November 19, 2014 / 4:28 PM / 3 years ago

Trailblazer Jason Collins, first openly gay NBA player, retires

(Reuters) - Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the four major North American team sports, announced his retirement from the National Basketball Association on Wednesday.

February 23, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Brooklyn Nets newly signed player Jason Collins practices before playing against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Collins, 35, announced he was gay at the end of the 2012–13 season and did not play again until Feb. 23, 2014, when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

“In order to understand why I am so lucky to be sitting here today as a person who is finally comfortable in his own skin, you need to understand how basketball saved me,” he said in a column on ThePlayersTribune.com.

“I needed to live the past few years as an openly gay basketball player in order to be at peace retiring today.”

Collins will officially announce his retirement at the Barclays Center before the Nets host the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

The Bucks are coached by Jason Kidd, a former teammate and his coach in Brooklyn.

“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 told SI.com.

Collins, a 7-foot defensive specialist, played for six teams during his 13-year NBA career, averaging 3.6 points and 3.7 rebounds a game. He did not play this season.

”There are still no publicly gay players in the NFL, NHL or major league baseball,“ he told SI.com. ”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.”

Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Jim Loney

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