The Wizards may not have had any plans to bring back Jason Collins after last season, but that didn’t mean his NBA career was over. According to several published reports, Collins agreed to sign a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday to become the first openly gay player to participate in one of North America’s four major professional sports leagues.
Collins announced his sexuality in a first-person Sports Illustrated article last April, nearly two weeks after he ended a brief stint with the Wizards. For the past 10 months, the 35-year-old Collins has been waiting for a chance to continue his career in the NBA. He didn’t get invited to any training camps but has been working out in Los Angeles until the Nets started to express an interest during the all-star break.
The Nets are a fitting landing spot for Collins, who played with the franchise when it was in New Jersey from 2001-08. Nets Coach Jason Kidd was Collins’s teammate in New Jersey and helped the organization make back-to-back NBA Finals. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett played with Collins last season in Boston and publicly expressed support when Collins came out. And the borough of Brooklyn has made trailblazing moves in the past.
The agreement with Collins comes on the heels of Michael Sam, the former Missouri defensive end and Southeastern Conference defensive co-player of the year, announcing he is gay. Collins’s teammates in Washington were surprised and supportive when the Sports Illustrated article came out. Collins reached out to President Ernie Grunfeld, Coach Randy Wittman and Emeka Okafor in advance of the announcement.
When asked on Friday about the delay in Collins’s return to the NBA, Wittman felt it had more to do with his age and skill level than his sexuality. After arriving in Washington last season in a trade deadline deal with Boston, Collins appeared in six of a possible 30 games with the Wizards, contributing just four points, eight rebounds and 11 fouls. He never played more than 18 minutes in any game despite making two starts.
“Bigs, older, end of career, it’s usually at this time where the rosters kind of have to be set by March 1 to be on a playoff roster. You see it much more with bigs later in their career like Jason is, to kind of come at this point and time of being picked up,” Wittman said.
Wittman previously coached Collins in Minnesota and has long admired him for his professionalism and ability to play within himself as a physical, low-post defender.
Having Collins back in the NBA “will be great,” Wittman said. “I’m not surprised. Jason came in here in the short amount of time that we had him, being a veteran guy that’s been around this league for a long time, the respect that he has. I’m happy for him. You know he’s worked and kept in shape and should be a plus for them.”