Twelve-year NBA veteran center Jason Collins writes in an essay in Sports Illustrated: "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay man playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation."

Collins, who has spent time on six different teams and is currently a free agent, says his decision to come out publicly began during the 2011 lockout. It was only that he began to realize that he was gay.

"Imagine you're in the oven, baking," Collins writes. "Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know -- I baked for 33 years."

It didn't take long for Collins to start revealing the truth to those close to him, but it was only recently that he made the final decision to go public: "The Boston Marathon bombing 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?"

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.

In 2007, John Amaechi, who played five seasons in the NBA, came out, but that was after he had been retired for several years. More recently, Brittney Griner, who was just drafted first overall by the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, spoke freely of her sexuality in a video interview with Sports Illustrated.

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