Updates from Sunday, Feb. 23
Jason Collins will officially be in uniform tonight as the Brooklyn Nets play the LA Lakers according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:
Nets coach Jason Kidd: Jason Collins will play tonight vs. Lakers. And speaking appropriately about Collins fitting in, says: "Be himself."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) February 24, 2014
Kidd did his best to stress Jason Collins' 10-day contract is a Nets basketball decision: "Win ballgames. That's what it's all about."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) February 24, 2014
He conducted a press conference before the game. Ding and Tim Bontemps of the New York Post provided some notable quotes:
Jason Collins: "Focusing on the task at hand and not thinking about history."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) February 24, 2014
Collins: "I need to be a solid basketball player. It's about focusing on basketball and not history or anything along those lines."— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 24, 2014
Collins: "For me, the pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight, when I haven't played since last April."— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 24, 2014
Collins: "My message to other athletes is to be yourself. Be your true authentic self, and never be afraid to be your authentic self."— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 24, 2014
Collins would end up playing, as Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reported:
Lakers fans give nice round of applause for Jason Collins as he checks in with 10:28 left in the second quarter.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) February 24, 2014
Here is video of the crowd's reaction to when Collins checked into the game for the first time:
It may have taken longer than most expected, but Jason Collins has finally found a home to play basketball in 2014. When he steps on the floor, he will become the first openly gay active player in NBA history.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, Collins is expected to agree to a deal with the Brooklyn Nets:
Jason Collins has a meeting with the Nets in a few hours and is expected to sign, source tells ESPN.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 23, 2014
Collins is expected to be a member of the Nets by tonight's game with the Lakers at Staples Center, source tells ESPN— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 23, 2014
When he joins the Nets, Jason Collins will officially become the first openly gay athlete in pro sports. Man that felt great to type that.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 23, 2014
Jarron Collins hinted at the good news about his brother earlier on Sunday:
Hope everyone is enjoying their Sunday. Today should be a pretty cool day!— jarron collins (@jarronctwin) February 23, 2014
The Nets later confirmed the move later in the day (via Andy Vasquez of The Record):
Nets make it official: Jason Collins has been signed to a 10-day contract.— Andy Vasquez (@andy_vasquez) February 23, 2014
General manager Billy King talked about the signing in a statement (via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News):
In a statement, GM Billy King says "it's a basketball decision. We needed to increase our depth inside."— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) February 23, 2014
The Nets also shared a photo of Collins signing his contract:
Mike Mazzeo of ESPN passed along the number Collins will wear and the motivation behind it:
Collins, 35, spent the entire 2013-14 NBA season out of basketball hoping to land a short-term contract. The process was conspicuously quiet even going past the Feb. 20 trade deadline, but almost as soon as the cutoff period started, rumors about Collins' destination began cropping up.
ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc Stein reported the Nets were considering a Collins signing after failing to land a big man at the deadline. Brooklyn engaged in talks for Lakers forward Jordan Hill, but that deal fell apart when the two sides couldn't agree on compensation.
Shelburne also chimed in on the matter, mentioning that former Orlando Magic forward Glen Davis was initially seen as another option.
Jason Collins wanted 1 thing, for this to be a basketball decision. It is. Nets traded Evans & missed on Davis, have a need for his skills— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 23, 2014
As Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski notes, the Clippers are front-runners to sign Davis after having been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Collins by Youngmisuk and Stein.
The veteran center publicly came out for the first time in a first-person Sports Illustrated column in May. He spoke openly and honestly about the internal trials and tribulations of his announcement, noting the "lonely road" that came prior.
He later appeared on multiple media platforms, including on television and radio, along with being a guest of President Barack Obama at his State of the Union Address earlier this year.
After the initial media frenzy subsided, Collins' next destination became the underlying elephant in the room. Most everyone agreed that Collins was a trailblazer for fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes, whether his announcement sparked a flood of others coming out or not. But there were many who wondered what it would mean should no NBA team choose to pick him up.
Trailblazer or not, Collins landing with the Nets or any NBA team was far from a guarantee. There were many inside the NBA and numerous outsiders who grew nervous as Collins went without a team, some even using it as an indictment of locker room culture. The league and its teams categorically denied such claims.
"In terms of Jason not getting signed, based on everything I've been told, it's a basketball decision," Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN's Darren Rovell. "Our teams want to win and Jason waited until the very tail end of his career to make that announcement."
In his Sports Illustrated piece, Collins perhaps described his style of play more eloquently than any writer could. He noted his own propensity to use up all six fouls allotted by NBA rules and his fierce team-first style that earned him the label of a "pro's pro." As Collins acknowledged in the piece, that's a nice way of saying he is far from a superstar.
Collins' job is to make the lives of his more talented teammates easier. He acts as an enforcer in the middle, picking up hard fouls and even once leading the entire NBA in those penalties.
But perhaps Collins' most notable trait, the one that could win him or lose him a job, came in the first sentence of the Sports Illustrated story: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center."
Now 35, the wellspring of contracts for players whose primary job is to "be big" tends to run dry. There are younger, more athletic players across the league who can be found on the cheap to fill a similar role. Collins played in only six games after being acquired by the Wizards midway through last season and shot 16.7 percent. For his career, he averaged 3.6 points per game.
Collins' primary job, even as he has embarked as a secondary career as an inspiration to millions, is to play basketball. There was a point last season where his career looked to be on its last legs, his effectiveness on both ends atrophying to the point where the toughness and "pro's pro" mentality were not enough.
Perhaps that's the case. But one of the overarching reasons for Brooklyn signing Collins is his presence in the locker room, the place that many pointed to as the most fear-evoking for a homosexual player.
When Boston traded Collins to Washington at the deadline, many Celtics went out of their way to praise the center's presence. Kevin Garnett said it was "a pleasure to work with him,” but the most positive touter of Collins' presence was then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
“He’s the best,” Rivers said, per NESN's Ben Watanabe. “He literally is one of the best guys I’ve ever had in the locker room, player or coach.”
When the story came out, Rivers said he was "extremely happy and proud" of Collins, per The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn. That sentiment echoed throughout the NBA, with statements of pride and adulation coming across all spectrums of the league.
We won't know how the public will embrace Collins. The response has been mostly positive from a media sense and across the NBA, but that doesn't necessarily represent the average fan. And with Brooklyn battling for a playoff spot, Collins will see how fans react in the most pressure-packed of situations.
With this signing, though, Collins and the Nets have finally given us an opportunity to see how far we've come.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter