Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in the NBA over the weekend when he signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets and played in Sunday night’s game against the LA Lakers.

Collins, 35, came out in May 2013, after a previously established 12-year career in the NBA. As a free agent, Collins decided that he wanted to come out following the 2011 NBA lockout.

“I’ll lead by example and show that gay players are no different from straight ones,” Collins wrote in his Sports Illustrated column announcing his sexuality.

Jason Collins Signs 10-Day Contract With Brooklyn Nets

At the time, Collins had just finished playing a season with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. Sunday was his first time back on the professional court since last April. Now, almost one year later, Collins has signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets, where he spent his first six NBA seasons, and played for 11 minutes against the Lakers, helping the Nets take the win 108-102. Collins finished the game with five fouls, one steal and two rebounds. The entire process, Collins says, happened in less than 24 hours.

Nets coach Jason Kidd contacted Collins early Sunday morning, and the rest is history. At a press conference announcing the historic event, Collins appeared slightly in awe of the events, but focused on the game.

“Right now, I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, the game plan assignment…I don’t have time to really think about history right now,” Collins said when asked what he thought about being the first openly gay player in the NBA.

NBA Colleagues, Kobe Bryant Praise Collins

Meanwhile, former teammates and colleagues have praised Collins for his courage and seem excited by his return.

“It’s fantastic. It sets an incredible precedent. I think the most important part about it, what I’ve learned on the issue is that one person coming out is showing this type of courage that gives others that same type of courage,” Kobe Bryant said before the game.

“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,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Teammate Paul Pierce also expressed his happiness at having Collins back in the game, saying, “In the society we live in, this was going to happen eventually. This is the normal. He’s a guy who’s going to be able to open up the door, not only for America but around the world welcomed in the sports world, and that’s going to be key. It doesn’t matter your race, your gender, sexuality or any of that. It’s about being part of a team. It’s about caring for one another. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

College football star, Michael Sam, who recently followed in Collins’ footsteps and came out as gay, tweeted his support for Collins.

Sam is about to enter his first NFL draft and could be the first openly gay NFL player.

Collins' Contract: Not A Publicity Stunt

Collins first caught the Nets’ attention two weeks ago at the All-Star break, when he worked out with them during their time in Los Angeles. The Nets, in need of a good defensive player, reportedly expressed interest in Glen Davis and Collins. When Davis announced his plans to go to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Nets zeroed in on Collins.

While some might say that the 10-day contract is symbolic, nothing more than an effort by the Nets to be the team with the first openly gay player, General Manager Billy King says that is definitely not the case.

“The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision. 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,” King said.

“We’re going to bring in a basketball player,” King said when rumors first popped up that Collins would be joining the Nets, “It’s not about marketing or anything like that.”

Kidd agreed, emphasizing that, at the end of the day, the team, including Collins, is focused on having a good season and getting as many wins as possible.

“This is about basketball and we always remind ourselves of that. He’s one of our teammates and it’s for us to make this as comfortable as possible, the transition. But for us to get out and win ballgames, that’s what it’s all about,” said Coach Kidd.

Collins is known as being a competent and consistent player. He maintains a good reputation among coaches and teammates, with many citing him as a great addition to any locker room. While his performance at Sunday’s game may not have been extraordinary, Collins was pleased with his performance and clearly hopes that it will lead to a longer contract.

“I know that I’m capable of playing in the NBA. I think I showed that tonight. Going out there, I can get my teammates open…I know that I can play in the NBA and it felt good to be out there tonight,” Collins said following the game.

The Nets have the option of signing Collins for another 10-day contract, but after that they will have to make a decision of whether or not to sign Collins for the remainder of the 2013-2014 season. Kidd says that the team will take it day by day to decide whether or not to keep Collins on as a member of the Brooklyn Nets.

“We’ll just take it day by day. We’ll just take one day at a time and we’ll go from there,” Kidd said.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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