For Pride month, we’ve dedicated each day of June to an individual athlete or coach whose shining moment changed LGBTQ sports.
Today, for the last of our 30 Moments of Pride, we revisit February 27, 2014: the first NBA game in which Jason Collins scored points as an openly gay pro basketball player.
Jason Collins took the court in the second quarter in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on February 23, 2014, wearing number 98 to honor Matthew Shepard. It was his first game since coming out as gay.
As Jim Buzinski reported at the time, “Collins was greeted by polite applause and some fans standing, but it was, in the word of a New York Times reporter friend of mine, ‘rather ho-hum.’”
This was the result almost one year after Collins came out in Sports Illustrated, on April 29, 2013. He became the first active male athlete in one of the big pro sports leagues to come out publicly as gay.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins wrote in SI.com. “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
And on Feb. 27, 2014, he raised his hand again, but this time using it to guide a basketball into the net.
That night, he also met the Shepard family. They thanked him for choosing to honor Matthew and to cheer him on. After the game, he presented them with his #98 jersey, something he did more than once.
When Collins’ #98 jersey became a hot seller, the NBA agreed to donate at least $100K from the proceeds to LGBTQ groups GLSEN and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Collins retired in 2014. He later wrote in The Players’ Tribune about the irony that some people believe out gay players provide a “distraction” to straight athletes.
“I had never felt more comfortable playing basketball than I was as an openly gay man. You know what a real distraction is? Maintaining a lie 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for most of your career, for most of your life. The energy involved in hiding the stress, shame, and fear of being gay is a full-time job. With all that removed, I was like a new person.”