(MCT) — Longtime NBA center Jason Collins on Monday became the first active male player in a major American pro team sport to announce that he’s gay.
Collins, who finished the 2012-13 season with the Washington Wizards, made his declaration in a first-person essay that was published online by Sports Illustrated and will appear in the May 6, 2013, issue of the magazine.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins says in the essay.
“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.”
NBA commissioner David Stern lauded Collins in a statement released Monday.
“We have known the Collins family since Jason and (his twin brother) Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family,” Stern said. “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.”
Collins has played for six franchises during his 12-year NBA career: the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and the Wizards.
Fans might remember Collins most for his role as the Hawks’ starting center during the first round of the 2011 NBA playoffs. Although Collins played under 20 minutes in each of those games, he and backup center Zaza Pachulia played effective one-on-one defense against Dwight Howard.
Their defense enabled the Hawks to rarely double-team Howard. That, in turn, allowed the rest of the Hawks’ defenders to crowd the 3-point line, and Atlanta stymied Orlando’s long-range shooting throughout the series.
Atlanta won the series in six games.
Magic fans might also remember Magic center John Amaechi, who in February 2007 announced that he was gay.
Amaechi already had retired from pro basketball (after the 2002-03 season) when he made his announcement, but Collins will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
On Monday, Amaechi offered his support to Collins via Twitter.
Amaechi wrote: “Congratulations to Jason — society couldn’t hope for a more eloquent & positive role model.”
Other NBA players on Monday tweeted their support of Collins.
Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried wrote: “Wow this is amazing all smiles.. So so happy Jason Collins came out & announce he was openly GAY ALL SUPPORT OVER HERE #ATHLETEALLY #LGBT”
Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash wrote: “The time has come. Maximum respect.”
In April 2011, the NBA fined Lakers star Kobe Bryant $100,000 for uttering an anti-gay slur toward a referee during a game. Showing how times are changing, Bryant also Tweeted support for Collins on Monday:
Bryant wrote: “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers issued a statement in which he praised Collins.
“I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins,” Rivers said. “He’s a pro’s pro. 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.’ “
©2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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