BARCLAYS CENTER – It was a sea of rainbow colors at Barclays Center Wednesday night. The Brooklyn Nets held their first-ever “Pride Night.”
Former Net and openly gay athlete Jason Collins participated in Pride events before the team took on the Miami Heat. It was a special evening celebrating diversity and inclusion.
After becoming the first openly gay player in any of the four major pro sports in 2013, Collins signed with the Nets. He explained why the organization and Brooklyn will always hold a special place in his heart.
“It’s always great to be back here in Brooklyn the Nets organization means so much to me,” Collins said. “I started my career with the Nets and ended my career with the Nets. Especially after I made my announcement to sign with them, just to be able to play the sport I love and to have my boyfriend waiting in the family room just like everyone else’s significant other after the game was over, meant so much.”
The retired NBA player was honored as the first recipient of the “Courage and Leadership” Award. The award will now be named after him. The Jason Collins Courage and Leadership Award will be given every year to a recipient who demonstrates courage, leadership and distinction in the community.
Collins was touched to learn the award will now carry his name.
“I’m honored to receive an award especially from the Nets, I am amazed and thankful to the Nets organization,” he said.
Pride Night began with a pre-game panel aimed at raising awareness about the issues facing gays athletes today.
On the panel – Elisa Padilla, Chief Marketing Officer for Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment. Padilla has been credited with pushing fan initiatives and overseeing Pride Night. She is also openly gay.
“We really wanted to take a step in celebrating diversity and inclusion in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” Padilla said.
Also on the panel – Hudson Taylor, Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Ally, an organization that works to end homophobia in sports.
“To see the Brooklyn Nets take this leadership doing this Pride Night is groundbreaking, I hope other teams and leagues follow suit,” Taylor said.
Padilla said Barclays Center and Brooklyn is the perfect combination for Pride Night.
“Our home, Brooklyn is so diverse. When you think about language, when you think about heritage, and we wanted to celebrate that. For us, we are Brooklyn’s team and when you think about Brooklyn’s team, that means being inclusive and celebrating diversity, celebrating our differences and this is a safe place for our fans to come to celebrate who they are,” Padilla said.
The Brooklyn Nets Foundation also donated $10,000 to the Trevor Project, a national organization devoted to crisis intervention and suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth.
Although great strides have been made, Collins acknowledges more can be done.
“With each person that comes out, it makes it easier for the next person to. I’m thankful for Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. It made the path easier for me,” Collins said.
The Nets plan on holding a Pride Night every year.