February 27, 2014 / Sports / The Brooklyn Nets / Front Court

The NBA’s first openly gay player

Signing Jason Collins makes good basketball sense

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn made sports history again this weekend.

On Sunday, Jason Collins signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets, making him the first openly gay, active player in the four major professional sports leagues (the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL).

This comes nearly 57 years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.

News of Collins signing what would otherwise have been a routine deal spread widely and rapidly, drawing praise from sports commentators and fellow athletes, including NFL hopeful Michael Sam, who came out to great fanfare on Feb. 9. So what does this deal mean for Brooklyn’s home team?

Well, for Jason Collins it means he gets a chance to compete again. After coming out last April, not one team extended him an invitation to training camp. Collins nevertheless remained in game shape, hoping for another shot at playing in the NBA. And after 10 long months, the opportunity came in Brooklyn.

The 10-day contract is a common arrangement in the NBA that is essentially a lengthy, paid tryout and could turn into a longer stint on the team.

The deal gives the Nets some much-needed frontcourt help. The team’s recent trade of this column’s favorite rebound-eater Reggie Evans and Kevin Garnett taking days off to rest mean the Nets can use all they help they can get defending the interior. And Collins can certainly bring that.

Many may brush the acquisition off as a marketing gimmick.

And it is true that Collins is most likely in the twilight of his career and has never been the biggest offensive threat during his 14 years in the NBA, averaging only 3.6 points per game. But the Nets are not bringing him as a marketing ploy. Or to score. He is there to box out, set solid screens, and defend the likes of Roy Hibbert and the Eastern Conference’s other big men who have given the Nets fits all season.

And from that perspective, a basketball perspective, the signing of Jason Collins makes all the sense in the world.

Additionally, Collins should be able to seamlessly integrate with the Nets’ playing style. He has familiarity playing with Garnett and Paul Pierce from last season in Boston, and with Joe Johnson from his stint in Atlanta.

Perhaps most importantly, he has a good relationship with coach Jason Kidd from playing alongside him on the roster of the pre-Brooklyn Nets.

It remains to be seen how much of a contribution Collins will make, but it is a great day for the Nets, for the NBA, for gay athletes, and most importantly, for Jason Collins.

He gets to be who he is and do what he loves to do. Even if it is just for 10 days.

Tom Lafe is a 6-foot-5 sports-world insider with a middling high school basketball career who believes the Nets will be driven by the success of the team’s big men.

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