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 the four major U.S. professional 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."
Collins has played for six teams in 12 seasons, most recently as a reserve with the Washington Wizards 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 Obama called him -- along with former President Clinton, the NBA, current and former teammates, a sponsor, and athletes in other sports.
On Monday evening, hours after his story appeared on the web, Collins wrote on Twitter, "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."
As a senior at Stanford, Collins was a college roommate for about six months with then-sophomore Joe Kennedy III, who now represents Massachusetts in Congress. In his account, Collins writes that he realized he needed to go public when the Democratic congressman walked in Boston's gay pride parade last year -- and Collins decided he couldn't join him.
"I didn't doubt for a second, knowing he was gay, that he would be the one to do it," Kennedy told the AP on Monday. "I've never known him to look for publicity, or to look for the spotlight, but given that no one else would raise their hand, I knew he would do it."
Added Kennedy, "I'm so proud of him. And I'm so proud to call him a friend."
In Monday's story, Collins writes that the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15 "reinforced the notion 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?"
And now, Collins and Kennedy say, they will be in Boston on June 8, marching together at the city's 2013 gay pride parade.
First lady Michelle Obama tweeted her support for Collins MOnday. "So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We've got your back!" she tweeted, signing it "-mo," which indicates she -- not an aide -- sent the message.
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 member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame 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. But it sets you free," King said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
The Wizards, whose season ended April 17, issued a statement from President Ernie Grunfeld saying, "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."
Collins' coach with the Celtics, Doc Rivers, drew a comparison between Monday's announcement and Jackie Robinson's role when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
"I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins. He's a pro's pro. 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 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 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 increasingly accepting of gay relationships since the late 1980s. That 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.
"I'm glad I'm coming out in 2013 rather than 2003. The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted," Collins writes. "And yet we still have so much farther to go. Everyone is terrified of the unknown, but most of us don't want to return to a time when minorities were openly discriminated against."
While some gay athletes have talked in the past about concerns that coming out would hurt their earning potential, 12-time Grand Slam singles champion King said she thinks Collins' openness could have the opposite effect.
"I have a feeling he's got a whole new career," King said. "I have a feeling he's going to make more in endorsements than he's ever made in his life."