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Tuesday
Apr302013

Jason Collins: 'Mind-Boggling' to Be First Openly Gay Pro Athlete

Eric McCandless/ABC(NEW YORK) -- Washington Wizards center Jason Collins told ABC News it's "mind-boggling" to be the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport, but he never set out to be first and is waiting for someone else to "raise their hand" and follow his lead.

"That's kind of mind-boggling.  I think I talk about that.  That, you know, I never set out to be the first," Collins told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview Monday night.

By shattering one of the final barriers in American sports, Collins said he hopes other gay athletes will follow his lead.

"You're sort of waiting around for somebody else to…raise their hand," he said.  "I'm ready to raise my hand but, you know, you still look around like, 'OK, come on, guys.'  It's time for someone else in the room to raise their hand and say, 'You know what?  Yeah, so big deal.  I can still play basketball.  I can still help the team win, and that's what's most important.'"

Collins revealed his homosexuality in an article published on Sports Illustrated's website earlier Monday.

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA center.  I'm black.  And I'm gay," Collins wrote in the Sports Illustrated article.

After the article was published, Collins received tremendous support for his announcement from the White House, the NBA and current and former teammates.

"It's incredible.  You just try to live an honest, genuine life and next thing you know you have the president calling you," Collins told ABC News.

Los Angeles Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash were quick to share their support.

"Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU," Bryant tweeted.

Nash tweeted that "the time has come" and said he had "maximum respect" for Collins.

NBA Commissioner David Stern said he was proud Collins "assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue."

In a statement on behalf of the Washington Wizards, president Ernie Grunfeld said the team was "extremely proud" of Collins' 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," Grunfeld wrote.

Collins, who has played for six teams over the course of 12 years, said he felt it was the right time to publicly come out before he began to refocus on his next season.  He will officially become a free agent this summer and wants to keep playing in the NBA.

"I still love the game, and I still have something to offer.  My coaches and teammates recognize that," he wrote in Sports Illustrated.  "At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful."

Collins predicted the news may come as a shock to NBA players, many of whom he has counted as teammates over the course of his career.

"I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay?  But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school," he wrote.

While Collins didn't expect to be a trailblazer, he said he was "happy to start the conversation" about being an openly gay athlete.

But he also has some serious business ahead of him -- training for his 13th season in the NBA.

"In the pros, the older you get, the better shape you must be in," he wrote.  "Next season a few more eyeballs are likely to be on me.  That only motivates me to work harder."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio