The Nets on Sunday signed free agent Jason Collins, making him the first active openly gay player of any of the four major North American pro sports leagues. NY1's Michael Herzenberg filed the following report.
Jason Collins on Sunday stepped onto the basketball court at the Barclays Center and leapt into history as the first openly gay player in the NBA.
"My message to other athletes, you know it doesn't matter, period, is just be yourself. Be your true, authentic self," Collins said.
At the news conference before his return to professional basketball the 35-year-old center said he's focused on learning the Brooklyn Nets' plays and coverage.
The organization only called him to play Sunday night on Sunday morning. He last competed in the NBA in April.
"Want to take time to thank all the fans, all the family and friends who have reached out to me today. My cell phone went crazy," Collins said.
He signed his contract with former Nets teammate, now coach Jason Kidd. Collins played on the New Jersey Nets for six and half seasons, more than half of his career.
The Barclays Center hosted the circus Sunday. Outside, Nets fans reacted to Collins coming to town.
"The fact that he's openly gay to me it just shows courage and strength but I just love it," said one Nets fan.
"I think if it happened 10, 15 years ago there would probably be a problem. But I think if people have a problem they'll be scared to say it," said another Nets fan.
"I think it's actually in the same vein as the Brooklyn Dodgers signing Jackie Robinson," said a third Nets fan.
Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball with professionalism on and off the field 67 years ago in Brooklyn.
It's something players and Brooklyn fans say typifies this journeyman who came out at the end of last season and who only addressed his trailblazing role Sunday night after repeated questions from the media.
"Life is so much better for me. I mean, I don't have to hide who I am, I can just be my normal self," Collins said.
Collins played just 10 and a half minutes Sunday night, pulling down two rebounds and recording one steal. He signed a 10-day contract which is essentially like a working try out that could get extended through the end of the season.