Jason Collins understands he is making history but his focus remains on basketball.
The 35-year-old veteran NBA center became the first openly gay player in any of the four major North American professional sports leagues after signing a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. Just hours after inking that landmark pact, Collins discussed his return to the NBA with reporters at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
"Right now, I'm focused on trying to learn the plays, trying to learn the coverages, the game plan, assignments," Collins told reporters shortly before the Nets played the Lakers. "I don't have time to really think about history right now. I just have to focus on my job tonight."
Collins, who was the No. 18 overall selection in the 2001 NBA Draft out of Stanford, spent the first six full seasons of his career with the Nets. He spent time with the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics during the 2012-2013 season but has not played in the NBA since coming out in April 2013. A free agent at the time of his announcement, Collins was not signed to a contract until Sunday.
"I need to be a solid basketball player," Collins responded when asked if he felt he should be a "crusader" in his return. "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."
Collins, who came out in a moving first-person editorial in Sports Illustrated, addressed reporters with characteristic poise and humor during a pre-game press conference in Los Angeles. He discussed his existing relationships with his Nets teammates, his conditioning and his readiness to return after a 10-month layoff.
"I've played for 12 years in the league so I know how to play basketball," Collins said. "It's just obviously getting timing back and the NBA game. So I'm ready. Let's do it."
Although it took 10 months for him to find a new team after coming out, Collins had only positive things to say about his experiences since his pioneering revelation. Since coming out, he has thrown out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park and been a guest of Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address. Most importantly, he has been able to be himself.
"Life is so much better for me," Collins responded when asked if he has changed at all since publicly announcing that he is gay. "I don't have to hide who I am. I can just be my normal self. The past 10 months have been incredible."
Asked if he had a message for younger gay athletes who may look to follow his example, Collins delivered a message for all athletes.
"My message to other athletes, period, is just be yourself," he said. "Be your true authentic self and never be afraid or ashamed or have any fear to be your true authentic self."