After signing with Nets, Jason Collins becomes first openly gay NBA player
Seattle Times news services
LOS ANGELES — Jason Collins played his first game with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night, becoming the first openly gay active player in the four major U.S. professional sports leagues.
Collins was signed to a 10-day contract Sunday, nearly 10 months after his announcement on April 29 in Sports Illustrated. He played 10 scoreless minutes with two rebounds and five fouls in Brooklyn’s 108-102 victory over the host Lakers.
“I know that I can play in the NBA and it felt good to be out there tonight,” he said afterward.
The 12-year veteran spent his first six-plus NBA seasons with the Nets and helped them get to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. This was the 35-year-old center’s first NBA game since April 17, 2013, with the Washington Wizards.
The signing is a significant step in transforming American professional sports into a welcoming environment for gay athletes. No NBA game had ever taken place with an openly gay player on the floor. The NFL, Major League Baseball and the NHL — which round out the continent’s four traditional major sports leagues — have also never had a publicly gay participant.
“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 before the game.
Many have felt that such a moment was overdue. After his announcement last April, he was met with widespread support and earned a measure of celebrity, but not a new contract to play basketball. He was not invited to any teams’ training camp and spent the last several months working out at his home in Los Angeles.
Collins has never been a standout player at the professional level — he has averaged 3.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game in his career — but he has consistently earned plaudits for his professionalism and smarts on the court.
Collins re-enters an American sports landscape that has changed for gay athletes since he last played.
Robbie Rogers, 26, came out publicly last February while simultaneously announcing that he would retire from professional soccer. But Rogers changed course in May, joining the Los Angeles Galaxy and going on to play 11 games last season. And earlier this month, Michael Sam, 24, announced that he was gay shortly after completing a four-year college football career at Missouri. Football analysts expect Sam, a highly regarded defensive lineman, to be selected this May at the NFL draft.
The sellout crowd welcomed Collins with a nice ovation when public address announcer Lawrence Tanter announced his name.
In other games
• Jamal Crawford (Rainier Beach) scored 36 points to help the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 125-117. Kevin Durant scored 42 points, but such performances are almost expected from the NBA’s leading scorer. Crawford, on the other hand, is known to be streaky, and in this game, he was on. He made 5 of 8 three-pointers.
• Chris Bosh had 28 points, and Dwyane Wade added 23 as host Miami got past the Chicago Bulls, 93-79, despite playing without LeBron James, who was a late scratch due to his broken nose.