NEW YORK (WFAN) — Jason Collins was happy to finally suit up in Brooklyn after making history more than a week ago as the NBA’s first openly gay active player.
But his Barclays Center debut would have to wait another 45 minutes.
Collins finally got the call from Nets coach Jason Kidd with 2:41 remaining in Monday night’s 96-80 win over the Chicago Bulls. He received a standing ovation from the 17,000-plus fans in attendance and got to work doing what he does best — fouling opposing players.
“The fans have been great. It’s been really special being back,” Collins told WFAN’s Marc Malusis on Tuesday. “And I’m very proud to say that I’m playing for the Brooklyn Nets.”
As for his teammates, Collins said everything has been like old times. Guys are laughing and joking around — and maintaining their focus on winning basketball games.
“This is my 13th year, and as far as the locker room goes, it’s just like it was my previous 12,” he said. “Like nothing’s changed.”
After coming out to his family, Collins announced his sexuality last April in a first-person account for Sports Illustrated. He signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Feb. 23, making history later that night in Los Angeles.
He said the journey has been “surreal.”
“Everything has been so exciting,” Collins said. “My life is just so much better. Living an authentic life and being accepted for who I am, it’s been terrific.”
The Nets are expected to give him another 10-day deal on Wednesday.
“I think that it’s going to encourage other athletes,” Collins said. “We all know statistically speaking that I’m not the only one and (Missouri DE Michael Sam) is not the only one. … I hope that it encourages other people to live an authentic life — an honest, authentic life — and not be afraid or ashamed to be who they really are in the public eye.”
Collins said it was important to control his own story.
“I want to be able to go on a date, hang with all of my friends, and not be outed on someone else’s terms by some reporter,” he said. “Especially with social media these days.”
The 7-footer knows his return to the NBA has been amplified because he’s gay. Normally the signing of a role-playing veteran would barely make a blip on the sports pages. But he said society isn’t ready to make it a non-story — not yet, anyway.
“Trust me, that’s what I want it to be, just about basketball and the on-the-court stuff,” Collins said. “But obviously in media and in the world, people have issues with people coming out and saying that they’re gay.”
His No. 98 jersey, worn in honor of slain gay college student Matthew Shepard, rocketed to No. 1 in sales on the NBA’s official website on its first day available for purchase. Collins met with Shepard’s parents last week when the Nets played in Denver.
“I would love to live in a world where it wouldn’t be a story. But at the same time, as a world we’re not there. As a society we still have laws on the books that openly discriminate against gay people,” Collins said. “So I think when society moves forward, it gets to that point where we have equal protection under the law for all members of the LGBT community, over time the focus will change.”
Collins was a member of the New Jersey Nets from 2001-08. He’s also had stints in Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta, Boston and Washington.
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