Jason Collins Returns To Nets As First Openly Gay NBA Player

Jason Collins became the first openly gay male athlete to play in any of the four largest professional sports in the U.S. He joined the Brooklyn Nets in what many are calling a historic moment.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Last night, the NBA's Jason Collins became the first openly gay man to play in any of this country's four major professional sports. Collins signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets yesterday. And a few hours later, he made his debut as a backup center in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

NPR's Nate Rott was at the game in L.A. and he has this report.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: With 10 and a half minutes left in the second quarter of the game, the Nets' backup center - the 7-foot, 255-pound, 13-year vet from Stanford - took the court

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Nets, number 46 Jason Collins.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ROTT: And you'd have thought he was on his home court. Some fans stood. Others stayed sitting. And a small group in the Staple's Center bottom corner cried and then cheered.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Unintelligible) woo.

ROTT: As family and friends should. Elsa Collins is Jason Collins' step-sister.

ELSA COLLINS: You know what he said to me this morning? He said to me: It's like I'm rooting for somebody else, but then I realize that I'm the person that I'm rooting for. You know? So I think it's a little bit out of body.

ROTT: Jason Collins knows that what he's doing is historic. But for him, it's just an opportunity to play basketball. It's been 10 months since he came out. Ten months of waiting and training, hoping a team would sign him. Those 10 months ended Sunday, when the Nets offered him a 10-day deal. Their general manager said it was a basketball move, not a statement. But you'd have a hard time convincing spectators of that at GYM, a sports bar in West Hollywood, a few miles away.

ANWAR BURTON: As a gay black male too, I think it's amazing.

ROTT: Anwar Burton is an attorney in LA.

BURTON: It's very important that people, you know, can realize that you can be gay and you can be masculine at the same time. And you can be a great athlete.

ROTT: His friend, Jeremy Johnson, says he thinks that Collins' debut could be a start of something bigger.

JEREMY JOHNSON: I think that all of these momentous occasions like this, they start with a trickle and hopefully can turn into a tidal wave.

ROTT: A tidal wave of acceptance. There are gay athletes and they can compete at the highest level. The sports world saw evidence of that last month, when former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out. Sam was a defensive player of the year in one of college football's toughest divisions. He's expected to be drafted by a National Football League team later this year. The NFL, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have never had an openly gay player. With Collins' debut, the NBA does.

Cyd Ziegler is the editor and co-founder of Outsports.com, a website dedicated to covering LGBT athletes.

CYD ZIEGLER: Just last year, I had a member of the media bet me that what we saw last night was literally impossible.

ROTT: That an openly gay player could not exist in a professional sports locker room or arena.

ZIEGLER: The significance of last night was that people can't say that anymore.

ROTT: Collins isn't an All-Star by any means. But he does compete and he did contribute against the Lakers. Ziegler says that's all he has to do. It's his influence and not necessarily his play that people outside of basketball are paying attention to. And he says that's a good thing for sports.

ZIEGLER: Just a couple years from now, we'll look back and sports will l be held up as a model of inclusivity.

ROTT: Back at the Staples Center, outside of its glass doors, Hassan Randall is standing with some of his family. Randall is a good example of what Ziegler is talking about. He's a fan of basketball, but not a huge fan of Jason Collins.

HASSAN RANDALL: I always go by the Bible, you know. And the way he live, I feel like it's not right personally but that's his life. And I support him in whatever he do, you know. But I don't think its right.

ROTT: It's a respect thing.

RANDALL: A respect is everything. That's everything in life - respect.

ROTT: Brooklyn's next game is in Portland. Collins is just looking forward to another chance to compete.

Nathan Rott, NPR News.

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SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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