Veteran NBA center Jason Collins revealed that he is gay in this week's Sports Illustrated.
"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center," Collins writes, in a piece with Franz Lidz. "I'm black. And I'm 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. 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."
With that declaration, Collins became the first active openly gay male athlete in the four major American sports leagues.
Collins, 34, was a first-round pick in 2001 after spending four years at Stanford. His 12-year NBA career has included stops with the Nets, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Hawks, Celtics and Wizards. Collins' twin brother, Jarron, retired in 2011 after a 10-year career with the Jazz, Suns, Clippers and Blazers.
“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," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "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.”
Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld also issued a statement on Monday.
"We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly," Grunfeld said. "He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation."
Former NBA player John Amaechi revealed that he was gay in 2007 after retiring in 2003. Former Suns president Rick Welts revealed that he was gay in 2011, becoming the first openly gay male executive in the four major American sports leagues.
Collins was traded from Boston to Washington back in February and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"Now I'm a free agent, literally and figuratively," Collins wrote. "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. 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."
SI.com's Chris Mannix reported Monday that two front-office executives didn't expect Collins' announcement to influence his job prospects.
Arn Tellem, NBA superagent, told Sports Illustrated that he considers Collins, a client, to be like a "son."
"I've represented more than 500 professional athletes," Tellem said. "Some, like Hideki Matsui, were trailblazers. Some, like LaMarcus Aldridge, were Trail Blazers. But none have been more inspiring than Jason Collins, the first man to acknowledge being gay while still active in one of America's four major professional sports. Jason has made a courageous decision. Coming out publicly required immense bravery."
Former president Bill Clinton released a statement Monday indicating that his daughter, Chelsea, and Collins were friends at Stanford.
"Jason's announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community," Clinton said. "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."
While Jason Collins wrote that he noticed "subtle differences" between himself and his brother around the age of 12, Jarron Collins told Sports Illustrated that he was not aware that Jason was gay until 2012, when Jason came over to his house and told him.
"I had no idea," he said. "We talked, he answered my questions, I hugged him and I digested what he had told me. At the end of the day, this is what matters: He's my brother, he's a great guy, and I want him to be happy. I'll love him and I'll support him and, if necessary, I'll protect him. ... Jason has taken a huge weight off his shoulders. And I've never been more proud of him."
Collins' announcement prompted a positive reaction among NBA players.
Wizards guard Bradley Beal stood by his teammate.
"Proud of Jason Collins for expressing his feelings," the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NBA draft wrote. "Great teammate, mentor and better person!"
Other athletes and celebrities, including filmmaker Spike Lee and pop star Lance Bass, voiced their support. Nike, Collins' shoe company, also issued a brief statement to ESPN.com: "Jason is a Nike athlete. We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion."
Later Monday, Collins posted a Twitter message of gratitude for the support.
"Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me [through] email, texts, calls, tweets, letters, and every other form of communication," he wrote. "All the support I have received today is truly inspirational. I knew that I was choosing the road less traveled but I'm not walking it alone."
Jon Wertheim has more on how Collins' announcement came together in Sports Illustrated.
(Kwaku Alston/For Sports Illustrated)