LOS ANGELES — After becoming the first active gay player in the NBA on Sunday as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Jason Collins received high praise from his fellow NBA players, who had nothing high praise for the 12-year veteran.
Prior to the game Collins had stated that he was focused on getting acclaimed with his new team rather than the history he was making as the league’s first actively gay player.
“Right now I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, trying to learn the coverages of the game plan and assignments. Collins said. “I haven’t had time to think of history. I have to focus on my job tonight.
“That’s life. Sometimes in life something happens and it’s an opportunity. That’s why I work so hard and train. I’m very thankful for this opportunity. Physically, I’m not worried about my conditioning. Again, it goes back to learning the plays and coverages and learning my assignments. That’s the adjustment for me.”
After the game, Collins was happy that he could return to the court in an NBA game and is hopeful that he can help his team earn more wins in the process.
“Conditioning-wise, I felt good,” Collins said. “It was a lot fun to get back out on the court. I set screens, hard fouls. I didn’t take any charges tonight, but that will change. It felt good back out there out on the court and get my teammates open.
“The most important thing is the team got the win. I don’t care about scoring. I care about my team winning.”
For Paul Pierce, who played with Collins last season with the Boston Celtics, it was inspiring to see him out there and make an impact on the team.
“Having him come out here and play the way he did tonight was great. It is very inspiring,” Pierce said. ” The way he comes in and is ready makes you expect nothing but professionalism from Jason [Collins]. I had him as a teammate last year and he is much needed around here. I believe he is going to be big for us.”
Pierce also realizes that today’s society is more accepting of alternative lifestyles and that Collins is helping that change continue.
“In society we live in this was going to happen eventually. 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. that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
“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.”
Deron Williams was also on the same wave link as Pierce, as Collins to him is just another teammate and a solid addition to the team.
“He is a basketball player and he’s been doing this for a long time, so that didn’t change.” Williams said. “Maybe the outside perception did, but in this locker room it wasn’t a big deal and wasn’t a distraction. It was just another game for us tonight.”
As for his team’s opponent in the Lakers on Sunday, Pau Gasol applauded Collins’ courage and is hopeful that his opportunity is extended past his current 10-day contract.
“It is historical,” Gasol said. “Us players focus on playing the game. It is remarkable and you have to respect and applaud his courage in this situation. I was happy to see out there and that he got this opportunity to play on this 10-day contract. Hopefully he will get a next one and finish the season with the (Nets).”
Gasol also added that he both Jason and his brother, Jarron Collins, have been great players in the league and are people of high character.
“I think both brothers have always been for my entire career great guys and great competitors,” Gasol said. “I have respected their game, attitude and professional everywhere they have been, which they stood out because of it. Obviously he has become an icon and is going to have to carry some responsibility with it, which I think he is fine with that.”
For Nick Young, he acknowledged that what Collins was monumental, but ultimately for he will be treated like any other player this on an opposing team this season.
“That was big for him to come out, but you still got to play basketball,” Young said. “At the end of the day, you still got to go out there and compete, fight and do everything. You can’t back of up off of him. You still got to treat him like if it was me or everybody.”
Young also added: “He has been in this awhile and for him to come out now. He has already been accepted.”
Comments like the ones Young made show that the league, like society, has progressed along to where personal matters do not concern others as it is only their work ethic or ability in that field of work that do. Collins personal matter are not what needs to be concerned about, it is how he performs on the court for his team and if he is helping them win games. That is all that matters.
And that is all that should matter.
Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports, via Reuters