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Jason Collins becomes first openly gay pro player

By Andy Vasquez, Hackensack Record - Updated: February 24, 2014 at 7:34 am 0

LOS ANGELES - It's only a 10-day contract, but the impact of what happened Sunday will last for much longer.

Jason Collins, a 35-year-old center, signed with the Nets, becoming the first openly gay competitor in the four major American sports.

Just hours after inking his deal with the Nets, Collins was on the court for Brooklyn's 108-102 win over the Lakers.

Collins, who checked into the game with 10:28 remaining in the second quarter, received an unusually polite ovation for a visiting player from the Staples Center crowd.

He played 10 minutes, grabbed two rebounds and committed four fouls. He did not score, missing the one shot he took. But after all, he was brought to the Nets to provide an interior defensive presence.

And Collins wanted to keep the focus on basketball rather than his becoming the first openly gay athlete to compete in the NBA, NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball.

"Right now I'm focused on trying to learn the plays," Collins said. "I don't have time to really think about history right now. I just have to focus on my job."

Nets general manager Billy King and coach Jason Kidd also went out of their way to downplay talk that Collins' signing was for publicity.

"The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision," King said in a statement. "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."

Collins hasn't played since April, when he finished the 2012-13 season with the Wizards. A few weeks later he revealed his sexuality in an interview with Sports Illustrated.

But Collins hadn't gotten an opportunity to play with an NBA team - until Sunday.

"Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "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."

The Nets worked out Collins last week. He proved he was still in shape despite a 10-month layoff - although, understandably, he looked tired at times during the game.

Collins and the Nets reached an agreement on a 10-day contract after Glen Davis - the Nets' top choice to add depth to their frontcourt - chose to sign with the Clippers.

Per NBA rules, the Nets can sign Collins to one more 10-day contract after this one expires. Once the second 10-day contract expires, the Nets must decide if they want to sign Collins for the rest of the season or release him.

The spotlight is sure to fixate on Collins over the coming days. But the Nets are in a unique and almost ideal landing spot.

He has many supporters within the organization after playing the first six-plus years of his career in New Jersey.

And has played with several Nets, including Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson, who all voiced support for Collins when it became public that he worked out with the Nets.

Collins admitted what he did Sunday night could be seen as an inspiration to young, gay athletes.

But he said he couldn't afford to think about what his inclusion in the NBA might mean to society as a whole.

"I can't really focus on the off-the-court stuff right now," Collins said before the win in Los Angeles. "For me, the pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight, and the last time I played in an NBA game was last April. I think that's enough pressure right there."

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