Jason Collins makes home debut for Nets
Brooklyn Nets Jason Collins speaks to media before playing against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center in Los Angeles in this file photo taken February 23, 2014. Photo by Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.
The first openly gay athlete to play in any of the top American sports leagues received a standing ovation when he made his home debut with the Brooklyn Nets on Monday.
Jason Collins came off the bench with less than three minutes to go in a 96-80 win over the Chicago Bulls after the crowd became impatient and begun to chant his name.
"It was cool. It was a lot of fun to go into the game. More importantly, the most important thing was that we got the win," the NBA veteran said after the win.
"You know, when you get into the game, regardless, you have to be ready and it was a lot of fun to get out there," he said.
Collins, who has played with six different teams during his 12 years in the NBA, has said he never had any grand plans to be the first openly gay player but that events off the basketball court persuaded him to come out.
He told Sports Illustrate that he was inspired by the 2012 Gay Pride Parade in Boston, but delayed making an announcement due to a desire to protect his team, waiting until the regular 2012-2013 season ended landed.
However, Collins remained unsigned as free agent during the current season until his former team, now moved to Brooklyn, picked him up on a ten day contract to cover for injured big men Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez.
"Yeah, the support. It's been great. I always thank the fans and I those people that support me and the Brooklyn Nets," said Collins, 35, about the reception since his signing.
The historic signing has earned accolades across the country and Nets fans were eager to finally get the chance to show their support at the Barclays Center.
"It's awesome! I was a fan in New Jersey, so with [Jason] Kidd being coach and him [Collins] being back it's awesome," said Nick Cullen, a fan from New Jersey.
"For him to break the barrier again, like Brooklyn with Jackie Robinson - first African-American, for him to be the first openly gay player to play professional sports, it's awesome," he finished.
Some fans were recognized the history in the making and were happy to be involved, like season ticket holder Abraham Yakubov.
"I'm one of the fortunate people to actually experience something like that. A lot of people don't experience it. As my kids will get older, I can tell them, you know, I was one of the guys that was there to see an openly gay person come to the NBA and the NBA actually accepting this," he said.
Most fans, though, were less interested in Collins' sexuality and more excited about how the 7'0 footer (2.13m) could help the Nets into the playoffs.
"He's a veteran. He knows how to play, despite what the issues are, that's not important," said Charles Millian.
"I want him to help them. He's 7'0 foot. He can set picks. He can roll. He can shoot. That's all I'm worried about."
Despite his limited playing time, Collins return to the NBA has been more than successful for him, his team and the league.
Collins no. 98 jersey has become the biggest seller at the online store for the NBA. The Nets have gone 4-1 since signing Collins on Feb 23. And Collins had his contract renewed for another ten days after not playing since the spring of 2013.