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Collins, NBA's first openly gay player, retires

Melissa Murphy
Associated Press

New York — Jason Collins, the first openly gay man to play in one of the four major North American professional leagues, announced his retirement Wednesday after 13 years in the NBA.

The 35-year-old Collins disclosed his plans in a first-person story for Sports Illustrated. It's the same forum he used in April, 2013, to publicly reveal his sexuality. He joined the Brooklyn Nets in February and played 22 games for the team, but was not on the roster this season.

"It feels wonderful to have been part of these milestones for sports and for gay rights, and to have been embraced by the public, the coaches, the players, the league and history," Collins wrote.

Collins started his career with the New Jersey Nets in 2001 and rejoined the franchise in Brooklyn last February. He revealed at the end of the 2013 season that he is gay, but was a free agent and remained unsigned until the Nets needed another big man.

They turned to the 7-foot Collins, who helped them reach the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. He signed a 10-day contract, playing his first game as an out gay man on Feb. 23 on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers to a warm ovation. He stayed the rest of the season.

Nets general manager Billy King congratulated Collins on a "distinguished NBA career" in a statement.

"He was an integral part of the back-to-back Eastern Conference Championship teams," King said. "We wish him well as he embarks on a new chapter in his career."

Nets spokesman Aaron Harris said Collins is expected to address the media at the Barclays Center on Wednesday night before the Nets game with the Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks coach Jason Kidd was Brooklyn's coach last year, and Collins singled him out for the "courage" he showed in bringing him on board.

"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," he wrote. "I'm happy to have helped put those canards to rest."

The Stanford graduate went in the first round of the 2001 NBA draft, picked 18th overall. He also played for Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta, Boston and Washington. He averaged 3.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 20.4 minutes during his career.

Collins wore No. 98 in his final seasons in the league to honor Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, who was killed in 1998.

Collins said his most poignant moment came during his third game back last season, when he met Shepard's family in Denver.

Following Collins revelation, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out in February and was drafted by the NFL's St. Louis Rams. He was later cut by the Rams and released from the Dallas Cowboys practice squad last month.

In April, University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon became the first openly gay player in Division I men's basketball.

Billie Jean King called Collins "an influencer on and off the basketball court" in a statement to The Associated Press. Collins thanked the former tennis great for her support when he first came out.

"I hope his decision to live his truth and do so on his own terms will inspire him on the next phase of his journey," King said.

Collins noted there are still no openly gay players in the NFL, NHL or major league baseball. Robbie Rogers, the first openly gay player in the MLS with the LA Galaxy, signed a contract extension last week.

Collins wrote that someday, "when we get to the point where he's not compelled to hide his true self and is able to live an authentic life," being a gay male athlete won't be a big deal.

"But we're not there yet," he said.