Jason Collins became the first openly gay, active professional athlete on Sunday when the Nets signed him to a 10-day contract, and then became the first to play in a game when he checked into the lineup against the Lakers at Staples Center with 10:28 remaining in the second quarter.
Collins handled all of the attention as though his situation was unremarkable, and someday that may be the case. But Kobe Bryant was in attendance as he continues to work his way back from injury, and he knows just how much Collins’ signing can mean in the grand scheme of things.
“His impact [Sunday night] is greater than what people think,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports before the game. “You look at it from the context of having the first openly gay player. But they missed the domino effect that it has way beyond sports.” …
“It’s fantastic. It sets an incredible precedent,” said Bryant, who is currently out of the Lakers’ lineup indefinitely with a knee injury. “I think the most important part about it, what I’ve learned on the issue is that one person coming out is showing this type of courage that gives others that same type of courage.
“It’s dealing with a lot of issues for kids who are afraid to be themselves. Afraid to be themselves because of the peer pressure that comes with it. A lot of these kids have depression issues or they’re being teased from other kids for being different. You wind up seeing a lot of suicides, kids injuring themselves and getting hooked on things that they should not be hooked on.”
Collins played 11 minutes in his Nets debut, and largely looked to be a combination of aged and rusty. He has never been one to put up even decent scoring numbers, but he was slow on defense, picking up five personal fouls and committing two turnovers while hauling down a couple of rebounds.
But his basketball contribution to the Nets this season won’t be the story, whether he sticks the rest of the year or is released after just 10 days. As Bryant noted, the impact of Collins signing and playing with a team has implications far beyond the game itself.