Exclusive: Jason Collins opens up on life and the NBA
APR 02, 2014 9:00a ET
When Jason Collins came out, he was out of the NBA. Unwavering in his goal to get back into the NBA, he stayed in shape in anticipation for the call … if it came.
The Brooklyn Nets finally reached out around the All-Star break, and the 12-year veteran was ready. He impressed in a one-on-one workout, which earned him a 10-day contract making Collins the first openly gay player in one of the big four professional American sports leagues.
This week, Collins collaborated with FOXSports’ Brendon Ayanbadejo for a wide-ranging interview in an the Unconventional Wisdom podcast series.
How difficult was it to keep working out, knowing there might not be an opportunity?
“You try to control what you can control,” Collins said. “What was in my hand was how hard I worked. I put myself in the best possible position.”
Collins has played in 15 of 19 games, and earned a contract for the remainder of the season. The Nets are 14-5 since signing the Stanford grad. They are unbeaten in nine home games since Collins’ arrival.
“The reception has been incredible. The guys have been great so far as camaraderie,” Collins said. “And J (Jason) Kidd has made the transition from Hall of Fame player (to coach). He had the highest basketball IQ of anyone I played with, at both ends of the court.”
Collins offered praise to the NBA hierarchy for making his return to the game a smooth one.
“David Stern and Adam Silver set the tone,” he said. “It’s really cool to see people comfortable in their own skin and be comfortable with who they are.”
Collins no longer has to hide behind “the mask.” In fact, he told Ayanbadejo that his boyfriend has been welcome in the Nets’ family room at home games and has made road trips with him, including one trip to Miami when the team faced the Heat. (Sam Gardner spoke to Matthew Shepard's parents last year after Jason Collins revealed he wore No. 98 as a tribute to their slain son.)
Collins also has seized the opportunity to provide veteran leadership, on and off the court.
“I look at myself as an uncle or big brother,” he said. “I know what it is like to put the mask on and have to hide.”
When asked if he believed there were other gay players in the NBA, Collins said, “I know I’m not the only one. I am not going to limit it to only the NBA.”
Collins also helped Michael Sam with his decision to come out. He advised the Missouri star and eventually trained with him.
“Michael is a great guy,” Collins said. “The first time I talked to him was the Thursday before the announcement.
“I met with him Friday and my first impression was how comfortable he was. How much he is respected as a person, as a teammate, and as a man.”
Collins is philosophical about the timing of his decision to come out.
“I try not to go through life with regrets,” he said. “I look at it as a learning experience, not just for me but for other people as well.”