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Jason Collins Becomes First Openly Gay NBA Player

Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins (46) defends against Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard MarShon Brooks (2) during the first half at Staples Center. Gary A. Vasquez / USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

Two rebounds and five fouls in 10 scoreless minutes doesn't make for much of a box score, but Jason Collins' return to the NBA on Sunday night will be remembered for much more than that.

Collins became the first openly gay player to play in one of the four major American pro sports leagues after signing a milestone contract with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday.

He suited up, went through warmups then entered the game in the second quarter on Sunday night when the Nets faced the Lakers in his hometown of Los Angeles.

"It felt like, 'I've done this thousands of times before,'" Collins said after Brooklyn's 108-102 victory. "You go to the scorer's table, you hear what the play's going to be for the next offensive play and you go out there. Once you're out on the court, it's about basketball. It's what I've been doing for almost three decades."

Collins revealed he is gay in a bombshell interview with Sports Illustrated at the end of last season, his 12th in the league. He was without a team this year, however, and remained unsigned until Sunday's historic deal.

Nets General Manager Billy King announced the pact, saying: "The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision."

"We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract."

Nets teammate Paul Pierce said Collins' play was inspiring. "I had him as a teammate last year and he is much needed around here," Pierce said.

In a pregame news briefing, Collins had a message for athletes who may have to deal with a challenging set of circumstances.

“My message to other athletes is to be yourself,” Collins said. “Be your true authentic self, and never be afraid to be your authentic self.”

News of the deal quickly spread around the league.

"Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team. Today, 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," Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

"I know Jason Collins is a competitor. One thing I know about him is he fouls very hard," Miami's Dwyane Wade told The Associated Press with a laugh. "He's one of those tough veterans. I'm sure he's happy to be back playing in the league. Welcome back."

A high-ranking NBA source told NBC News that Jason Kidd, the Nets head coach and a former teammate of Collins, pushed the idea and that the Nets' owner Mikhail Prokhorov approved the deal.

Prokhorov, who ran against Vladimir Putin in the 2012 Russian presidential elections, has been an outspoken opponent of Russia's "gay propaganda laws," calling them "a breach of the international conventions of human rights and freedoms we have signed" and "an infringement on personal freedom."

Collins worked out privately for the Nets in Los Angeles during the NBA all-star break last weekend. Team officials said after the workout that Collins was "in good shape" but gave no indication that they would sign him.

The Nets had hoped to sign Glen Davis, but Davis told the Nets earlier Sunday that he was signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Collins rejoins the Nets after spending the first six and a half seasons of his NBA career with the franchise.

Selected with the 18th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets, the Stanford product was acquired by the Nets as part of a multi-player draft night trade. In 510 games, including 404 starts, with the Nets from 2001-08, Collins averaged 4.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game, the team said.

The Nets currently sit in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A season that began with high hopes for a deep postseason run has been hampered by injuries. The team still has 29 games to play in the regular season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.