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NBA player Jason Collins became the first active male athlete in one of the four major North American professional leagues to publicly disclose his homosexuality.
He revealed the news in a first-person piece in Sports Illustrated.
Collins is a 12-year veteran of the league, having played for the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.
He attended Stanford University from 1997-2001, where he was an All-Pac 10 player and third team All-American. He attended Los Angeles’ elite Harvard-Westlake School for high school.
Collins’ local roots and privileged educational background have given him some interesting Hollywood and Washington connections.
Here’s five surprising facts about the NBA’s first openly gay player:
1. He played high school ball with Jason Segel.
The 6’4″ Segel, the star of How I Met Your Mother, was Collins’ backup as center until he dropped the sport at the start of his senior year in September 1996 to pursue acting.
Segel was known as the team comedian and song leader. During a bus ride to a game, Segel led the the team in a medley of Disney tunes. Segel also was known for sporting original 1985 Air Jordans on the court.
2. Their Harvard Westlake teams are considered one of L.A.’s best ever high school teams.
The team won back-to-back state Division III championships in basketball in 1996 and 1997.
They compiled a 66-4 record in the process, including a 35-1 mark their senior year (their only loss came to future NBA star Tracy McGrady’s Mount Zion Christian Academy).
Jason played alongside his twin brother, Jarron, who also later played in the NBA.
“Jason was a banger. He was a true center. He did not mind doing the dirty work. He would be triple-teamed, fouled beyond belief,” said former teammate Rico Cabrera.
3. His college roommate was Robert Kennedy’s grandson Joseph III.
Enrolled in Stanford in 1998 where his roommate was Joseph P. Kennedy III, the son of former congressman Joe Kennedy II and the grandson of former Senator Robert Kennedy.
After graduation, Kennedy attended Harvard Law School, became a local prosecutor and in 2012 got elected to Congress from Massachusetts’ 4th congressional district, which runs from the Boston suburbs of Newton down to the New Bedford coast.
In fact, it was a conversation that Collins and Kennedy had about the congressman marching in a gay pride parade that prompted Collins to reveal his homosexuality.
He wrote in Sports Illustrated, “I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator.
Kennedy tweeted Monday, “I’ve always been proud to call (Collins) a friend, and I’m even prouder to stand with him today.”
4. He was also friends with Chelsea Clinton — and her father Bill.
Chelsea Clinton was in the same class as Collins. After Collins’ announcement, she tweeted her support for her friend: “Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA.”
Her dad, former President Bill Clinton, also knew Collins from his Stanford days.
He said in a statement, “I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek to be able to be who we are.”
5. He played for the Boston Celtics, which was the first NBA team to have black player and coach.
Collins played 32 games for the Celtics this season before being traded to the Washington Wizards. The Celtics have the distinction of being the first NBA team to draft a black player and the first to hire a black coach.
The team drafted Chuck Cooper in 1950. Cooper was the second African-American to play in a game, after Earl Lloyd who made his debut for Washington one day earlier.
In 1966, the Celtics named star center Bill Russell the team’s player-coach, making him the first African-American to be the head coach of a major professional team in America. Russell and the team won their 11th championship in 1969, his final season.
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