Yesterday, the Brooklyn Nets officially signed Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in any major American sport, to a second 10-day contract. ESPN reports that the expectation is for Collins to be with the team for the remainder of the regular season.
Since coming out publicly in a Sports Illustrated article last May, Collins has been in the spotlight. But until the Nets signed him ten days ago, he hadn’t played a game this season–a free agent waiting for a phone call. On Monday, against the Chicago Bulls, Collins received a standing ovation in his first game in front of the Nets’ home crowd, even though he played just the final two minutes and 41 seconds of the game. “I just try to focus on the basketball as much as possible,” he said, in a press conference before the game. “But it’s great to play in front of your home fans, get that support.”
I was curious about Collins merchandise–would the Nets team store, or Modell’s Sporting Goods, across the street from Barclays Center, carry jerseys and shirts for a player who, as of this writing, is averaging 0.6 points and 1 rebound per game? Collins’s importance off the court is immeasurable; but come game time, he’s the 12th man on a 12-man roster.
The officials Nets team store, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t have any Collins gear at all. Modell’s, on the other hand, has Collins’ number 98 jersey–worn in honor of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Wyoming in a hate-crime in 1998–hanging in the front window.
“We got them on Monday,” said store manager Nick Chang. Since then, Modell’s has sold four or five jerseys and over thirty shirts–not unusual numbers for the store, according to Chang, except that the only other jerseys I saw for sale bore the names of the team’s biggest (on-the-court) stars: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. In that company, Collins is just another basketball player. That’s not the case, of course, at least not yet. But I have a feeling that’s just the way he’d want it.