04/29/2013 05:17 EDT | Updated 06/29/2013 05:12 EDT

There's More Than One Gay Player in the NBA

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CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 17: Jason Collins #98 of the Washington Wizards rebounds against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on April 17, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Wizards 95-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

And now we wait and see.

In a story appearing in Sports Illustrated's May 6th issue, and that is now available on SI's website, a professional athlete publicly acknowledges that he is gay. The riveting, first-person story by the thoughtful and sincere Jason Collins opens, remarkably enough: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay..."

And now we wait and see.

We wait for the reaction that will surely come in waves in the days and weeks and months to come from assorted angles: from society in general, from the sporting world, from the league, from NBA players who have played with/against Collins, and from the fans. Will the reaction be that of compassion, acceptance and appreciation for Collins and the guts it took for him to come out?

And what about the backlash: how bitter, how big, how abusive? It's no secret that the sporting world is a macho domain that, historically speaking, has been laced with homophobia. Google "NBA players fined for anti-gay slurs." In recent years you'll see guys like Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah. And you'll see that the list is as long and ugly as the slurs themselves.

Remember when erstwhile NBA player John Amaechi came out of the closet, five years after his playing days were over? If you do, you'll surely recall former player Tim Hardaway's response to Amaechi's announcement, delivered on a radio program.

"First off," Hardaway spewed, "I wouldn't want him on my team. You know I hate gay people, so let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't want to be around gay people..." One imagines the more open-minded members of the sporting community shaking their heads and hoping that Hardaway was but one really rotten apple in a bucket of good apples. And, of course, everyone hopes that bad apples can turn good; to that end, Hardaway has become a supporter of gay rights...

And now we wait and see.

Is the sporting world ready for this? It should be. It's been a long time coming. It's way overdue. Still, within the fantasy realm of professional athletics, there are people whose heads are buried so deep in the sand, they are unable to grasp the concept of reality, or the basic laws of averages. Which is to say there are people who, Jason Collins be damned, are fully convinced that there are no gay men in professional sports. Right. There are gay men in every worldly endeavor, from accounting to zoology, but none -- zero -- in professional sports.

For months now, rumors abounded. Granted, in the Internet age, rumors are cheaper and more abundant than ever before. But these rumors had legs. These rumors asserted that someone in the professional sporting community was prepared to come out. In fact, a group may well be coming out together (safety in numbers). In response to these rumors, leagues, teams, players voiced support, in theory. Now we will discover the depth and sincerity of that vowed support, in reality.

In his own words, Jason Collins damn near had it all. Two state high school championships in his native Los Angeles, the NCAA Final Four, and nine playoffs in a solid 12-year NBA career. But he wanted more. His "journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement" brought him to where he is now: happy in his own skin, for perhaps the very first time. And publicly acknowledging that he is gay.

"Being genuine and honest," he wrote, "makes me happy."

Amen. And now we wait and see.

On the court, Collins is the kind of player who sacrifices himself for others. Off the court, he's apparently the same selfless soul. As we wait and see, as we hear others beginning to weigh-in on the matter, we leave the penultimate words to the man himself: Jason Collins, the 34-year-old NBA center. Who is black. And gay.

"Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who is gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who's out."

Okay, so who's next? Now we wait and see.

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