Jason Collins becomes first openly gay athlete to play in NBA, tells other athletes: 'Never be afraid or ashamed' (Update)

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Update 11:30 p.m.: Collins plays 10 minutes in Nets' victory

Collins played more than ten minutes in the game against the Lakers at Staples Center; he missed his only shot, grabbed two rebounds, committed five fouls, made a steal and had two turnovers. Brooklyn won, 108-102. 

"The most important thing is [the] team got the win,'" Collins said.

Update 5:18 p.m.: Jason Collins to other gay athletes: 'Never be afraid or ashamed'

In a news conference before the Nets-Lakers game, Jason Collins tried to keep the focus on basketball as he was barraged with questions about the significance of his being the first openly gay athlete to play on a major US sports team. 

Collins answered "I hope so" when asked if he thought that the generally positive reactions to his coming out, as well as to college football star Michael Sam's coming out, mean that "the tide is turning" regarding society's attitude towards gays and lesbians. He added his hope that people will focus on his and Sam's abilities as athletes.

Asked if he felt pressure given the circumstances, he said, "For me, the pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight. The last time I played in an NBA game was last April. I think that's enough pressure right there," added Collins.

"It's about focusing on the task at hand and not thinking about history or anything along those lines," he said. 

Asked if he had a message for other gay athletes, Collins said, "My message to athletes, period, is to be your true, authentic self; never be afraid or ashamed...to be your true authentic self."

Collins said that "life is so much better for me" since coming out last year. "I don’t have to hide who I am," he said. "I can just be my normal self."

Collins said the fact that Los Angeles is the site for his first game since coming out is "very special to me," noting that he grew up in the San Fernando Valley and lives in L.A.

"It was pretty easy for me just to come to the game tonight," he said. "I just drive down the 405 and take the 10 and get here in 20 minutes."

— Paul Glickman, KPCC

Listen: Jason Collins full press conference

12:23 p.m.: Nets' Collins to become first openly gay NBA player in game vs Lakers

Los Angeles native and pro-basketball veteran Jason Collins will suit up tonight for the Brooklyn Nets' game at Staples Center against the L.A. Lakers, becoming the first openly gay athlete to compete in the NBA, or any of the three other major sports in the U.S.  —  the N.F.L., Major League Baseball and the N.H.L. 

Collins, who came out in an interview last May with Sports Illustrated, signed a 10-day contract with the Nets, the team confirmed Sunday. The 35-year old NBA veteran has played for six teams in 12 seasons, most recently as a reserve with the Washington Wizards after a midseason trade from the Boston Celtics.

The Nets had been looking to acquire a post player for tonight's game, according to ESPN: 

"The Nets moved quickly to make the historic signing of the 35-year-old free agent center to have another big body available against the Lakers. Brooklyn had been contemplating signing Collins for the past week and the need for Collins became greater after the Nets dealt rebounding specialist Reggie Evans to the Sacramento Kings last week."

Collins has been without a team since his contract expired with the Wizards last season. He went preseason and much of the regular season without a job offer.

The Associated Press reports that Nets General Manager Billy King had been considering Collins for a week, and that he had worked out for the team recently: 

King said the Nets wouldn't be concerned about any extra attention the signing of Collins would provide.

"We're going to bring in a basketball player," King said. "It's not about marketing or anything like that."

In his May interview with Sports Illustrated, Collins told the magazine that he hadn't been particularly interested in becoming the first gay athlete in a major U.S. sport:

"I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, 'I'm different,'" Collins writes. "If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."

At the time, Collins' announcement drew praise from a number of NBA players, several of whom he's likely to play with and against tonight: 

Tweet by Kobe Bryant:

Tweet by Steve Nash:

Tweet by Pau Gasol:

Tweet by Shaq:

Tweet by Jason Kidd

The news of Collins' signing comes as former Missouri defensive player Michael Sam, who recently came out as gay, is scheduled to take part in the NFL draft. In May 2013, Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay athlete to compete in the MLS.

Tonight's Nets vs Lakers game is at 6 p.m. PST. 

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