LOS ANGELES — Jason Collins, a 35-year-old center, signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Sunday afternoon, putting him back in an NBA uniform for the first time since last spring, when he announced that he was gay.
The signing represents a significant step toward transforming North American professional sports into a more welcoming environment for gay athletes. Entering Sunday night, no NBA game had taken place with an openly gay player on the floor. The NFL, Major League Baseball, and the NHL have also never had a publicly gay participant.
The very act of Collins’s suiting up and stepping onto the court, then, represented a milestone in the acceptance of gay people in the sports world.
Collins said he had little time to process it all. He awoke Sunday morning to text messages from his agent and Nets coach Jason Kidd alerting him about the move, and hours later he was signing his contract.
“Right now, I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, the game plan assignment,” Collins said before the game Sunday night. “I don’t have time to really think about history right now.”
Collins played 11 minutes, missing his only shot and collecting two rebounds in the Nets’ 108-102 victory. He was whistled for five fouls.
Many felt that such a moment was overdue. Last April, after spending the 2012-13 season with the Celtics and the Wizards, Collins announced in a Sports Illustrated article that he was gay.
He was met with widespread support, but not a new contract to play basketball. He was not invited to any team’s training camp and spent the last several months working out at his home in Los Angeles, readying himself in case a team called. The Nets called.
“The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision,” general manager Billy King said in a statement. “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.”
The 7-foot Collins has never been a standout player at the professional level — he has averaged 3.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks per game in his career — but he has consistently earned plaudits for his professionalism.
“Guys already know what to expect from me,” Collins said. “I’m not going to magically have a 40-inch vertical and shoot 3s. I’m a defensive player first, and that’s what I pride myself on.”
Collins is re-entering an American sports landscape that has changed for gay athletes since he last played.
Michael Sam, 24, announced that he was gay shortly after completing a four-year college football career at Missouri. Sam is expected to be selected in May’s NFL draft.