LOS ANGELES — Here's hoping this is the last time we have to utter the name Jason Collins and gay in the same sentence.
And that henceforth, he will simply be Jason Collins, professional basketball player.
“I hope so,” said Collins, who became the first openly gay male to play for a major American sports team on Sunday when he signed a 10-day contract with the National Basketball Association's Brooklyn Nets and then suited up against the Lakers at Staples Center.
It won't be, but we can still dream.
Here's hoping we will no longer take notice or care when an active professional athlete reveals he is homosexual.
And focus simply on whether he can play the game or not.
“That's all that we should be talking about,” Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. “I know why we don't. But eventually, that's all that will matter. That'll be a good thing.”
We aren't there quite yet.
But with Collins kicking down another ugly door and University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam potentially doing the same in the National Football League, thankfully that day is drawing closer and closer.
“Today, Jason Collins tore open the last remaining closet in America,” said Brian Ellner of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers the athletic community to take a stand against homophobia and transphobia in sports.
Time will tell.
Let's hope we no longer have to make a mad dash to a stadium upon learning a professional athlete is gay, not to talk sports but to pry and prod and poke them about a private matter no more significant than what they had for dinner the night before.
Like we did on Sunday when Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran and former Harvard-Westlake of Studio City, Calif., star, played in an NBA game for the first time since announcing he was gay 10 months ago.
It was a groundbreaking moment, to be sure. And the significance of the occasion and the courage of the man absolutely warranted the celebration and praise it received.
“It's just another step in the right direction,” said Lakers guard Kendall Marshall.
The Nets deserve credit, too. They ignored any prejudice and bias and potential backlash of signing Collins to simply see a basketball player who could help them win games.
And offered him a 10-day contract to prove it, just as they would any other available worthy player.
Then, with just over 10 minutes left in the second quarter against the Lakers, Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd pointed to Collins and told him to go into the game. Upon checking in, Collins was greeted by a warm reception by a sellout crowd at Staples Center.
“I want to thank (Kidd) and the entire Nets organization for giving me this opportunity,” Collins said.
Much to the satisfaction of the NBA.
“Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team,” said league commissioner Adam Silver. “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.”
We rightfully chronicled the importance of such a historic day. And we exulted the demolition of another hideous wall obstructing us from being the inclusive society we strive to be.
Or claim to be.
For the first time ever, a gay male was welcomed and embraced as a fellow teammate on a professional sports team.
That deserves our attention.
Which is why more than 100 reporters squeezed into an interview room to talk with Collins before Sunday night's tipoff — much to the bemusement of a 6-foot-9 career role player who's never faced so many cameras and microphones in his career.
“A little bit,” Collins said, smiling. “But again, that's life.”
Collins understands and appreciates his role tearing down such a formidable wall. But he had little time to dwell on it upon being signed on Sunday afternoon and pulling on his uniform just a few hours later.
“I don't have time to think about history right now,” Collins said. “I have to focus on my job.”
And while he accepts the responsibility of being a pioneer for the gay community, first and foremost, he had a job to do.
“For me, the pressure is playing in an NBA game tonight, and last time I played in an NBA game was last April,” Collins said. “That's enough history.”
He is right.
Let's hope the next athlete we learn is gay is looked upon neither with curiosity nor as a crusader.
And that he experiences the peace of mind Collins found upon coming out.
“My life is so much better for me,” he said. “I don't have to hide who I am. I can be my normal self. The past 10 months have been incredible.”
It took being honest with himself to find it.
But it also took our acceptance of him.
Here's hoping that continues.
For Collins and any gay athlete who follows him.
Here's hoping one day soon we look back on today and wonder why we made such a big deal of it.