Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete in one of North America’s four major professional sports Sunday, when he signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets in the afternoon and then appeared in uniform hours later against the Lakers, for the first time since announcing he was openly gay last season.
The N.B.A. center played 11 scoreless minutes in the second quarter at the Staples Center and was met with applause from the crowd.
“Sometimes in life something happens and there’s an opportunity,” Collins said shortly before taking to the court Sunday night.
“I’m very thankful for this opportunity. That’s why I work so hard, why I train the way I do so that when I do have an opportunity physically I’m not worried about my conditioning or cardio or anything along those lines,” he said.
The 35-year-old player announced last spring that he is gay, but he was a free agent and remained unsigned. Sunday marked Collins’ first time appearing on the court since April 17, 2013, when he appeared with the Washington Wizards. He had been training on his own in Los Angeles after failing to receive an offer from any of the basketball league’s 30 teams since his revelation of his sexual orientation to Sports Illustrated last year.
Until Sunday, no publicly gay participant had played on the court for the N.B.A. North America’s other three major sports leagues – the N.F.L., N.H.L. and Major League Baseball – had never had an openly gay player.
Collins played 11 minutes in the Nets’ 108-102 win, finishing with no points, two rebounds, a steal and five fouls.
Collins will wear No. 98 for the Nets, but was unable to wear it Sunday because it was not available in time for the game against the Lakers, so he wore No. 46 instead.
His choice of the No. 98 is in honor of Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who died in a notorious anti-gay hate crime in 1998. Collins also wore the jersey number when he played with the Celtics and Wizards.
The California native said he was ready to be back in the game.
“I’ve played for 12 years in the league so I know how to play basketball,” Collins said. “It’s just about getting timing back in the NBA game, so I’m ready. Let’s do it.
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