The Brooklyn Nets on Sunday signed Jason Collins to a 10-day contract, making him the first openly gay player in NBA history.
“The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision,” Nets general manager Billy King said in a statement. “We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract.”
The Nets moved quickly to make the historic signing of the 35-year-old free agent center, who will be in uniform for tonight’s game against the Lakers in Los Angeles. He’s rejoining the franchise with which he spent his first six-plus seasons in the league.
Collins hasn’t played in an NBA game since April 2013 with the Washington Wizards. He’s been working out on his own for months in the L.A. area after failing to earn an invite to training camp from any of the league’s 30 teams after he revealed his sexuality last year.
The subject of gay athletes in pro sports has been drawning extra attention since Missouri University’s Michael Sam earlier this month came out and said he would make himself eligible for the National Football League’s player draft. If chosen, he’ll be the sport’s first openly gay player.
Sam sent his support for Collins on Sunday via Twitter:
— Michael Sam (@MikeSamFootball) February 23, 2014
Athlete Ally, a non-profit group that works closely with the NBA and other pro sports leagues on LGBT inclusion, applauded the Nets’ decision in a statement issued Sunday.
“Today, Jason Collins tore open the last remaining closet in America, and became the first openly gay player to be signed by a team in one of the big four sports. We are especially excited that Jason will be playing in Brooklyn, just like Jackie Robinson, and in a marriage equality state. This is a piece of history, an important point on the continuum toward justice and a moment to celebrate,” said Brian Ellner, a member of the Athlete Ally board of directors.
Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete to play in a U.S. pro sports league in May 2013, just three months after coming out. And John Amaechi, spent five seasons in the NBA with Orlando, Utah and Cleveland, disclosed his sexuality three years after his playing career ended in a 2007 book entitled “Man In The Middle.”