LOS ANGELES – New Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins took part in a postgame interview and walked off to rousing applause as the last player to leave the floor. Such adulation isn't normal for a journeyman center that was scoreless with five hard fouls in 10 minutes of play.
But this wasn't a normal night. Rather, a historical one in which Collins became the first openly gay male athlete to play in one of America's four major sports when he debuted with the Nets during a 108-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
"It was weird because I'm usually one of the background players," Collins said. "It's weird obviously, this [the media attention]. But at the same time, it is what it is. It's part of life."
Collins, who signed a 10-day contract earlier in the day, announced last April 29 that he was gay. No NBA team signed the now 13-year veteran as a free agent entering the season or even invited him to training camp. There was a growing perception that Collins being gay wasn't as big of a concern as the media circus that could come with signing him.
Collins, however, refused to retire or pursue playing overseas. The Los Angeles native did such things to keep in shape as running five miles on a trail locally, sprinted on a treadmill with a weighted vest and worked on individual basketball drills. Former NBA player Jarron Collins had said his brother was in the best shape of his life.
[Related: Why Collins' return to NBA matters]
"I always stayed positive," Jason Collins said. "That's one of the things I pride myself in is being a professional. Part of being professional is always being ready, always training."
The Nets had two roster spots open and were first interested in signing free agent forward Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Davis' agent John Hamilton gave the Nets word very early Sunday morning Eastern time that Davis was likely signing with the Los Angeles Clippers, which he later did. With Davis going elsewhere, the Nets offered the biggest 10-day contract in NBA history to Collins, which he immediately accepted.
Once the word got out, the response was big and meaningful to Collins.
"I got a lot of calls, a lot of texts, a lot of e-mails from people I look up to and admire who helped me along the way and were keeping me focused," Collins said.