NBA center Jason Collins: ‘I’m black and I’m gay’

Jason Collins #98 of the Washington Wizards rebounds against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on April 17, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Wizards 95-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jason Collins #98 of the Washington Wizards rebounds against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on April 17, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Wizards 95-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jason Collins,  a 12-year veteran NBA center, is gay.

The 34-year-old writes in the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated that he has reached a point in his life and career where he wants to be “genuine and authentic and truthful.” Collins has played for six NBA teams in his career, making two appearances in the the NBA Finals with the New Jersey Nets in 2001 and 2002.

Collins, whom the Nets selected eighteenth overall in 2001, most recently played for the Washington Wizards and is now a free agent.

Collins reveals in Sports Illustrated that he’s been thinking about coming out since the 2011 NBA Player Lockout. He writes that he became somewhat jealous when a former roommate at Stanford and current Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy marched in Boston’s Gay Pride Parade last year. Kennedy, who is straight, made Collins angry that he himself couldn’t do the same.

The recent Boston Marathon bombings forced Collins hand as well. He writes that he could no longer wait for his “circumstances of [his] coming out to be perfect.”

The time was now.

Overwhelming praise for Collins decision 

Support for Collins’ decision has come quickly.

President Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea was a classmate and friend of Collins at Stanford released a statement:

I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. 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.

His daughter Chelsea took to Facebook to show her support:

I am very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength and courage to become the first openly gay athlete in the NBA. His decision marks an important moment for professional sports and for our country. I echo what my father said in his statement and similarly 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.

Former Baltimore Raven linebacker and current Super Bowl champion Brendan Ayanbadejo tweeted his support for Collins’ decision:

NBA Commissioner David Stern released a statement Monday:

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.

True test will happen now 

Collins twin brother Jarron was also drafted in 2001. He last played with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2011. He tells Sports Illustrated he’s “never been more proud” of his brother.

In 2007, John Amaechi became the first professional basketball player to “openly identify himself” as gay.  The announcement came four years after Amaechi’s career in the NBA had ended. He’s since became outspoken on the issue of sexuality and professional sports.

Collins admits that he “didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport.”

Now that he  has come out,  the question is:  Will the conversation that follows be worthy of the courage he showed by coming out?

Collins writes that he still loves the game of basketball and hopes to continue playing.

Follow theGrio’s Todd Johnson on Twitter @rantoddj