Nets' Collins becomes NBA's 1st openly gay player

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 24, 2014 at 3:12 am •  Published: February 24, 2014
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jason Collins heard his name called by Nets coach Jason Kidd early in the second quarter and headed to the scorer's table to check in.

When he walked onto the court, Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play in one of the United States' four major professional leagues.

He understood the significance attached to his appearance in an NBA game, but he had a job to do.

"It felt like, 'I've done this thousands of times before,'" Collins said after Brooklyn's 108-102 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night. "You go to the scorer's table, you hear what the play's going to be for the next offensive play and you go out there. Once you're out on the court, it's about basketball. It's what I've been doing for almost three decades."

Collins entered the game with 10:28 left in the second quarter and the Nets leading 35-26 after Nick Young made the first of his two free throws. The crowd welcomed him with a nice ovation when public address announcer Lawrence Tanter introduced him.

"I thought it was great," he said. "Being an L.A. kid, I can't think of a better situation, playing for the Nets and playing here, and getting the win. I'm just glad Kobe and Shaq weren't out there."

Collins signed a 10-day contract with the Nets earlier Sunday and played 10 scoreless minutes with two rebounds and five fouls.

Nets teammate Paul Pierce said Collins' play was inspiring.

"I had him as a teammate last year and he is much needed around here," Pierce said.

"In the society we live in, this was going to happen eventually," Pierce said. "He is a guy that is going to be able to open up the door for athletes around the world. It doesn't matter your race, gender or sexuality because it's about being part of a team and caring for one another. Every guy in here does their own thing and so be it. In this sport everything is magnified and it's great to have him here to open up the doors for so many athletes."

The 35-year-old center revealed at the end of last season he is gay, but he was a free agent and had remained unsigned.

Collins was aware of the magnitude of his signing, but repeatedly said he was most concerned with learning the Nets' schemes.

"Right now I'm focusing on trying to learn the plays, learning the coverages and the game plan and the assignments. So I didn't have time to really think about history," Collins said at a crowded news conference less than an hour before tipoff.

"The pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight and last time I played in an NBA game was last April," Collins said. "So I think that's enough pressure right there."

With a need for another big man, the Nets turned to the 7-foot Collins, who helped them reach two NBA Finals in the early 2000s.

"The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision," general manager Billy King said in a statement. "We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract."

The Nets are owned by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov of Russia, where a law banning so-called gay "propaganda" was the subject of protests and controversy at the just-concluded Sochi Winter Games.

Collins has played 12 NBA seasons, including his first seven with the Nets, when they were in New Jersey and Jason Kidd was their point guard. Kidd is now the Nets' coach and Collins has been a teammate of several other current Nets.

"Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team. Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal. I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment," Commissioner Adam Silver said.

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