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Nets' Jason Collins becomes first openly gay player in NBA

(Joe Klamar/AFP)Nets center Jason Collins is the first openly gay NBA player. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

Jason Collins became the first openly gay player to take the court in an NBA game when the Nets beat the Lakers 108-102 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday. The 13-year veteran checked in at the 10:28 mark of the second quarter and went on to finish with zero points (on 0-1 shooting), two rebounds and a steal in 11 minutes of action.

"I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, trying to learn the coverages, the game plan assignment," Collins said during a pre-game press conference. "I don’t have time to really think about history right now. I have to focus on my job tonight."

Collins signed a 10-day contract with Brooklyn on Sunday, ending more than nine months of uncertainty following Collins' announcement in Sports Illustrated last April that he was gay. In doing so, he became the first openly gay athlete in any of North America's four major professional sports.

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center," Collins wrote in an extended essay with Franz Lidz, explaining his decision to come out. "I'm black. And I'm gay. 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."

MAHONEY: Reintroducing Jason Collins, the basketball player

Collins, now 35, spent the 2012-13 season with the Celtics and Wizards. His declaration came shortly after the conclusion of the Wizards' 2012-13 season and a little more than a month before he became an unrestricted free agent. Collins did not sign with a team during the offseason and he did not attend training camp in the fall. Instead, he waited, and the Nets finally called this week.

"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."

Brooklyn lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a season-ending foot injury back in December and they recently traded forward Reggie Evans along with guard Jason Terry to the Kings to land guard Marcus Thornton. The 7-foot Collins, known as a hard-working, defense-first center, joins a big man rotation that includes Kevin Garnett, Andray Blatche, Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic. Collins played with two of Brooklyn's biggest stars, Garnett and Pierce, with the Celtics last season. He also played with Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd during their time together with the New Jersey Nets in the early 2000s.

"The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision," Nets GM Billy 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 will wear jersey No. 98 with the Nets, a number that he also donned with the Celtics and the Wizards. On Sunday, Collins wore No. 46 because jersey No. 98 was not yet available.

"The number has great significance to the gay community," he explained in his Sports Illustrated essay. "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."

Brooklyn can sign Collins to up to two 10-day contracts before deciding whether to ink him for the rest of the season.

"I want to thank all the fans, and my family and friends who reached out to me today," Collins said Sunday. "My cell phone went crazy. ... Life is so much better for me [since the announcement]. I don’t have to hide who I am. The past 10 months have been incredible. A lot of really cool experiences, making new friends, hearing different peoples’ stories, sharing experiences, it’s just a really overall positive."

The 2001 first-round pick holds career averages of 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and has spent time with the Nets, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Hawks, Celtics and Wizards during his career.

The Nets were linked to interest in free-agent forward Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who was recently bought out by the Magic, but he could soon sign with the Clippersaccording to reports.

Video via YouTube user Sean Highkin

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