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Lakers celebrate first ever 'Pride Night' and honor Jason Collins

Lakers celebrate first ever 'Pride Night' and honor Jason Collins
Former NBA player Jason Collins. (Nick Agro / AFP/Getty Images)

The Lakers supported the LGBTQ community by holding their first Pride Night on Thursday when the team played the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center.

Fans were given Pride-themed T-shirts with a Lakers logo in rainbow colors. Courtside seats were dressed in rainbow colors. Team owner Jeanie Buss wore a pride shirt and a pink streak through her hair. And the team honored Jason Collins, who became the league’s first openly gay player in 2013, with a Lace of Unity award.

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“This is incredible,” Collins said. “This is my hometown, Los Angeles. I still live here. It’s great to see. It’s great to be here for the first-ever Pride Night game. Seeing the Lakers support the LGBT community like this, it’s incredible.”

As he spoke, Collins was interrupted twice, once by his Mark Madsen, who played basketball at Stanford just as Collins did, and a second time by Michael Beasley, the Lakers forward who was one of the NBA players to participate in the New York City Pride Parade this summer.

Collins thinks the NBA is doing the best of any sports league at supporting the LGBTQ community. He was asked what his goal is for true inclusion.

“To have it like in the WNBA, where a player like a Sue Bird can step forward, and everyone is like, ‘Great, go win that championship,’” Collins said. “And that’s exactly what she just did. Or what happened with Elena Delle Donne right before the Rio Olympics, same type thing and everyone’s like ‘Great, now go win a gold medal.’ So when we’re at that day with male athletes who choose to step forward and share their true self with the world, it’s like, ‘Great, now go win a championship.’ And so we have some work to do, because throughout male professional sports, at least in North America in the top five leagues, we only have one currently out male player, and that’s in the MLS.”

The NBA levies hefty fine on players who use gay slurs during games. Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for one incident, Roy Hibbert was fiend $75,000 for another in 2013 while he played for the Indiana Pacers and Rajon Rondo was suspended for a game while he played in Sacramento for directing a slur at referee Bill Kennedy. All three players apologized for their choice of words.

Collins spends time working with the NBA to teach young players about the LGBTQ community and to teach them about the importance of their language. When he does that he tries to relate to them on a level they might understand.

“Everybody knows what it’s like to be sort of outcast or like that one … our league has a lot of people of color and know what it’s like to be the only person of color in the room,” Collins said. “So how did you feel in that moment? You want to feel wanted, you want to feel accepted. And to share that message and that is why you want to support your teammates, these are your brothers out there, to have their back and make everyone feel accepted.”

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