Washington Wizards center Jason Collins says a "huge weight has been lifted" from his shoulders after becoming the first openly gay athlete in a major U.S. team sport and he is waiting for someone else to "raise their hand" to follow his lead.
"I hope that every player makes a decision that leads to their own happiness," Collins told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview Monday night.
"I know that I, right now, am the happiest that I've ever been in my life," he said. "A huge weight has been lifted. I've already been out to my family and my friends, but just to, you know, sort of rip the Band-Aid off and come out on my own terms."
By shattering one of the final barriers in U.S. sports, Collins said he hopes other gay athletes will "raise their hand" and realize that being gay in pro sports is not that big of a deal.
"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 Monday.
Collins began the first-person article bluntly, writing, "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."
With that one sentence, Collins, whose team did not make the playoffs, has thrust himself onto the national stage and become a household name overnight.
Collins has played for six teams in the course of 12 years and said he thinks it's the right time to publicly come out before he begins to refocus on his next season. The journeyman will officially become a free agent this summer and wants to keep playing in the NBA.
Collins shrugged off the notion that more pressure will be placed on him during the offseason to land a contract with an NBA team in light of his announcement. Collins said he wants to simply be judged on his accomplishments and he fully expects future teammates will support him.
"The NBA is like a brotherhood," he said. "And I'm looking at it that we'll all support each other on and off the court."
Collins' journey to revealing he is gay in Sports Illustrated has not been an easy road for the NBA veteran. Collins said he always knew he was gay and tried to fight it.
"I sort of describe it as you know that the sky is blue but you keep telling yourself that it's red," Collins said.
Collins tried everything to convince himself he wasn't gay and he was even engaged to a woman at one point.
"Calling off the wedding was obviously a tough decision but it was the right one because I knew I wasn't getting married for the right reasons," he said.
He was living a life of misery watching his twin brother and close friends start their own families. Collins knew he was unhappy and not living "an honest, genuine life."
Through the sleepless nights and years of silence, Collins still had basketball, which provided something to which he could devote his life. But when NBA owners locked out players and delayed the start of the 2011-12 season, Collins was reminded that basketball wasn't always going to be there for him.
"And I started thinking about, 'What is the rest of my life going to be?'" he said.
The tipping point to go public came after Collins told his parents and received a positive response.
FULL TRANSCRIPT: George Stephanopoulos Interviews Jason Collins