February 24, 2014 at 8:52 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Jason Collins plays in NBA game

Jason Collins, Washington Wizards, NBA, gay news, Washington Blade, Sports Illustrated

Jason Collins (Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Jason Collins on Sunday became the first openly gay person to play in a game for a major American professional sports league.

Collins played 11 minutes during the second quarter of the Brooklyn Nets game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The former Washington Wizards center did not score, but fans at the Staples Center applauded Collins when he took the court.

Collins signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets earlier on Sunday.

“Right now, I’m focused on trying to learn the plays, the game plan assignment,” Collins told reporters during a pre-game press conference as the New York Times reported. “I don’t have time to really think about history right now.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is among those who applauded Collins.

“Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with another team,” said Silver in a statement. “I want to commend him on achieving his goal. I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment.”

Collins last April became the first male athlete who actively played in a major American professional sports league to come out as gay when Sports Illustrated published his op-ed.

He had remained unsigned since his announcement.

“There’s a lot of speculation as to why I haven’t signed,” Collins told the Washington Blade in December during an interview that marked the first time he spoke to an LGBT media outlet since he publicly declared his sexual orientation. “I choose to focus on what I can control and that’s how hard I work out.”

The deadline for NBA teams to send their playoff rosters to the league is March 1.

“That’s the ultimate deadline,” Collins told the Blade. “But up until that date I’m going to continue to work out, continue to train. I consider myself a free agent and I’m ready when and if an NBA team calls my name.”

The former Washington Wizards center last May attended a New York City fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council with First Lady Michelle Obama. Collins was also among her guests at last month’s State of the Union address and attended a state dinner earlier this month held in honor of French President François Hollande.

Collins marched in Boston’s annual Pride parade in June with Massachusetts Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, III, with whom he lived while they attended Stanford University. The former Washington Wizards center also introduced Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards before they performed their song “Same Love” that advocates for marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Collins was also among those who sat on a U.N. panel last December that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He signed with the Brooklyn Nets two weeks after University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam came out to the New York Times and ESPN.

Sam, whom Collins congratulated after he publicly declared his sexual orientation, is poised to become the country’s first openly gay professional football player

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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