Jason Collins, a 12-year N.B.A. veteran, has come out as the first openly gay male athlete still active in a major American team sport.
“I’m a 34-year-old N.B.A. center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins writes in the May 6 edition of Sports Illustrated. The magazine published the article online Monday morning.
The announcement makes Collins a pioneer of sorts: the first player in the N.B.A., the N.F.L., the N.H.L. or Major League Baseball to come out while still pursuing his career. Other gay athletes, including the former N.B.A. center John Amaechi, have waited until retirement to divulge their sexuality publicly.
The announcement followed recent decisions by two other prominent athletes — the American soccer player Robbie Rogers and the women’s basketball player Brittney Griner — to acknowledge that they are gay. When Rogers, 25, revealed last month that he is gay, he also said he was retiring from soccer. (He has since indicated he may play again.) Griner, the No. 1 pick in the W.N.B.A. draft, will soon embark on her professional career.
Collins, who split this season between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards, will become a free agent on July 1. He intends to pursue another contract in the summer, which may serve as a test for how N.B.A. teams respond to the announcement.
In his essay, Collins alludes to the situation, writing: “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. 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.”
Collins’s decision drew widespread praise and admiration across the athletic and political realms on social media. While it remains unclear how he will be perceived by strangers, by N.B.A. executives looking for a bench player for next season or even by potential teammates, he received unequivocal public support from those around the league.
On Twitter, the Lakers star Kobe Bryant wrote: “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.” Bryant added two hashtags: “courage” and “support.”
Martina Navratilova, an openly gay former tennis player, viewed the news in a broad context. She believes Collins’s announcement will affect people he will never meet.
“That was the first thing I thought: this is going to save some kids’ lives,” Navratilova said. “That’s brilliant. When you can affect people in such a positive way by being true to yourself, it’s amazing.”
Collins grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs and played college basketball at Stanford, which he helped lead to the Final Four. He was drafted in the first round of the 2001 N.B.A. draft, 18th over all, and played most of his first seven seasons with the New Jersey Nets. He has since played for Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta, Boston and Washington. In his professional career, he has averaged 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds a game and played in two N.B.A. finals.
But he kept his sexuality deeply closeted. Collins’s only public hint to the gay community was a sly one. He wore No. 98 for the Celtics and the Wizards, in honor of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was killed in 1998. “The number has great significance to the gay community,” Collins wrote.
In an accompanying essay, Collins’s twin brother, Jarron, also an N.B.A. veteran, wrote that he “had no idea” that Jason was gay until Jason told him last summer.
Amaechi, who announced that he was gay after a five-year N.B.A. career, called Collins’s public declaration “undoubtedly groundbreaking.”
“We are unusually blessed to have such an eloquent spokesperson,” Amaechi said in a phone interview from England, where he lives. “When I say ‘we,’ I mean society, as opposed to just gay people. Anybody who has ever interviewed Jason knows he is not just your average athlete. He’s cerebral, thoughtful, kind — so many things that many athletes are not enough of. Add this authentic declaration on top of things, it makes him one of the perfect role models for our young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, color or gender.”
Amaechi was among several gay-rights advocates who said it matters whether Collins plays next season.
“If he’s not on a team, he’s just another guy who did it at the end of his career, and he retired,” said Jim Buzinski, a co-founder of Outsports, a Web site devoted to gays and sports. “Until we see him walking onto a court, in either a starting lineup or in a backup role off the bench, and there’s that anticipation that Jason Collins is going to step on the floor — it’s not going to matter as much until that moment. That’s what everyone is waiting for.”
Still, Buzinski and others said this moment was a historic one.