Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran of the NBA, became the first active player in a major American professional sports league to come out as gay.
"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay," Collins wrote in a first-person article posted on Sports Illustrated's website Monday.
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"I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation," Collins wrote. "I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, 'I'm different.' If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."
A free agent who most recently played with the Washington Wizards after a midseason trade from the Boston Celtics, Collins wrote that he had "endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie." He said he began seriously thinking about coming out during the NBA lockout in 2011, but what spurred him to do so was the recent Boston Marathon bombings. "Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?" he wrote.
Collins wrote that he realized he needed to go public when his former college roommate, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, walked in Boston's gay pride parade last year -- and Collins couldn't join him. Kennedy tweeted that "I've always been proud to call [Collins] a friend, and I'm even prouder to stand with him today."
Collins' announcement drew widespread support from athletes, politicians, including the White House, and other public figures, who announced their reaction throughout the day via news releases and social media.
"I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea's classmate and friend at Stanford," former President Bill Clinton said in a statement. "Jason's announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and the history of the LGBT community."
Collins, who played seven years with the Nets, wrote that he told his twin brother, Jarron, a former NBA center, he was gay last summer. "He was downright astounded. He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy," Collins writes in SI. "But by dinner that night, he was full of brotherly love. For the first time in our lives, he wanted to step in and protect me."
Jarron voiced his support for his brother Monday shortly after the story was published.
"So proud of you," he said on Twitter.
NBA Commissioner David Stern praised the move in a statement. "Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career, and we are proud that he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue," Stern said.
Martina Navratilova, the gay former tennis player, congratulated Collins in a series of tweets. "Well done Jason Collins -- you are a brave man. And a big man at that. 1981 was the year for me -- 2013 the year for you," read one of the tweets.
Speculation had been building that an active athlete from one of America's four major sports leagues -- the NBA, NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball -- might be getting ready to come out. Last week WNBA No. 1 draft pick Brittney Griner said she was gay.
Some professional athletes have waited until they retired to say they were gay, including former NBA player John Amaechi and NFL running back Dave Kopay. "I'm getting tons of messages right now from people talking to me about him, about what he's done," Amaechi said. "I've spoken to a couple of athletes . . . who are very good who have been immensely buoyed by this news."
Recently, the climate in major American sports has become decidedly more accepting of homosexuality. The NHL and NHL Players Association recently partnered with a group dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. Monday, the NFL sent a memo reminding its teams about the league's anti-discrimination policy on sexual orientation.
Collins, who grew up in California and helped lead Stanford to a Final Four appearance, was drafted by the Rockets in the first round of the 2001 NBA draft and traded to the Nets. He also has played for Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta, Boston and Washington. A free agent, he is hoping to continue to play basketball as an openly gay man. "Now I'm a free agent, literally and figuratively. I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball," he wrote.