Jason Collins makes NBA return
LOS ANGELES -- Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play in North America's four major professional team sports Sunday when he played 11 minutes in the Brooklyn Nets' 108-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
Collins, 35, entered the game to a modest applause from the Lakers' crowd with 10:28 to go in the second quarter and finished with two rebounds and five fouls. He missed his only field goal attempted and did not score, but played nearly seven minutes in the decisive fourth quarter and showed he can still play defense and set bruising screens that free up his teammates.
"It was a lot of fun to get back out on the court and set screens and hard fouls," Collins said afterwards. "I didn't take any charges tonight, that'll change. I'll get in position next time. But it felt good to get back out there on the court.
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"The most important thing is, the team got the win. I don't care about scoring, I care about my team winning, helping my teammates get open, and making their job easier."
Collins held news conferences before and after Sunday night's game, which was something of a novelty for a player who has been a role player in his previous 12 NBA seasons.
And on Tuesday, the NBA will start selling Jason Collins authentic and replica jerseys in all sizes, as well as T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts, a practice not common for players on a 10-day contract.
But neither he nor his teammates felt the hoopla surrounding his return to the NBA after revealing his sexual orientation last April had been a distraction.
"I don't think it'll be like this every single day," Collins said of the attention surrounding his return to the court. "There's only so many questions you guys can ask."
Brooklyn point guard Deron Williams, who played with Collins' twin brother Jarron as a member of the Utah Jazz, said that he was proud to be a part of a historic night but ultimately didn't think it felt all that different from any other game he's played in.
"It's definitely a big moment," Williams said. "I'm happy for him. I know he's been sitting around waiting for a job, so I'm happy to see him on a team and happy that he's on our team.
"He was huge for us tonight. He made some big plays on defense, I thought he played great defense on Pau [Gasol]. He's a heck of a screener. I played with his brother and they play similar. He's a heck of a screener and he gets you open. He was instrumental in this win tonight."
Once he got back out onto the court, Collins said those screens were the highlight of his night.
"My favorite part of the evening, I think it was Jordan Farmar was complaining to the refs that I was setting an illegal pick," Collins said.
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 said he kept himself in shape these last 10 months with five-mile trail runs, sprints, extensive work in the weight room and skill work.
"I always stayed positive," Collins said. "That's one of the things I pride myself on is being a professional, and part of being a professional is always being ready, always training. There were times this past winter when I'm running my five-mile trail run and it's just me and the trail, running and working hard, so that if get an opportunity, at least I can say I'm in great condition."
That he was able to debut in his hometown of Los Angeles, in front of family and friends, was even sweeter.
"I'm very happy for him," his twin brother Jarron told ESPN. "I've seen all the hard work that he's put into staying in shape and to his craft and to his sport. It's going to be a challenge with the layoff that he's had, but it's something he's done for the last 12 years."
The Nets are an organization filled with Collins supporters and experienced players less likely to be fazed by the likely media blitz that the signing will inevitably spark. Nets coach Jason Kidd played with Collins in New Jersey from 2001-08, making two trips together to the NBA Finals. Collins also played with Nets guard Joe Johnson for three seasons in Atlanta and spent half of the 2012-13 season in Boston alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett before being traded to the Wizards.
"It's basketball. It doesn't change. His teammates did a great job and so did Jason," Kidd said. "We're a team. It's one the Brooklyn Nets found a way to get a win."
With veteran forward Garnett sitting out the second night of back-to-backs for the foreseeable future, as he did Sunday night, there was a sentiment within the Nets organization to sign Collins regardless of Davis' decision.
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.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who had to sign off on the acquisition of Collins, said last year as a candidate for the Russian presidency that he was against his country's anti-gay laws that became such a large focus at the recently-concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi.
"I think we are breaching the international convention of human rights and freedoms we have signed," Prokhorov said last year. "My position is very simple: This is a personal affair. It is a personal affair who has sex with whom."
Collins' opponents Sunday night, the Lakers, knew the significance of Collins' return but focused on business as usual as much as they could.
"Us players, we just focus on playing the game, and it is remarkable and you definitely have to respect and applaud his courage in this situation," Gasol said. "So I was happy to see him out there. Happy that he got an opportunity to play and got this 10-day contract. Hopefully he'll get a next one and hopefully he'll finish the season with their team. I feel like he's in really good shape and is going to be able to help them.
"I think both brothers have always been, for my entire career, have been great guys, great competitors and I respected their game, their attitude, their professionalism. I think everywhere they've been, they stood out because of it. But now obviously [Jason] has become an icon and he's going to have to carry some responsibility with it, which I think he's fine with that."
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was dismissive of questions about Collins.
"I think it's no big deal, and that's the way it should be," Cuban said Monday. "Twin's been playing in the league forever. Guys know him. As long as they get their asses kicked when they play us, that's all I care about.
"I don't give a s--- about a guy's sexuality. Period. End of story.
"I don't think it matters. I think it's over. Shouldn't have been a big deal, wasn't a big deal and we move on. Nothing to talk about. I think at some point it becomes nothing to talk about, and now it's nothing to talking about. Moving on."
Cuban said the Mavericks did consider bringing in Collins over the summer, but it wasn't a fit. Dallas currently has 15 players under contract, so bringing Collins in after that wasn't an option.
ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com's Darren Rovell and ESPNNewYork.com Mike Mazzeo contributed to this report.