Friday 20 April 2018

Openly gay basketball player Jason Collins makes US history

Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins (46) waits to enter the game against the Los Angeles Lakers
Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins (46) waits to enter the game against the Los Angeles Lakers

Jason Collins made history as the first openly gay player to appear in any of America's major sporting leagues, but afterwards kept his focus on basketball.

The center revealed his sexuality 10 months ago, but had not played in the NBA since April 2013 with the Washington Wizards until signing a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday.

He made his return to the court in two stints totalling 10-and-a-half minutes in their 108-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, receiving a warm round of applause from the Staples Center crowd.

He told "I know that I can play in the NBA and it felt good to be out there."

Collins' one shot did not trouble the scorers, but he won two rebounds, one of which sparked an attack which ended with a Paul Pierce three-pointer.

The 35-year-old said. "Conditioning-wise, I felt good. I don't think I got tired. It was a lot of fun to get back out on the court and set screens, hard fouls.

"I didn't take any charge (fouls) - that'll change. I'll get in position next time. As far as basketball timing, it's going to take at least a couple of practices."

Collins' team-mates were more willing to talk about his moment of history, with Pierce, who scored 25 points in the game, saying: "In the society we live in, you know this was going to happen eventually.

"He is a guy who's going to be able to open the door for so many athletes - not only in America but around the world - to feel comfortable to come out and not feel embarrassed and feel like they're welcomed in the sports world."

Collins' return comes just over two months before May's NFL draft in which Michael Sam, a defensive end from the University of Missouri who came out as gay earlier this month, is expected to be signed as that league's first openly gay player.

Pierce added: "It isn't about race, gender or sexuality. It's about being a part of a team and caring for one another. That's all that matters at the end of the day."

Deron Williams, who led all scorers with 30 points, agreed, saying: "He's (Collins) a basketball player.

"He's been doing this for a long time, so that didn't change. Maybe outside perception did, but inside this locker room it wasn't a big deal or a distraction.

"But he played huge for us. He made big plays on defense and was instrumental in this win. I know he's been sitting around waiting for a job, and we're excited about having Jason."

Opponent Kendall Marshall added: "As far as I'm concerned, when I see him, I see him as a great defender. That's all I see when I'm out there."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver welcomed Collins' return with a statement which read: "Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team. 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."

Collins previously spent six years with the Nets, then based in New Jersey, from 2001 and helped them to the NBA play-offs two years in succession. He has played for five other teams, including a three-year spell with the Atlanta Hawks.

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