With the signing, the NBA is the first of the Big Four sports leagues in the United States to have an active openly gay player. To be sure, they already had that distinction last spring when Collins first came out publicly. But then he was at the end of a contract and no playing time was in sight.
This is completely different. This is a team signing a player knowing he's gay. It's a team owned by a hip-hop mogul, a former NBA star and a Russian.
Even more importantly, the Nets are a team fighting for a playoff spot. Currently tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference, they are only four games out of the dreaded ninth spot. This isn't a team looking for a publicity stunt to sell tickets: This is a team looking for home-court advantage in the first round and a shot at the NBA Finals.
This is huge.
Just last year, people said this was impossible.
For months many have asked the question over and over: Is Jason Collins not signed because he's openly gay? The answer has never been simple. Collins is nearing the end of his career, last year averaging just 10 minutes, 1.5 rebounds and one point per game. Investments are made in younger players, not guys with only a couple years left in them. It was always more likely that Collins would be a mid-season signing and not a full-year commitment.
That hasn't stopped many people -- both LGBT activists and mainstream sports commentators -- from making the leap: The NBA isn't ready for Jason Collins because he's gay. People still don't believe -- and some of them don't want to believe -- that the sports world has already moved past this issue, that yes, even gay athletes can be measured for their ability and content of character.
When Collins has been asked about why he wasn't yet signed, he's played it smart. He is a Stanford grad, after all. In a recent interview, LZ Granderson pressed Collins on the issue (as any good journalist with a rare interview with Collins would) -- but Collins didn't take the bait. While he's been out front championing LGBT causes for much of the last year, when it has come to his own future he's refused to blame a homophobic NBA establishment for not being signed.
Instead of finding excuses, Collins has focused on what makes a great athlete: Good attitude, hard work, determination. He's hit the gym every day, staying strong and in tip-top cardio shape. He's bided his time, preparing himself to walk through the right door when it opens.
That door opened and he's running through it.
The Nets make perfect sense. Collins played with coach Jason Kidd for the first eight years of his career and just last season took the court with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett while with the Boston Celtics. In an Outsports poll last spring, the Nets led the Jason Collins speculation parade, tied with the Los Angeles Clippers.
It's also fitting that a Brooklyn team be the one to sign him. It was the Brooklyn Dodgers who made history signing Jackie Robinson all those decades ago. It started a trickle that became a tidal wave. We'll see if the future holds the same here.
For now, history will be made: An openly gay man will take the court for an NBA team. He will be cheered by NBA fans. He will get high-fives from his NBA teams. Yes, he will be in an NBA locker room.
And everything will be just fine.