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Collins makes history as NBA’s first openly gay player

AP

Although Jason Collins played only 10½ minutes in his first game with the Brooklyn Nets, it was a groundbreaking appearance.

Collins became the first openly gay player in the four major U.S. professional sports leagues, and Deron Williams had a season-high 30 points along with seven assists in a 108-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.

“I know that I can play in the NBA and it felt good to be out there tonight,” Collins said. “Conditioning-wise, I felt good. I don’t think I got tired. It was a lot of fun to get back out on the court and set screens, hard fouls. Didn’t take any charges tonight — that’ll change. I’ll get in position next time. As far as basketball timing, it’s going to take at least a couple of practices.”

Collins signed a 10-day contract Sunday, nearly 10 months after his announcement on April 29 in Sports Illustrated. He had two rebounds and five fouls and didn’t score.

“He’s a basketball player. He’s been doing this for a long time, so that didn’t change,” Williams said. “Maybe outside perception did, but inside this locker room it wasn’t a big deal or a distraction. It was just another game for us. But he played huge for us. He made big plays on defense and was instrumental in this win tonight. I know he’s been sitting around waiting for a job, and we’re excited about having Jason.”

The 12-year veteran spent his first six-plus NBA seasons with the Nets and helped them get to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. This was the 35-year-old center’s first NBA game since April 17, 2013, with the Washington Wizards.

“In the society we live in, you know this was going to happen eventually,” teammate Paul Pierce said. “He is a guy who’s going to be able to open the door for so many athletes — not only in America but around the world — to feel comfortable to come out and not feel embarrassed and feel like they’re welcomed in the sports world. It isn’t about race, gender or sexuality. It’s about being a part of a team and caring for one another. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

Pierce had 25 points and seven rebounds, helping end an 11-game Nets losing streak against the Lakers.

Pau Gasol had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who never led and lost for the 24th time in 30 games with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Xavier Henry all sidelined by injuries.

Nick Young played for the first time since Feb. 5, scoring 10 points in 19 minutes for the Lakers after missing six games with a fracture in his left knee.

Nets general manager Billy King, in need of a post player after losing center Brook Lopez for the season on Dec. 20 with a broken right foot — and failing to acquire another one before last Thursday’s trading deadline — took a chance on Collins.

Collins also has played for Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta and Boston, where he was a teammate of Pierce and Garnett last season. Sunday was a homecoming, as he was born in Northridge, California, and played his high school ball at Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood. Collins’ new coach is an old Nets teammate — Jason Kidd.

“It’s just another step in the right direction. I think it’s the advancements we’ve made as people and will continue to make advancements,” Lakers point guard Kendall Marshall said. “As far as I’m concerned, when I see him, I see him as a great defender — a guy that protects the paint and finishes around the rim. That’s all I see when I’m out there. They needed help inside, and he’s definitely going to be somebody who can help them with that.”

Collins’ scheduled pregame press conference was delayed about 15-20 minutes while he was still getting his physical. He reported into the game with 10:28 left in the second quarter and the Nets leading 35-26.

The sellout crowd welcomed Collins with a nice ovation when public address announcer Lawrence Tanter announced his name, and he spent 4 minutes and 15 seconds on the court during his first stint while the Nets increased their lead to 16 points.

Heat 93, Bulls 79

In Miami, With LeBron James watching from the bench in a suit and tie, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade powered the Heat to a victory over Chicago.

James was a late scratch after he broke his nose in Thursday’s win at Oklahoma City, and his teammates picked up the slack. Bosh had 28 points and 10 rebounds, and Wade added 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Clippers 125, Thunder 117

In Oklahoma City, Jamal Crawford scored 36 points to help Los Angeles get the win.

Kings 109, Nuggets 95

In Denver, Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, Rudy Gay had 32 and Sacramento earned its first win in Denver in six years.

Rockets 115, Suns 112

In Phoenix, Patrick Beverley sank the go-ahead 3-pointer with 34.3 seconds to play and Houston escaped with the win.

Trail Blazers 108, T-Wolves 97

In Portland, Damian Lillard had 32 points and the short-handed Trail Blazers rallied for the victory.

Wizards 96, Cavaliers 83

In Cleveland, John Wall scored 21 points and Bradley Beal had 17, leading Washington to the road victory.

Raptors 105, Magic 90

In Toronto, Kyle Lowry scored 28 points, DeMar DeRozan had 24 and the Raptors handed the Magic their 15th straight road loss.