1) Okay, wait. What's going on here?
The Brooklyn Nets will reportedly sign 35-year-old Jason Collins to fill one of their open roster spots to a ten-day contract, making Collins the first openly gay male athlete in one of the four major US professional sports. He should be in uniform for the Nets tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers.
2) Can he still play, or is this wholly symbolic?
The Nets have tried to be as clear as day that they're making this as a basketball decision, but the roots obviously stretch deeper than that. Collins apparently impressed the Nets in a workout last week and showed that he was "in shape," meaning that he'd be able to help their basketball team.
It's hard to tell what Collins could bring to the Nets now, if only because nobody has seen Collins play for nearly a year. Throughout his career, Collins has been little more than an interior defender and a big body that's willing to give six fouls. That said, he was also one of the league's "plus-minus superstars" with the Nets -- meaning that, even adjusted for his teammates, the Nets played far better with Collins on the court than off it. (Here were his stats as a Net from 2001-07)
It's hard to look at the signing and not think there's a major symbolic element. Nearly 70 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers broke the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, The Brooklyn Nets bring back one of the players from their glory days, someone who has close ties to their head coach and two of their starters, and will make history in doing so.
3) Why did the Nets choose him over Glen Davis?
They didn't. Davis, who was recently bought out by the Orlando Magic, elected to go to the Los Angeles Clippers to play under his former coach Doc Rivers and in a situation that would get him more playing time. Kevin Garnett gave an impassioned pitch to Davis, but with the Nets fielding a frontcourt of Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic, and Mason Plumlee, there just aren't a lot of minutes to go around.
Davis slides into Los Angeles as their definitive third big man, a guaranteed spot night in and night out. The Nets couldn't offer Davis the same. Collins won't require that much playing time -- his minutes have trended steadily downwards since he left the Nets, and he hasn't played more than 15 minutes per game since the 2007-2008 season.
4) The report is that the Nets will sign him to a "10-day contract." What exactly does that mean?
Well first, it means the obvious: the Nets will sign Collins to a contract that's ten days long. After that ten-day trial period, they have the option to waive him, sign him to a second ten-day contract, or sign him for the remainder of the season. Teams are only allowed to sign players to two ten-day contracts, so after the second contract, they'd have to sign him for the rest of the season or waive him outright.
5) Wait. Don't the Nets have an owner from Russia, the country currently dealing with anti-gay propaganda laws?
While Mikhail Prokhorov is from Russia, he actually spoke out in favor of gay rights when running against current Russian president Vladimir Putin, calling it an infringement on personal freedom: "I think we are breaching the international convention of human rights and freedoms we have signed. My position is very simple: This is a personal affair. It is a personal affair who has sex with whom. For instance, I am against both heterosexual and gay pride parades."