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NBA's Jason Collins comes out

Boston Celtic’s Jason Collins comes out as gay in a frank personal statement, breaking a sports barrier.

Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots the ball against Jason Collins #98 and Jason Terry #4 of the Boston Celtics on 3 February 2013 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Picture: Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images/AFP

NEW YORK - Veteran basketball player Jason Collins announced on Monday that he was gay, smashing through one of the final frontiers in US sports with a frank personal statement and winning warm praise as a ground breaker.

Collins, a 12-year player in the National Basketball Association (NBA), became the first active athlete from any of the four major US men's professional sports leagues to come out publicly as gay.

He was quickly enveloped in a wave of support from the White House to tennis player Martina Navratilova, a pioneer for gay athletes in sport.

Collins is not a well-known sports star but is now likely to become famous for his stance. He revealed the secret he had harboured for years in a first-person account published in Sports Illustrated, saying he had gradually become frustrated with having to keep silent on his sexuality.

"I'm a 34-year-old NBA centre," his essay began. "I'm black. And I'm gay."

Collins said he had considered coming out years ago but it was the Boston Marathon bombings this month that convinced him not to wait any more for a perfect moment to come out.

"I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, 'I'm different.' said Collins, who played last season with the Boston Celtics and then the Washington Wizards and is currently a free agent."If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."

Players, administrators and some politicians applauded him for taking a stance. Some hailed it as a landmark day in American civil rights, perhaps as important as when Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in baseball.

President Barack Obama, a big fan of the NBA who regularly plays pickup basketball with his friends, called Collins to express his support, a White House official said.

"I can certainly tell you that here at the White House we view that as another example of the progress that has been made and the evolution that has been taking place in this country, and commend him for his courage, and support him in his - in this effort and hope that his fans and his team support him going forward," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.