Jason Collins Joins Nets, Is NBA's First Openly Gay Player

Jason Collins signed with the NBA's Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. With the deal, he becomes, not only the NBA's first gay player, but the first openly gay athlete active in U.S. major professional sports.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For 10 and a half minutes last night in an otherwise forgettable NBA game between two teams with losing records, center Jason Collins played basketball - and made history. Collins became the first openly gay player in this country's major professional sports. He signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets Sunday, and then helped them beat the LA Lakers 108-102.

Collins came out as gay last April. And joining us now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So how did he do out there on the court?

GOLDMAN: You know, that's the kind of first question Jason Collins would love, Renee, 'cause he wants to be accepted as a basketball player, not as a pioneer, although he - obviously - understands the significance of what he's done. How'd he do? Not a great stat line, but he was never a guy who had great stat lines. He had zero points, two rebounds, one steal, five fouls. So we was hacking away out there.

But perhaps the most important number, his plus minus, which measures how many points better his team was than the opponents when he was on the court versus how they did when he wasn't. Jason Collins was plus eight. That's a good number. After the game, he said he wasn't tired. He had a lot of fun setting screens and committing those hard fouls.

He didn't take any charges, which defensive-minded players pride themselves on doing, but he said that'll change as he improves his movement and his basketball timing.

MONTAGNE: Jason Collins may want to be low-key about this, Tom, but what about the significance of this moment in history?

GOLDMAN: Significant moment one came, as you mentioned, when he came out last April, in an article in "Sports Illustrated." Then the question was, would he be embraced in a world that traditionally has not embraced open homosexuality? There was silence for nearly 10 months as no one signed him, so we thought OK, the NBA is speaking that way. But then yesterday maybe the even bigger moment because, Renee, it was a moment of acceptance.

Consider it was less than three years ago that Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah were fined for using anti-gay slurs on the court, prompting a lot of talk about homophobia in sport and how the locker room was this holdout for macho, anti-gay sentiment. You know, this doesn't mean it's over, but it's a significant step forward, coming just weeks after college football play Michael Sam came out.

He's probably headed for the NFL, which looks like it's going to have its Jason Collins moment.

MONTAGNE: Well, why, Tom, did this happen in Brooklyn?

GOLDMAN: Who knows whether it was a way to generate attention for a team that ranks 17th out of 30 in attendance, it has a losing record - although the Nets have been winning lately, and are in a position right now to make the playoffs. But cynicism aside, we'll take Brooklyn general manager Billy King at his word. He said that the decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision. We needed to increase our depth inside and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract.

Now, Brooklyn traded one of its better rebounders, Reggie Evans, last week, and they lost their starting center to injury. So as King said, they needed another big body.

MONTAGNE: How, Tom, do you think he'll fit in?

GOLDMAN: Well, I think it's a good fit. He comes to a veteran team that can handle the media scrutiny. And in his long career, Jason Collins has played with a bunch of guys on this team, including the Nets coach, Jason Kidd. They went to the NBA Finals together - two times, in fact. So it's a good situation.

Last night was a good scene. He checked into the game and got a nice reception from the Lakers home crowd. We won't be surprised if there are bumps along the road. But now, it seems to be good.

MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks a lot.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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