When he walked onto the court, Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play in one of the United States’ four major professional leagues.
He understood the significance attached to his appearance in an NBA game, but he had a job to do.
“It felt like, ‘I’ve done this thousands of times before,’” Collins said after Brooklyn’s 108-102 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night. “You go to the scorer’s table, you hear what the play’s going to be for the next offensive play and you go out there. Once you’re out on the court, it’s about basketball. It’s what I’ve been doing for almost three decades.”
Collins entered the game with 10:28 left in the second quarter and the Nets leading 35-26 after Nick Young made the first of his two free throws. The crowd welcomed him with a nice ovation when public address announcer Lawrence Tanter introduced him.
“I thought it was great,” he said. “Being an L.A. kid, I can’t think of a better situation, playing for the Nets and playing here, and getting the win. I’m just glad Kobe and Shaq weren’t out there.”
Collins signed a 10-day contract with the Nets earlier Sunday and played 10 scoreless minutes with two rebounds and five fouls.
“I had him as a teammate last year and he is much needed around here,” Pierce said.
“In the society we live in, this was going to happen eventually,” Pierce said. “He is a guy that is going to be able to open up the door for athletes around the world. It doesn’t matter your race, gender or sexuality because it’s about being part of a team and caring for one another. Every guy in here does their own thing and so be it. In this sport everything is magnified and it’s great to have him here to open up the doors for so many athletes.”
The 35-year-old center revealed at the end of last season he is gay, but he was a free agent and had remained unsigned.
Collins was aware of the magnitude of his signing, but repeatedly said he was most concerned with learning the Nets’ schemes.
“Right now I’m focusing on trying to learn the plays, learning the coverages and the game plan and the assignments. So I didn’t have time to really think about history,” Collins said at a crowded news conference less than an hour before tipoff.
“The pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight and last time I played in an NBA game was last April,” Collins said. “So I think that’s enough pressure right there.”
With a need for another big man, the Nets turned to the 7-foot Collins, who helped them reach two NBA Finals in the early 2000s.