(Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Last night, Jason Collins made history. He became the first openly gay player to play in an NBA game — and, for that matter, the first openly gay player to play at the professional level in any of North America's big four pro sports leagues (which include the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB).
Collins came out at the end of last season. But the 35-year-old, who spent most of last season playing off the bench for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, didn't sign another contract until this weekend, when he agreed to a 10-day deal with the Brooklyn Nets.
He played 11 minutes in last night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers (the Nets won 108-102). Collins finished with two rebounds and five fouls and didn't score — though he played some solid defence in the fourth quarter.
"The most important thing is, the team got the win," Collins said in the post-game press conference. "I don't care about scoring, I care about my team winning, helping my teammates get open, and making their job easier."
Collins played for the Nets in the early 2000s, when they were still the New Jersey Nets. He reached the finals with the team twice (he's played 511 games with the team, third most in Nets history). With a few major injuries and a recent trade, the Nets were in need of a big centre — and 7-foot-tall Collins filled that need.
There was no mistaking the significance of last night — especially as it came only a few weeks after Michael Sam, a highly regarded NFL prospect, came out, renewing the conversation about gay athletes in professional sports.
Some players took the opportunity to focus on the groundbreaking moment. “He is a guy that is going to be able to open up the door for athletes around the world. It doesn’t matter your race, gender or sexuality because it’s about being part of a team and caring for one another," said Paul Pierce, a Nets forward.
But Collins preferred to focus on the win. After all the media attention surrounding the game and the post-game press conference, he tweeted simply: