest. The much-ballyhooed media blitz to cover me unscrambled so quickly that a flack jokingly nicknamed me Mr. Irrelevant.
After Collins publicly announced that he is gay, a few more athletes came out. Most notably was Michael Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year who was drafted in the final round of the NFL draft in 2014, then cut from the Rams' and Cowboys' practice squads. Conner Mertens, a kicker for Willamette University in Oregon, became the first active out gay player in college football. Later, Derrick Gordon became the first out gay player in NCAA D-1 basketball. He currently plays for UMass, where he is on the active roster.
Collins is aware that though public acceptance of male out gay players is on the rise, the tides have yet to turn. In Sports Illustrated, he writes:
There are still no publicly gay players in the NFL, NHL or major league baseball. Believe me: They exist. Every pro sport has them. 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.
Jason Collins began his career as a first-round pick in the 2001 NBA draft. He played for the New Jersey Nets until 2008, then bounced around until 2013, when he was released from the Washington Wizards, his sixth team. He played 22 games with the Nets last season.