Last year, speaking in front of a packed crowd at the Castro Theater would have given Jason Collins a panic attack. In the intervening time, the Stanford grad and Brooklyn Nets center came out in a landmark story in Sports Illustrated. Now he's the first openly gay male active player on a major American sports team. In an event organized by the Commonwealth Club, Collins fielded questions for over an hour. We were there—and here's what he said:
On his years in the closet: "I called it my CIA cover: You stick with the story. I went to Stanford but never visited the Castro. I'd drive along Christopher Street in the West Village but I never got out of the car. I didn't kiss a man until I was 34 years old."
On homophobia in the NBA: "I used to hear that kind of talk a lot in the locker room. Since I came out, I don't hear it at all. Of course, that might have something to do with it being a $25,000 fine now. I tell guys, you don't have to be politically correct—you just have to find more creative ways of cutting each other down."
On the work still to be done: "I just spoke to a group of NBA rookies and I had to explain what LGBT stood for."
On the last straw: "When I got traded to the Wizards last year. Going to a new team is like being the new kid in school, where everyone's trying to figure out what you're all about. I was just so tired of telling that lie about my supposed girlfriend in LA who never called and never visited."
On the first conversation: "I called my agent. Normally when an athlete calls his agent after a trade it's to fire him, but I said, 'I've got something to tell you: I'm gay.' He said, 'Well Jason, you can still play.'"
On why he did it in Sports Illustrated: "I have a gay uncle who's my role model. He told me that after he came out, it wasn't over—he had to keep coming out to different people. That sounded exhausting. I wanted to put it out there for everyone."
On dating for the first time: "Having my heart broken, something that most people go through for the first time in high school, didn't happen to me until I was 34. There was a lot of accelerated learning curve going on there. The Stanford student in me wants to say: 'Okay, we're going to master this.'"
On the (unnamed) player who trash-talked him after he came out: "Yeah, he's a knucklehead. My attitude about that is: I'm going to foul you. Hard."
On his new number: "I needed a jersey number to go with my new identity. I went with 98 for the year 1998: The year Matthew Shepard died and the year The Trevor Project was founded."
On life in the spotlight: "Depending on the situation, I'm not always the gay one. Sometimes I'm just the tall one, or the black one. When I turn heads is it because people know I'm gay, or is it because I'm a seven-foot-tall African-American man?"
On the future: "Thirteen years is a long career for an athlete. I used to be able to jump and touch the top of the white square behind the hoop with ease. As years go by you watch your hand go lower and lower on that square. Father Time is undefeated against us all. I don't know if I'm going to go for year 14. I'm really grateful for my Stanford degree now. On the other hand, I can still dunk. I just won a bet with Joe Johnson about that."