Jason Collins, signed to a 10-day contract Sunday by the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA, later that night became the first openly gay active professional athlete to play for any of the four major professional sports leagues in the country in the Nets’ win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Collins, 35, entered the game to modest applause from the Lakers’ crowd with 10:28 to go in the second quarter and finished with two rebounds and five fouls. He missed his only field goal attempted and did not score, but played nearly seven minutes in the decisive fourth quarter and showed he can still play defense and set bruising screens that free up his teammates.
“It was a lot of fun to get back out on the court and set screens and hard fouls,” Collins said. “I didn’t take any charges tonight; that’ll change. I’ll get in position next time. But it felt good to get back out there on the court.”
“The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision,” Nets GM Billy King said in the team’s official release — one which made no mention of Collins’ sexuality.
The occasion was not lost on point guard Deron Williams, who played with Collins’ twin brother in Utah. “It’s definitely a big moment,” Williams said. “I’m happy for him. I know he’s been sitting around waiting for a job, so I’m happy to see him on a team and happy that he’s on our team.
“He was huge for us tonight. He made some big plays on defense, I thought he played great defense on Pau Gasol. I played with his brother and they play similar. He’s a heck of a screener and he gets you open. He was instrumental in this win tonight.”
Brooklyn wanted Glen Davis to shore up its front-court rotation, and had he chosen the Nets instead of the Clippers after being bought out by the Magic, the historic addition of Collins might not have taken place — further proving that his signing was 100 percent about basketball, and nothing else.
A team can sign a player to up to two 10-day contracts, after which they must sign him for the remainder of the season if they wish to further retain his services. But there’s a good chance that if Collins impressed enough in workouts for the Nets to add him, he’ll stick for the rest of the season — especially when considering that Kevin Garnett rests on the second night of back-to-back sets.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released the following statement on the Collins signing:
“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.”