The applause was warm and some fans stood Sunday night in Los Angeles when basketball player Jason Collins made history by walking onto the court during an NBA game.
By checking in during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the newest member of the Brooklyn Nets became the first openly gay man to play for a team in one of the nation’s four major professional sports.
After being greeted with some cheers, how did he do?
According to NPR’s Tom Goldman, the 35-year-old, 7-foot-tall Collins performed about as expected. In 10 minutes, 37 seconds of playing time, Collins took one shot — and missed it. He grabbed two rebounds and stole the ball from the Lakers once. Perhaps most importantly, he played hard defense — accumulating five fouls while filling in for starting center Mason Plumlee.
That’s the kind of play the Nets want from Collins, who was signed over the weekend to a 10-day contract with the team. He’s there to give other big men on the team a chance to rest and to help wear down an opponent’s center.
The Nets, Tom told Morning Edition host Renee Montagne on Monday, “needed another big body” and turned to Collins, who during his long career has played with, among many others, Nets coach Jason Kidd.
Collins hadn’t been in an NBA game since last April, when he was with the Washington Wizards. It was shortly after last season ended that he wrote in an essay for Sports Illustrated that “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport, but since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”
Before Sunday’s game, Collins said that if there is any message he hopes other gay athletes will take away from his milestone, it’s “be yourself. … Never be afraid or ashamed or have any fear to be your true, authentic self.”
After the game, as ESPN writes, he said “it was a lot of fun to get back out on the court and set screens and hard fouls. … The most important thing is, the team got the win.”
ESPN adds that:
“Asked if he was frustrated that it took until this late in the season for him to get an opportunity to play in the NBA again, Collins said simply, ‘I know that I’m capable of playing in the NBA. I think I showed that tonight.’ …
“Collins wore No. 46 in Sunday’s game but will wear No. 98 for the remainder of his time with the Nets. Because of the speed with which he was signed Sunday, there wasn’t time to prepare that jersey number in time for tipoff.
“Collins’ 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 has worn the jersey number with both the Celtics and Wizards.”
Collins’ history-making drew a Twitter shout-out from Michael Sam, the University of Missouri football player who in May is expected to be the first openly gay athlete to be drafted by an NFL team.
“Congratulations to my friend @jasoncollins34 – excited to see you do work out there #courage #groundbreaking,” Sam wrote.