The Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins to a 10-day contract, making the veteran center the National Basketball Association’s first openly gay active player.
Collins, 35, came out to Sports Illustrated last April after his season had ended. He was a free agent and hadn’t signed another contract until joining the Nets yesterday with 29 games remaining on their schedule.
The deal came two weeks after Michael Sam, a senior linebacker at the University of Missouri who was the Southeastern Conference’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year, revealed that he is gay. Sam, who had sought Collins’s advice before coming out, is preparing for the National Football League draft.
“Congratulations to my friend @jasoncollins34 - excited to see you do work out there #courage #groundbreaking,” Sam said in a Twitter post after Collins’s signing.
“The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision,” said Nets General Manager Billy King. “We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice.”
The 12-year veteran played last season for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. He was a New Jersey Net for his first 6 1/2 seasons after being drafted 18th in 2001, and his 510 games played as of yesterday are tied for third in team history. Collins has career averages of 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest.
Brooklyn will have to decide whether to extend his contract after 10 days. By NBA rule, the club can sign him to two such deals before having to pick him up for the rest of the season if it wishes to keep him.
“Today, Jason Collins tore open the last remaining closet in America,” Brian Ellner, a director on the board of Athlete Ally, a non-profit that works toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion, said in a statement yesterday.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who replaced David Stern at the beginning of the month, said Collins told the league that his goal was to earn another NBA contract. “Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal,” Silver said in a statement yesterday. “I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment.”
Collins will have ample opportunity to make millions of dollars as an endorser and public speaker for companies reaching out to an LGBT population that has an annual buying power of almost $800 billion, according to sports marketers.
While “there’s room for both” in the marketing world, Sam may have more opportunities as a pitch man, according to Bob Dorfman, executive director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising.
“Sam may benefit more simply because he’s coming out pre-draft, as a highly touted college player, in America’s most popular pro league,” Dorfman said in an e-mail. “Collins is near the end of his career, will likely not play big minutes, and his story may get overshadowed by the ‘who’ll draft Sam?’ drama.”
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