WASHINGTON - With the simplest of sentences, NBA veteran Jason Collins set aside years of worry and silence to become the first active player in one of four major U.S. pro sports leagues to come out as gay.
In a first-person article posted Monday on Sports Illustrated's website, Collins begins: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."
The former Stanford star has played for six teams in 12 seasons, most recently as a reserve with Washington after a midseason trade from the Boston Celtics. He is now a free agent and wants to keep playing in the NBA.
"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,'" Collins writes. "If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."
Saying he had "endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie," Collins immediately drew support for his announcement from the White House - President Barack Obama called him - along with former President Bill Clinton, the NBA, current and former teammates, a sponsor, and athletes in other sports.
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant tweeted that he was proud of Collins, writing: "Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others," followed by the words "courage" and "support."
"We've got to get rid of the shame. That's the main thing. And Jason's going to help that. He's going to help give people courage to come out," said Billie Jean King, a tennis Hall of Famer who confirmed she was gay after being outed in the early 1980s.
"I guarantee you he's going to feel much lighter, much freer. The truth does set you free, there's no question. It doesn't mean it's easy," King added.
Collins' coach with the Celtics, Doc Rivers, drew a comparison to Jackie Robinson's role when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
"I am happy and proud of Jason Collins. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite 'team' players I have ever coached," Rivers said. "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."
Collins 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 year that Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, was killed, and the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization, was founded.
According to the General Social Survey, the public has grown accepting of gay relationships since a survey found in 1987 that 76 percent of Americans thought sexual relations between adults of the same sex was morally wrong. That fell to 43 percent by 2012.
"Jason's announcement is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community," former President 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."
Collins attended Stanford with Clinton's daughter Chelsea and played in the 1998 Final Four. His twin brother, Jarron, was also a longtime NBA center who last played in the league in the 2010-11 season. Collins says he told his brother he was gay last summer.
Today's NBA Playoff games
• Warriors at Nuggets: 5 p.m. on TNT. Warriors lead series 3-1
• Grizzlies at Clippers: 7:30 p.m. on TNT. Series tied 2-2