The first time Jason Collins conducted a pregame press conference about being the NBA’s first openly gay basketball player, he tried to keep the focus on basketball.
Prior to his home debut against the Bulls on Monday, Collins conducted another pregame press conference to discuss the same topic and again tried to maintain focus on what he would do on the court.
Collins answered about 15 questions from a media crowd that was the largest of the season for the Nets, and focused on basketball even when he was asked about the comparisons to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
“I’m trying to be Jason Collins,” Collins said. “What Jackie Robinson did for the sport of baseball and for our society is tremendous but I’m just trying to be Jason Collins.”
Approximately 60 media members were in the interview room at Barclays Center and indications of a big gathering were evident with virtually all local news stations having their trucks parked along Flatbush Avenue.
“I think L.A. was a little bit bigger, so it’s starting to go down a little bit and over time I expect it to [diminish],” Collins said. “Like I said before, there’s only so many ways you can write the story. Eventually the focus will be about basketball.”
The most important thing for Collins is getting his footing going after working out for the past 10 months after closing out last season with the Wizards.
“There’s a learning curve,” Collins said. “I’ve been doing this for the past 12 years but at the same time, before last Sunday, the last time I played was in April. [I am] just trying to get my timing back and do what I do out there on the court — set screens on the offensive end and [on] the defensive end use my size and strength.”
Collins has played 34 minutes in four games entering Monday and committed 10 fouls while totaling four rebounds and three points. He has received a positive reaction from four different crowds, which he says takes getting used due to opposing fans often heckling visiting players.
In that span, his favorite moment on the court was setting a hard pick on Milwaukee rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo on Saturday.
“Yes, definitely, especially if it’s a blindside pick, that’s fun,” Collins said.
Another fun thing for Collins is the news that his No. 98 jersey is a best-selling jersey among fans. Collins selected the number in remembrance of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was beaten, tortured and murdered in 1998 at 21 years old.
“Honestly, I have been a little bit surprised,” Collins said. “But at the same time it’s great to see all that support for the jersey and all that it stands for and why I choose the number. It’s one of those pleasant surprises in life and thank you to all the people who have gone out there and bought the jersey.”
The league has already said it will donate proceeds from the jersey to the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Collins is likely to get another 10-day contract but did not seem to know about the published reports. After his second 10-day contract runs out, league rules stipulate he must be signed for the remainder of the season.
“Twin is a good friend of mine,” head coach Jason Kidd said of his newest player and former teammate from New Jersey. “He’s a basketball player but he’s a great person. That’s why we wanted him on this team. We felt he could help us win. Now the comparisons to Jackie Robinson or any other comparisons are up to you guys — the media — but as a coach, he’s someone that can help us win ballgames.
Garnett sits with back spasms
Back spasms caused Andrei Kirilenko to miss 25 games earlier this but the Nets are not at that point with Kevin Garnett.
But Garnett was rested for a second consecutive game on Monday night.
The Nets do not know the severity but seemed optimistic it would not be a long-term problem, as Kidd said Garnett was feeling better.
“Defensively he brings a lot to the table and also from being able to knock down shots, but I think guys are getting better and more comfortable when he’s not in there because we have struggled without him in the lineup,” Kidd said.
The Nets have won their last two games without Garnett but that was against the Lakers and Bucks. Overall they are 3-7 without Garnett and have been out rebounded by 66 in those games.
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.