NBA center Jason Collins on Monday announced that he's gay in a story for Sports Illustrated, becoming the first active player in a major American team sport to announce that he is gay.
"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."
NBA commissioner David Stern commended Collins for his announcement.
"As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family. Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue," Stern said in a statement.
Jason's twin brother, Jarron Collins, played for 10 seasons in the NBA, last with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2010-11.
The reaction of other active players has always been a question when it comes to an athlete in a major sport coming out. Other players don't get any bigger than Kobe Bryant, who tweeted his support Monday.
"Proud of @jasoncollins34," the tweet read. "Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU"
Former President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea attended Stanford with Collins, applauded Collins' announcement.
"Jason's announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community," he said in a statement. "It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities.
"For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason's colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned."
The 34-year-old Collins, who is a free agent, ended last season with the Washington Wizards after being traded by the Boston Celtics.
"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. "I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful."
Collins has an endorsement deal with Nike, who issued a succinct statement of support.
"Jason is a Nike athlete. We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion," it read.
Collins wrote that he first considered coming out during the 2011 NBA lockout, which interrupted his routine and "forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want."
He said the first relative he told he was gay was his aunt Teri, who is a superior court judge in San Francisco. He said she told him, "I've known you were gay for years," which made him "comfortable in my own skin."
Collins said he realized he needed to make his sexual orientation public when his former roommate at Stanford, Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy, who is straight, marched in Boston's Gay Pride Parade last year.
The Boston Marathon bombings earlier this month then reinforced to him "that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?
"When I told Joe a few weeks ago that I was gay, he was grateful that I trusted him. He asked me to join him in 2013. We'll be marching on June 8," Collins wrote.
Collins said that he told his brother during a breakfast meeting last summer.
"He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy," Collins wrote. "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."
In 713 career games with the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Celtics and Wizards, Collins has averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds.
Collins' statement is quickly showing signs of resonating.
He picked up more followers on Twitter in the hour after his story than in his previous 430 days on the social networking site, going from 3,700 to over 9,000. A short time later @jasoncollins34 was over 13,000 followers.