Jason Collins signs with Brooklyn Nets, becomes NBA's first openly gay player

The Associated Press

Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins warms up prior to an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Los Angeles. Collins is set to become the NBA's first active openly gay player. He signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets earlier Sunday and was to be in uniform for their game in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The 35-year-old center revealed at the end of last season he is gay, but he was a free agent and had remained unsigned. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Associated Press + More

By BERNIE WILSON, AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — History? Pressure? Jason Collins would have none of it after becoming the NBA's first active openly gay player.

After all, it was almost game time.

"Right now I'm focusing on trying to learn the plays, learning the coverages and the game plan and the assignments. So I didn't have time to really think about history," Collins said at a crowded press conference less than an hour before his Brooklyn Nets faced the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.

Collins signed a 10-day contract with the Nets earlier Sunday and coach Jason Kidd said he would play against the Lakers. The 35-year-old center revealed at the end of last season he is gay, but he was a free agent and had remained unsigned.

Collins said he was aware of the magnitude of his signing, but repeatedly said he was most concerned with learning the Nets' schemes.

"The pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight and last time I played in an NBA game was last April," Collins said. "So I think that's enough pressure right there."

With a need for another big man, the Nets turned to the 7-foot Collins, who helped them reach two NBA Finals in the early 2000s.

"The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision," general manager 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 has played 12 NBA seasons, including his first seven with the Nets, when they were in New Jersey and Kidd was their point guard. Kidd is now the Nets' coach and Collins has been a teammate of several other current Nets.

"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," Commissioner Adam Silver said.

The Nets worked out Collins during the All-Star break and met with him again Sunday, with his twin brother, Jarron, hinting that history would be made.

"Hope everyone is enjoying their Sunday. Today should be a pretty cool day!" Jarron Collins wrote on Twitter.

The news on Jason Collins comes as Michael Sam, the SEC co-defensive player of the year from Missouri who recently revealed he is gay, is taking part in the NFL draft combine. Sam's on-field workouts in Indianapolis are scheduled for Monday.

Collins was asked if he felt the tide is turning regarding gay players coming out, including Sam.

"I hope so. What Michael said was it was about him being a football player and me being a basketball player, and going out there and trying to help our respective teams win," Collins said.

He played 38 games last season with Boston and Washington and averaged 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds in limited minutes. For his career, the 7-foot Collins averages 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds.

"I'm a solid veteran, and hopefully I'll be in the right place" on the court, Collins said. "I know I can execute the game plan. It's just about focusing on the task at hand and not thinking about history or anything along those lines. I just want to make it difficult for the Lakers tonight."

His announcement last spring was followed by numerous NBA players insisting he would be welcomed in the locker room. Collins has played for five other teams and is well respected inside and outside the league — he attended the State of the Union as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama.

"I just know Jason as a person and as a player. That's what I'm happy about. He has earned it. He's a great guy. It's good for the league. The important thing is to judge him as a person and a basketball player," Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said.

"I know people who have coached him, and I know how highly thought of he is."