LOA ANGELES -- By Lenn Robbins - The Brooklyn Nets have done their part. Now it’s up to you.
It’s up to you L.A. and Portland, Memphis and Indiana. It’s up to you Brooklyn.
It’s up to every NBA fan - scratch that - it’s up to every fan of equality and integrity to do his and her part.
The Brooklyn Nets signed center Jason Collins to a 10-game contract on Sunday.
They did not sign him to make a statement. They signed Collins because the Nets are a poor interior team and they needed a presence in the paint.
So they signed Collins and tangentially made history.
Collins will be the first openly gay player in any of the four major professional sports leagues when he puts on a Brooklyn jersey tonight for the Nets game at the Los Angeles Lakers.
Collins, 35, came out in April. In a league filled with teams that could use a veteran, backup center, Collins remained a free agent until today.
He is not a superstar, by any measure. Never was.
But he is savvy and experienced. His career averages 3.8 rebounds, 3.5 points and 2.8 fouls in 20.8 minutes of play are the solid resume of a backup center.
We will not speculate as to why Collins went unsigned. What we know is that the Brooklyn Nets made a basketball decision and made history in the process.
"The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision," said GM Billy King. " 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."
If the Nets needed a reminder of how badly they need frontcourt help they got it Saturday night in a 93-86 loss at Golden State, a game that was there for the taking.
They were outrebounded 50-39 and dominated in the paint, where Golden State outscored the Nets 52-38.
Kevin Garnett jokingly said after the game that Warriors backup center, Jermaine O’Neal, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds, had found the fountain of youth.
It was easy for O’Neal to find the fountain. The Nets, focusing on denying the Warriors the 3, often left the lane so wide open a double-wide trailer could navigate without trouble.
It was reminiscent of some of last season’s games when the Nets were Charmin soft in the middle.
They vowed that wouldn’t be the case this season. That vow needed some teeth Saturday night and Collins is just the man to do it.
“On the court I graciously accept one label sometimes bestowed on me: "the pro's pro." Collins said in the Sports Illustrated article in which he came out. “I got that handle because of my fearlessness and my commitment to my teammates.’’
“I take charges and I foul -- that's been my forte. In fact, during the 2004-05 season my 322 personals led the NBA. I enter the court knowing I have six hard fouls to give.’’
“I set picks with my 7-foot, 255-pound body to get guys like Jason Kidd, John Wall and Paul Pierce open. I sacrifice myself for other players. I look out for teammates as I would my kid brother.’’
The Nets (25-28) already have made it clear they are ready to embrace Collins as a teammate.
Joe Johnson said they would welcome him with open arms. Deron Williams said the NBA is ready for a gay player.
So the question, America, is, ‘Are you?’
You don’t have to support Collins or become a Nets fan or wave a rainbow flag at your next NBA game. You don’t have to do a damn thing, except be decent.
“As far as the reaction of fans, I don't mind if they heckle me,’’ Collins said in that article. “I've been booed before. There have been times when I've wanted to boo myself. But a lot of ill feelings can be cured by winning.’’
That’s what this signing is about from the Nets’ chair – winning. They need a big body that knows how to play.
It’s why whenever coach Jason Kidd was asked his opinion of signing Collins in recent days he repeatedly said, ‘Jason is a basketball player. He’s a great guy. He can help a team win so that’s the way I think any team is going to look at it.’’
Hopefully that’s the way everyone will look at it.