LOS ANGELES--Jason Collins knew his desire to be seen as an NBA player - not the NBA’s first openly gay player, but a player with a job to do - was going to have to wait at least one more night.
Sitting in front of a black picnic-sized table inside Staples Center with a single microphone before him, Collins, wearing a Brooklyn Basketball shirt, his left wrist wrapped in white athletic tape, was introduced as the newest Net, having signed a 10-day contract earlier Sunday.
His biggest concern wasn’t about how he would be perceived or received or remembered.
It was as simple as this:
"Right now I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, learn the coverages,’’ he said. “I don’t have time to think about history."
There is no escaping the fact, nor should there be, that this was a historic day for professional sports everywhere.
At precisely 9:37 Eastern time, with 10:27 left in the second quarter, Collins, wearing No. 46, took the court, the first openly gay athlete in any of America’s four major sports leagues.
“It felt like, well, I’ve done this thousands of times before," Collins said when asked his thought as he waited at the scorer’s table to check in. “Once you’re on the court, it’s all basketball. It’s what I’ve been doing for almost three decades.’’
He received a warm, enthusiastic response, but nothing over the top. Lakers fans treated it like a long lost son returning for an annual family reunion.
It was exactly what Collins, 35, and the Nets had been hoping for.
“I need to be a solid basketball player,’’ said Collins. “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.’’
Collins didn’t get much of a chance to make it difficult for Los Angeles. He played his first 11 minutes of this season, grabbing two rebounds, turning it over twice, making one steal and picking up five fouls.
“He came in this league knowing he’s going to give his six fouls away. He used up five of them so we’re kind of disappointed,’’ Nets coach Jason Kidd joked after the game. “He’s a guy that understands when to foul. Make them earn it from the stripe. He did a great job.’’
So did Paul Pierce and Deron Williams who were dazzling in a 108-102 win, the Nets first over the Lakers here since 2007. Pierce scored 25 on 9-of-15 shooting, his highest point total in a road game this season.
Williams, who has been reborn since the All-Star break, played his best two-way game of the season, scoring 30 points, giving out seven assists, making six steals and grabbing five rebounds.
The Nets improved to 26-28. The Kobe Bryant-less Lakers fell to 19-37.
Nets GM Billy King and coach Jason Kidd have tried over the last 48 hours to keep the signing of Collins a basketball-only issue.
The Nets need a more physical presence in the paint and Collins, at 7-feet, 255 pounds fits the bill.
So they signed Collins and tangentially made history.
"The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision," 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 importance of this moment is not lost on Collins. He suffered for years hiding his sexuality. No more.
He might have been the most comfortable person in the interview room.
“Life is so much better for me,’’ he said. “I don’t have to hide who I am. I can just be my normal self.
“The past 10 months have been incredible. A lot of really cool experiences: meeting new friends, hearing different people’s stories, sharing experiences. It was just really overall positive.’’
Collins got another cool experience this night. When he checked out of the game with 6:13 left in the second quarter, it was no different than any other player coming out.
He slapped his teammates' hands and took a seat on the bench. In his four minutes and 14 seconds of playing time, Collins picked up two fouls, made two turnovers, grabbed one steal and the Nets were a plus-7 with him on the floor.
The Nets led, 49-33.
"Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team. Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment."