Fans chant Jason Collins' name in his first game at Barclays Center
The very first question asked of Jason Collins on his initial workday in Brooklyn invoked Jackie Robinson, another sports pioneer who debuted in the borough 67 years earlier.
But the Nets' backup center did not bite, largely dismissing the apples-to-oranges comparison and making another plea to be accepted on his own terms, nothing more.
"What Jackie Robinson did for the sport of baseball, and for our society, was tremendous,'' Collins said Monday night at Barclays Center before the Nets beat the Bulls, 96-80, in his first home game of the season. "I'm just trying to be Jason Collins.''
That was enough to reward patient fans with the chance to witness another historical milestone in his journey as the first publicly gay male to participate in a major professional American team sport.
It appeared Collins might not play for the first time in his five games as a Net, even with many family and friends looking on -- including his twin brother, Jarron -- as well as notables such as former NBA commissioner David Stern.
But with the Nets in control in the closing minutes, many fans began to chant Collins' name. Coach Jason Kidd finally granted their wishes with 2:41 remaining and the Nets leading 92-75. They cheered when Collins reported to the scorer's desk, then gave him a robust standing ovation when he walked onto the floor and officially was announced.
"It was cool,'' he said after finishing with one rebound, one steal, one foul and one missed shot, a fairly typical statistics line for him. "It was a lot of fun to go into a game. The most important thing is we got the win.''
Kidd said he inserted the old friend he calls "Twin'' not because of the fans' chants but because the "game was out of hand'' and he wanted to get his regulars some rest.
"I don't pay attention to what people say; I'm sorry,'' he said. "Hopefully they were happy.''
Collins now has attracted large media crowds in five cities across four time zones over nine days, but his hope is that things will begin to normalize.
He is expected to sign a second 10-day contract Tuesday, and come Wednesday against the Grizzlies, he finally will play a second game in the same city.
"I think L.A. was a little bit bigger,'' he said of his pregame news conference, "so it's starting to go down a little bit. Over time, I expect it to. Like I've said before, there are only so many ways you can write the story about the off-the-court stuff; eventually the focus will be about the basketball and how the team is doing.''
Collins said he was "a little bit surprised'' that his No. 98 jersey rose to the top of the NBAStore.com sales list last week. He chose the number to honor Matthew Shepard, who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in 1998.
"It's great to see all that support for the jersey and all that it stands for and why I chose the number,'' he said. "It's one of those pleasant surprises in life. Thank you to all those people who have gone out there and bought the jersey.''
The NBA will donate proceeds from sales to the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
After the game, Collins sought to steer every line of questioning back to basketball, saying he will look back on the hectic nature -- and import -- of the past 10 days "when I officially retire.''
But he did express gratitude for the "incredible'' support from "NBA league officials, family and friends, obviously, fans, the list goes on and on. LBGT groups. It's been really cool to see.''