Jason Collins signs his new contract as head coach and former teammate Jason Kidd watches on. Credit: Twitter/@BrooklynNets
New Nets center Jason Collins is well aware of the history he is making, he just has much bigger things on his mind right now — like learning the team's plays.
“Right now, I’m just focused on trying to learn the plays and trying to learn the coverages,” Collins said at a press conference before Sunday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers. “I don’t have time to really think about history right now. I just have to focus on tonight.”
But everyone else will be focusing on the groundbreaking signing of the NBA's — and big four American sports' — first openly gay athlete. Brooklyn signed the former New Jersey Nets center to a 10-day contract. He won't be a star for the Nets, not even a starter, but he will provide depth inside for a team without All-Star Brook Lopez. The team also traded away power forward Reggie Evans on Thursday.
“Sometimes in life something happens and it’s an opportunity,” Collins said. “I’m very thankful for this opportunity and that’s why I worked so hard. [It is] why I train the way that I do, so that when I do have an opportunity, [I will be ready].”
Collins last played for the Wizards in 2013. He averaged just nine minutes per game with Washington and hasn't played over 15 minutes per game since 2007-08 with the Hawks.
The signing comes just a couple weeks after former Missouri football player Michael Sam came out ahead of this week's NFL Combine. Sam would've been the first out professional athlete, but Collins beat him to the punch. Now they both will provide an example for younger athletes who are considering coming out of the closet.
“My message is just be yourself, be your true authentic self,” Collins said of the advice he'd give to others considering coming out. “Never be or ashamed or have any fear to be your true authentic self.”
Collins announced he was gay in an interview with “Sports Illustrated” last April.
“Life is so much better for me. I don’t have to hide who I am. I can just be my normal self and the past 10 months have been incredible,” Collins said. “A lot of many cool experiences, learning from a lot [of people], making new friends, hearing different people’s stories, sharing experiences. It’s just a really overall positive [experience].”
Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher contributed to this article. Follow him on Twitter @LarryFleisher and follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter@MetroNYSports.