Jason Collins, a 35-year-old center, signed a 10-day contract with the Nets on Sunday afternoon and played against the Lakers hours later, appearing in an N.B.A. uniform for the first time since last spring, when he announced that he was gay.
The signing represents a significant step toward transforming North American professional sports into a more welcoming environment for gay athletes. Until Sunday night, no N.B.A. game had taken place with an openly gay player on the floor. The N.F.L., Major League Baseball and the N.H.L. — the continent’s other three traditional major sports leagues — have never had a publicly gay participant.
The very act of Collins’s suiting up and stepping onto the court — he entered the game to warm applause in the second quarter — represented a milestone in the effort to change a sports culture that some feel has lagged far behind society at large in acceptance of gay people. Collins played 11 minutes in the Nets’ 108-102 victory, finishing with no points, two rebounds, a steal and five fouls.
Collins said he had little time to process it all. He awoke Sunday morning to text messages from his agent and Nets Coach Jason Kidd alerting him to the move, and hours later he was signing his contract. A few hours after that, he was taking his physical and preparing to play his first game since April 17.
“Right now, I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, the game plan assignment,” Collins, sitting at a lectern, said less than an hour before the game Sunday night. “I don’t have time to really think about history right now.”
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