There were only 11 minutes of Jason Collins on the floor for the Brooklyn Nets in their 108-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, but that period of time, which is less than one NBA quarter, were a lot more important and frankly more intriguing than the entire game.
Collins made the headlines last year when he announced that he’s gay. He didn’t sign with a team during the summer and later in the 2013-2014 NBA Season, because frankly he’s probably not good enough to be on an NBA team for a full season and take a spot on a 12-man roster. But things change over the course of a season, and players go down with injury. Collins stayed in shape, waited for the call, and got the 10-day contract from the Nets, who need some help and big bodies heading into the playoffs, where they’ll probably end up.
Michael Sam coming out was the big news this year, with the potential of becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL right from the start and not after he retired. Collins waited until the timing was right, and his NBA career was almost over to let out his truth be heard. His return to the NBA as a backup center for the Nets on an ordinary night at the Staples center went almost unnoticed. Some cheers from the depressed LA fans, nothing more. There didn’t seem to be a sign of treating him differently from anyone, unless you count admiring every play he made, which was mostly rebounding, screening and shoving players in the paint as special treatment.
I know that I can play in the NBA and it felt good to be out there tonight. Conditioning-wise, I felt good. I don’t think I got tired. It was a lot of fun to get back out on the court and set screens, hard fouls. Didn’t take any charges tonight — that’ll change. I’ll get in position next time. As far as basketball timing, it’s going to take at least a couple of practices.
And there was a game. The Lakers look worse and worse, healthy or injured, with every game that goes by. In a game that got away from them early on, it seemed that despite their high shooting perentage (51.3% from the field, 41.2% from beyond the arc), whenever the Nets needed a big score in order to keep the Lakers at bay, it happened. Pau Gasol led them with 22 points while Jodie Meeks had 19 and Kent Bazemore finished with 17. No one understands why Mike D’Antoni makes his rotation and lineup decisions anymore, but it doesn’t really matter. The Lakers are going nowhere, and the best they can do is seem a bit fun while failing.
Deron Williams led the Nets scoring 30 points, with 7 assists and 6 steals, while Paul Pierce, scoring 14 points in the first quarter, finished with 25. The Nets were able to rest Kevin Garnett while Collins came off the bench to do some rebounding and defense, while Mason Plumlee and Andrei Kirilenko formed the starting frontcourt for the Nets, who knew that playing against the 19-37 Lakers is the perfect time to experiment.
But the Collins factor was what everyone wanted to know about, so that’s what the players talked about.
Deron Williams – He’s a basketball player. He’s been doing this for a long time, so that didn’t change. Maybe outside perception did, but inside this locker room it wasn’t a big deal or a distraction. It was just another game for us. But he played huge for us. He made big plays on defense and was instrumental in this win tonight. I know he’s been sitting around waiting for a job, and we’re excited about having Jason.
Paul Pierce – In the society we live in, you know this was going to happen eventually. He is a guy who’s going to be able to open the door for so many athletes — not only in America but around the world — to feel comfortable to come out and not feel embarrassed and feel like they’re welcomed in the sports world. It isn’t about race, gender or sexuality. It’s about being a part of a team and caring for one another. That’s all that matters at the end of the day. It was very inspiring, how he just came in and was ready. He did the same thing for us last year with Boston. You expect nothing but professionalism from Jason. He’s much needed around here with the lack of big men we have, especially with Kevin playing limited games in back-to-back moments. Jason’s going to be big for us.
Kendall Marshall – It’s just another step in the right direction. I think it’s the advancements we’ve made as people and will continue to make advancements. As far as I’m concerned, when I see him, I see him as a great defender — a guy that protects the paint and finishes around the rim. That’s all I see when I’m out there. They needed help inside, and he’s definitely going to be somebody who can help them with that.