Jason Collins appeared Sunday night in his first NBA game since coming out as gay, having signed with the Brooklyn Nets earlier in the day.
Collins, a center, entered the Nets’ game with the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter, and over the course of the game he played a total of 11 minutes and scored no points but had two rebounds and made a steal, The New York Times reports. The Nets won the game, played on the Lakers’ home court, 108-102.
The game marked the first appearance by an openly gay athlete in any men’s major league team sport in the U.S. The National Football League, National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball have yet to see an openly gay active player.
“The very act of Collins’s suiting up and stepping onto the court — he entered the game to warm applause in the second quarter — represented a milestone in the effort to change a sports culture that some feel has lagged far behind society at large in acceptance of gay people,” the Times notes.
Collins came out in a Sports Illustrated article in April. He played last season with the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards, but he was a free agent at the time of his coming-out, and he had not been signed by a team until Sunday. The Nets signed him to a 10-day contract; NBA players can sign two consecutive 10-day contracts with a team before the team offers a contract for the rest of the season or releases them.
Speaking to reporters before the game, Collins said, “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.” Asked if he had a message for gay athletes, he said, “My message to other athletes, period, is just be yourself,” he said. “Be your true, authentic self and never be afraid or ashamed or have any fear to be your true authentic self.”
Collins wore number 46 in Sunday’s game, as that was the only jersey the Nets had available, but in future games he plans to wear 98, which he wore last season in honor of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was murdered in 1998.
Collins of the Brooklyn Nets gives high-five to his teammate Andrei Kirilenko during the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets.
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