LOS ANGELES -- Jason Collins woke up a little after 8 a.m. Sunday, checked his phone and saw that some very important people had been trying to reach him, including his agent and Nets coach Jason Kidd. That's when he knew his day would be anything but ordinary.
He hopped in his car, headed for the Nets' hotel -- and drove straight into history.
The Nets signed Collins, 35, to a 10-day contract Sunday, paving the way for him to become the first openly gay athlete to play in one of America's top four pro sports leagues.
The Nets reiterated that adding the 7-foot, 255-pounder is strictly related to basketball. They are hopeful that the 12- year veteran, who before Sunday night hadn't played since April, will help bolster their front line. Said Paul Pierce, "He's going to be big for us, I believe.''
The Nets' top target, Glen "Big Baby'' Davis, elected to verbally commit to joining the Clippers when he clears waivers Monday.
Although Collins became a trailblazer of sorts when he revealed his sexuality in April, he doesn't necessarily feel it's up to him to be a crusader. "No,'' he said Sunday night before the Nets' 108-102 win over the Lakers. "I need to be a solid basketball player. Again, it's about focusing on the task at hand and not thinking about history or anything along those lines. It's about going out there and making it difficult for the Lakers tonight.''
Asked if there would be pressure in becoming the first openly gay athlete to play in an NBA game, he pointed out that he hadn't been on the floor competitively in 10 months. "For me, the pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight,'' he said, "and the last time I played in an NBA game was last April. I think that's enough pressure right there.''
Collins sported a black No. 46 jersey; the No. 98 he plans on wearing to honor Matthew Shepard, who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998, wasn't immediately available. And with his twin, Jarron, a former NBA player, looking on a few rows away from courtside, Collins checked in with 10:28 left in the first half.
It was his first action since April 17 with the Wizards and his first time wearing a Nets uniform since Feb. 2, 2008. He wound up contributing two rebounds and a steal in 10:37, although he missed the only shot he took and committed five personal fouls and two turnovers.
Said Collins, "I know that I'm capable of playing in the NBA. I think I showed that tonight. Going out there, I can get my teammates open. My favorite part of the evening was when I think it was Jordan Farmar was complaining to the refs that I was setting an illegal pick or something like that. Stuff like that, that's my job. I know that I can play in the NBA and it felt good to be out there tonight.''
Deron Williams said he was proud to be part of a night like this. "Yeah, definitely. It's a big moment,'' he said. "It's definitely a big moment and I'm happy for him. I know he's been sitting around waiting for a job and I'm happy to see him on a team and happy that he's on our team.''
Said Pierce, "In the society we live in, this was going to happen eventually. This is the normal. He's a guy who's going to be able to open up the door, not only America but around the world welcomed in the sports world, and that's going to be key. It doesn't matter your race, your gender, sexuality or any of that. It's about being part of a team. It's about caring for one another. That's all that matters at the end of the day.''
"Every guy in here goes their own way, does their own things and then so be it. We come in the locker room and this is sports and everything is all magnified. It's great to just have him here to be able to just open the doors for so many athletes that they can feel comfortable to come out and not feel embarrassed to be a part of something.''
A massive media gathering assembled for Collins' pregame news conference, highly unusual for someone who signed a 10-day contract. But this wasn't a normal day, and the glaring spotlight seemed over the top to Collins. "A little bit,'' he said. "But again, that's life. I played for 12 years in the league, so I know how to play basketball. It's just obviously just getting timing back into a game. So I'm ready. Let's do it.''
Kidd, who played 61/2 seasons with Collins for the Nets from 2001-08, had a hand in bringing him in. Kidd said the Nets will keep the focus on the court and suggested they'll do whatever they can to keep Collins at ease in his new environment.
"This is about basketball and we always will remind ourselves of that,'' Kidd said. "He's one of our teammates and it's for us to make this as comfortable as possible, the transition. But for us to get out and to win ballgames, that's what it's all about.''
There's no telling if this is strictly an audition for a week and a half, and Kidd was noncommittal about Collins' long-term prospects. "We'll just take it day by day,'' he said. "We'll just take one day at a time and we'll go from there.''
Said Pierce, "It was great. It was very inspiring how he comes in and he was ready.
"He did the same thing for us last year in Boston, and you expect nothing but professionalism from Jason. I had him as a teammate last year and he's much-needed around here with the lack of big men we've had, especially with Kevin [Garnett] playing limited games in back-to-back moments, and we are going to need that down the stretch as he continues to get in better shape.''