Jason Collins, an 11-year NBA veteran who played for the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics this past regular season, just became the first openly gay athlete in one of North America's four major men's professional sports leagues. Collins, now 34, was an All-American at Stanford University before being taken in the first round of the 2001 draft by the Houston Rockets. He's played for a half-dozen NBA teams during his career and is much more of a journeyman than a star. (He's averaged fewer than four points per game as a pro, and he played only sparingly in recent seasons). Still, that matters little today. He made it official in a first-person piece in Sports Illustrated:
I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.
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.
Collins played alongside his twin brother, Jarron, at Stanford. Jarron, also an NBA vet, apparently had no idea of his brother's secret until last year:
I didn't come out to my brother until last summer. His reaction to my breakfast revelation was radically different from Aunt Teri's. He was downright astounded. He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy. But by dinner that night, he was full of brotherly love. For the first time in our lives, he wanted to step in and protect me.
As you'd expect, the news is big enough to earn Collins the spot on SI's cover this week:
This week's SI Cover - Jason Collins comes out of the closet: twitter.com/si_vault/statu…— Andy Gray (@si_vault) April 29, 2013
Bill Clinton, meanwhile, wasted no time weighing in on the big news, offering his praise for his daughter's college classmate:
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.
This post has been updated with additional information.