WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jason Collins said Thursday he would rather be remembered as a good teammate than as the first openly gay player in the four major American sports.
Collins, an aggressive, seven-foot center who played for six teams during a 13-year National Basketball Association career, announced his retirement on Wednesday at the age of 35.
“I would like my legacy to be that Jason Collins was a good teammate,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview. “He would sacrifice for the team, someone who, on the defensive end, would go out there and give the hard foul.
“I want people to remember that if an opponent went into the paint, Jason Collins was there and there was going to be some contact.”
Collins, however, will best be known for admitting he was gay while still playing, something that had not been previously done in the NBA, NHL, NFL or Major League Baseball.
He admitted he received messages of hate when he announced 18 months ago he was gay but said the time since then has been “incredibly amazing.”
Collins said he knows people in the other major U.S. pro leagues who are gay and that he hopes they no longer have to hide like he did.
“I know I was waiting for someone else to put their hand up in the room as far as the NBA goes,” he said. “It didn’t happen. Last season with the Nets dispelled a lot of those myths that are out there about (the issue) being a distraction.”
Collins said for the first few weeks there was a “bump” in media coverage but then “it just went back to being about basketball and how the team was doing.”
Although he averaged a modest 3.6 points and 3.7 rebounds a game over his career, Collins’ teams made the playoffs in 10 of his 13 seasons.
Collins played 22 games with the Nets last year, his last in the NBA.
“Ultimately I hope I was that canary that went into the mineshaft and showed the other players that it’s OK, that you can still play your sport, do your job and at the same time you can have your boyfriend waiting for you (in the arena) after the game is over,” he said.
“It’s just a matter of encouraging people to live their authentic life and know that they will be supported.”
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Jim Loney