Jason Collins had a very busy, historic day and night on Feb. 23. Months after coming out of the closet, Collins finally became the first openly gay athlete to play a game in the four major sports. Once the Brooklyn Nets signed him to a 10-day contract on the morning of Feb. 23, he ended his first day by playing 11 minutes in the Nets' 108-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite coming out last year, Collins' injury troubles and his status as a role player did more to keep him from being signed until now. Yet when the Nets finally found room, they brought him onboard for at least the next week-and-a-half. While there isn't room for him to do much, he still contributed two rebounds and a steal in his limited time against the Lakers, although he also racked up five fouls.
Collins had spent his first six-and-a-half seasons with the Nets when they were in New Jersey, so coming to join them in Brooklyn was a way to come full circle. A lot has changed since he was traded from the Nets in the middle of the 2007-08 season, as he bounced around with five teams and made a major societal statement before coming back.
Since Collins hadn't played yet this season, it looked like he might not become the first openly gay major athlete to get activated. That honor seemed destined to go to Michael Sam, who made an even bigger splash by coming out before getting selected in the NFL draft.
While Collins is nearer the end of his career than the beginning, the rookie Sam stands to be an even bigger test case for openly gay athletes in the long term. However, thanks to the Nets, Collins is first on the front lines after all.
Brooklyn may be less interested in breaking barriers than in shoring up its bench before the stretch drive to the playoffs. General manager Billy King confirmed that this was "a basketball decision," according to NBC, stating that his "experience and size" made Collins necessary to expand the Nets' inside depth.
The next basketball decision on Collins will come no later than nine days from now, regardless of the other implications. Before then, he and the Nets will spend the next several days on the road, as they next visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26.