Jason Collins [R] in action against the LA Lakers, 23 February. Reuters
The Brooklyn Nets' victory over the Los Angeles Lakers was not the news that caught the eye on Sunday night; it was of a player in the away teams' jersey, a player who had just made a groundbreaking appearance in the NBA and indeed all of American sports.
Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in the four major US professional sports leagues to take court as the Brooklyn Nets won 108-102 over the Lakers. "I know that I can play in the NBA and it felt good to be out there tonight," Collins said. "Conditioning-wise, I felt good. I don't think I got tired.
"It was a lot of fun to get back out on the court and set screens, hard fouls. Didn't take any charges tonight -- that'll change. I'll get in position next time. As far as basketball timing, it's going to take at least a couple of practices."
Collins, who came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated interview in April last year, played 11 minutes, picking up two rebounds and five fouls.
"He's a basketball player. He's been doing this for a long time, so that didn't change," said Nets guard Deron Williams, who had 30 points and seven assists in the win at the Staples Center. "Maybe outside perception did, but inside this locker room it wasn't a big deal or a distraction.
"It was just another game for us. But he played huge for us. He made big plays on defense and was instrumental in this win tonight. I know he's been sitting around waiting for a job, and we're excited about having Jason."
Collins is on a ten-day contract with the Nets, but questions were raised over the 11-year veteran's inability to find a team, and the reasons behind them, at the beginning of the season. Nets teammate Paul Pierce, though, paid tribute to Collins for opening "doors to so many athletes."
"In the society we live in, you know this was going to happen eventually," Pierce said. "He is a guy who's going to be able to open the door for so many athletes -- not only in America but around the world -- to feel comfortable to come out and not feel embarrassed and feel like they're welcomed in the sports world.
"It isn't about race, gender or sexuality. It's about being a part of a team and caring for one another. That's all that matters at the end of the day.
Collins was signed by the Nets following a season-ending injury to Brook Lopez, with the Brooklyn team unable to find a replacement before the trade deadline last week. The big center also came in handy on Sunday, with Kevin Garnett rested following the loss to Golden State just a day back.
"It was very inspiring, how he just came in and was ready. He did the same thing for us last year with Boston. You expect nothing but professionalism from Jason. He's much needed around here with the lack of big men we have, especially with Kevin playing limited games in back-to-back moments. Jason's going to be big for us."
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