LOS ANGELES - Jason Collins woke up yesterday morning a little after 8, checked his phone and saw that seemingly everyone in the world had been trying to reach him. That's when he knew it wasn't going to be an ordinary day.
He hopped in his car -- and drove straight into history.
The Nets signed the 35-year-old Collins to a 10-day contract Sunday, paving the way for him to become the first openly gay athlete to play in one of America's top four professional sports leagues.
The Nets reiterated that adding the 7-foot, 255-pounder is strictly related to basketball. They are hopeful that the 12-season veteran, who before Sunday night hadn't played since last April, will help bolster their front line. Their top target, Glen "Big Baby'' Davis, elected to verbally commit to joining the Clippers when he clears waivers Monday.
Although Collins became a trailblazer of sorts when he proudly revealed his sexuality in April, he doesn't necessarily feel as though it's up to him to be a crusader.
"No,'' he said Sunday night before the Nets' 108-102 win over the Lakers at Staples Center. "I need to be a solid basketball player. 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.''
Asked if there would be pressure in becoming the first openly gay athlete to play in an NBA game, Collins pointed more to the fact that he hadn't been on the floor competitively in 10 months.
"For me, the pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight,'' Collins said, "and the last time I played in an NBA game was last April. I think that's enough pressure right there.''
Collins sported a black No. 46 jersey; the No. 98 he plans on wearing to honor Matthew Shepard, who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998, wasn't immediately available. And with his twin, Jarron, a former NBA player, looking on a few rows away from courtside, Collins checked in with 10:28 remaining in the first half.
It was Collins' first action since last April 17 with the Wizards and his first time wearing a Nets uniform since Feb. 2, 2008. He wound up contributing two rebounds and a steal in 10:37. He missed the only shot he took and committed five personal fouls and two turnovers.
A massive media gathering assembled for Collins' pregame news conference, highly unusual for someone who signed a 10-day contract. But this wasn't a normal day.
The glaring spotlight seemed over the top to Collins. "A little bit,'' he said. "But again, that's life. I played for 12 years in the league, so I know how to play basketball. It's just obviously just getting timing back into a game. So I'm ready. Let's do it.''
Nets coach Jason Kidd, who played 61/2 seasons for the Nets with Collins from 2001-08, had a hand in bringing him in. Kidd said the Nets will keep the focus on the court and suggested they're going to do whatever they can to keep Collins at ease in his new environment.
"This is about basketball and we always will remind ourselves of that,'' Kidd said. "He's one of our teammates and it's for us to make this as comfortable as possible, the transition. But for us to get out and to win ballgames, that's what it's all about.''
Still, there's no telling if this is strictly an audition for a week and a half. Kidd was noncommittal about Collins' long-term prospects.
"We'll just take it day by day,'' he said. "We'll just take one day at a time and we'll go from there.''