Updated at 8:16 p.m. EST with Collins’s comments
The NBA has arrived ata historic moment, with the Brooklyn Nets signing Jason Collins, the former player who announced a year ago that he is gay.
The signing of Collins to a 10-day contract means that the NBA is the first of the four major men’s sports leagues in North America to have an active, openly gay player. Collins, 35, has not played in an NBA game since April 2013, when he was with the Washington Wizards. Later last April, he announced that he is gay in a Sports Illustrated essay and, since then, has continued to work out in Los Angeles in the hope of landing a spot with a team again. He spent 12 years in the NBA, including his first six seasons with the Nets when the team was in New Jersey. Collins will be in uniform Sunday night when the Nets play the Lakers in his hometown, Los Angeles.
History was not on his mind, he told reporters at a Sunday evening news conference.
“Right now, I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, trying to learn the coverages, the assignment,” Collins said. “I really don’t have time to think of history right now. I just have to focus on my job tonight.”
Collins said he was ready physically to play, although he had to wait for an opportunity.
“I always try to stay positive,” he said, “and try to control what I can control. That’s my training. So I focused on staying positive and staying ready. That’s part of being professional.”
He’ll join Jason Kidd, the Nets’ coach with whom he played when the Nets were in New Jersey. “I thank J. Kidd and the entire Nets organization for giving me this opportunity. I also want to thank all the fans, all the family and friends who’ve reached out to me today. My cellphone went crazy.”
Two weeks ago, Missouri defensive lineman announced that he hopes to be the first openly gay player in the NFL and Collins said he hopes it’s a sign of changing times.
“And I hope that, similar to what Michael said, it’s about him being a football player and me being a basketball player and trying our respective teams win.”
The NBA’s new commissioner, Adam Silver, said in a statement: “Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team. “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 announced the news simply at 3:18 p.m. EST:
Signing Collins nudges the NBA ahead of the NFL, where Missouri’s Sam hopes to become the first openly player drafted in May. On Sunday afternoon, Sam tweeted from the NFL scouting combine:
Robbie Rogers, the soccer player who announced a year ago that he is gay, tweeted:
Very excited to watch @jasoncollins34 tonight more importantly I am proud to call him my friend.— Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers) February 23, 2014
On Sunday morning, Jason Collins’s twin brother tweeted:
Hope everyone is enjoying their Sunday. Today should be a pretty cool day!— jarron collins (@jarronctwin) February 23, 2014
Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former NFL player who has been outspoken on the issue of same-sex marriage and gay rights, noted that both the NBA and NFL are on the verge of change:
Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers coach who coached Collins last year with the Boston Celtics, told ESPN: “We’ve talked the last three or four days and I’m just happy he’s back in the league playing basketball. He worked all summer and he wanted to get back in the league. He’s getting back in the league because he’s a basketball player, not because of anything else. All the other stuff will just go away. … He’s going to a great place because he played with Paul [Pierce] and Kevin [Garnett in Boston]. I’m just so happy for him. I love when good people and good things happen and Jason Collins is a terrific guy.”
Although he will not do so tonight, Collins is expected to wear No. 98, the number he chose in remembrance of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student who was murdered in 1998. He explained his choice to Sports Illustrated last year in the essay in which he announced that he is gay:
“My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found.
That same year the Trevor Project was founded. This amazing organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity. Trust me, I know that struggle. I’ve struggled with some insane logic. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends.”