NBA center Jason Collins on Monday announced that he's gay in a story for Sports Illustrated, becoming the first active player in one of the four major American professional team sports 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 NBA Players Association also said in a statement that it supported Collins.
"As Jason wrote, pro basketball is a family, and he has and always will be our brother. The NBPA is dedicated to fighting for the best interests of and uniting all players regardless of race, creed, color, age, national origin, or sexual orientation. Today is another example that we are intent on continuing that work.
"We congratulate Jason for having the courage to 'raise his hand,' as he wrote in his story, and start the conversation."
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"
While Bryant was accepting of Collins, NFL players Mike Wallace and Alphonso Smith, along with former Knick Larry Johnson, were among athletes to take a dissenting tone on Twitter.
Wallace deleted two tweets about the subject, then later wrote, "never said anything was right or wrong I just said I don't understand!! Deeply sorry for anyone that I offended."
Smith, meanwhile, wrote in a series of tweets that, "it's a shame I have to apologize for my TRUE feelings."
Johnson, the current basketball and business operations representative for the Knicks, tweeted: "I don't Jason Collins personally but he seems like a great guy. Me personally gay men in the locked room would make me uncomfortable."
White House spokesman Jay Carney called Collins courageous and said the White House supports Collins and views his decision as another example of progress and evolution in the U.S. as Americans grow more accepting of gay rights and same-sex marriage. Last year, during his re-election campaign, President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage.
Hours after Collins disclosed his sexuality, Obama reached out by phone, expressing his support and telling Collins he was impressed by his courage, the White House said.
Former President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea attended Stanford with Collins, also 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."
Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld issued a statement on behalf of the team:
"We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. 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."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in a statement that he was "extremely happy and proud" of Collins.
"He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite 'team' players I have ever coached. If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance. One of my favorite sayings is, 'I am who I am, are whom we are, can be what I want to be, its not up to you, it's just me being me,' " Rivers said.
Collins has an endorsement deal with Nike, which issued a statement of support.
"We admire Jason's courage and are proud that he is a Nike athlete. Nike believes in a level playing field where an athlete's sexual orientation is not a consideration," 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."
Jarron Collins said he admires his brother's strength.
"I wanted to THANK EVERYONE that sent messages of support 2day 4 @jasoncollins34 He is my twin. I love, support, and admire his strength!" he said in a post on Twitter.
Collins says he quietly made a statement for gay rights even while keeping his sexual orientation a secret. He wore No. 98 with the Celtics and Wizards -- 1998 was the year that Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, was killed, and the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization, was founded.
Collins was blown away by the support he received.
"All the support I have received today is truly inspirational," he wrote on Twitter. "I knew that I was choosing the road less traveled but I'm not walking it alone."
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.
Philadelphia 76ers president Rod Thorn, who acquired Collins in a draft-day trade when he was in the Nets' front office, told ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor that he doesn't believe teams will discriminate against Collins in the free-agent market.
"It's so hard to get good players, and tough enough keep them once you get them, that I think virtually everybody looks at players now and asks, 'Can he help us?' I just don't think his sexual orientation matters in today's world," he said.
Collins' agent, Arn Tellem, agrees, saying there's "no doubt" his client "will be on a team next season."
"He's a pro's pro, sets the picks, takes the hard fouls and is respected by teammates because he does what it take to win," Tellem told ESPN's Darren Rovell. "Teams will do what is in their best interest to assemble the best basketball team they can, but I think it will be in a team's best interest to have Jason Collins on its roster."
Tellem added: "Initially, I wanted to wait [to go public] until after he signed."
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 had over 13,000 followers.
Several male athletes have previously come out after they retired, including the NBA's John Amaechi, the NFL's Esera Tuaolo and Major League Baseball's Billy Bean. But Collins is the first to do so while planning to continue playing.
Professional soccer player Robbie Rogers, who publicly came out early this year, tweeted, "I feel a movement coming," in reaction to Collins' announcement.
Wade Davis, a former NFL cornerback, came out after his playing days and told The Associated Press on Monday that he wished he could have revealed his sexuality sooner.
"I would have loved to have the opportunity to live in my true lot when I was playing. ... But it wasn't right for me," Davis said. "It was so taboo that I thought I was the only one.
"When I was playing, I had never had conversations around what it meant to be gay. I wasn't ready to have taken on the mantle as Jason Collins has now. The world is very, very different."
Advocacy organization GLAAD released a statement from Aaron McQuade, the head of its sports program.
"'Courage' and 'inspiration' are words that get thrown around a lot in sports, but Jason Collins has given both ideas a brand new context," he said. "We hope that his future team will welcome him, and that fans of the NBA and sports in general will applaud him. We know that the NBA will proudly support him, and that countless young LGBT athletes now have a new hero."
The co-founders of You Can Play, a Denver-based non-profit organization advocating for equal treatment for LGBT athletes, coaches and fans, also saluted Collins.
"A man with a big heart, speaking a couple of small words, has helped change the course of sports," co-founder Brian Kitts said. "Saying 'I'm gay' sets a new standard of honesty, openness and teamwork that will positively affect athletes and fans at every level of sports."
Co-founders Patrick Burke and Glenn Witman, meanwhile, hailed Collins as a "role model."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.