Posted: Tue April 30, 2013 9:28AM; Updated: Tue April 30, 2013 10:15AM

Jason Collins overwhelmed by enormous support for his announcement

By Franz Lidz, SI

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Jason Collins is the first openly gay active male athlete in a major U.S. team sport.
"What you did today was brave," President Obama told Jason Collins (top). "I'm proud of you."
Kwaku Alston for Sports Illustrated

Jason Collins was about to make what anyone not a NASCAR driver might call a "pit stop" when his cell phone rang. This would be yesterday, the most momentous day of the 7-foot NBA center's life, the day he became the first openly gay male athlete who is still active in a major American team sport.

The phone number came up on Collins' caller ID as UNKNOWN. "Normally, I would have ignored the call," he recalled, "but something told me I should accept this one." When he did, a female voice said: "Jason, this is the White House. Can you hold for the president?"

Stunned, Collins said, "Sure." After all, he was already holding.

By early evening, Collins felt relieved. "What you did today was brave," No. 98 remembers No. 44 telling him. "It didn't just affect me. It affected so many other people in the country. I'm proud of you."

Collins' coming-out party was a joyous affair. He was praised in enormous measure. His announcement was called groundbreaking, epic, country-changing. At last count, his Twitter following had swelled from about 3,500 to nearly 85,000.

"It was just your typical day when you speak to the president and Oprah," he cracked. "Truthfully, this whole experience has been humbling and kind of overwhelming. What I'm doing has been done before in sports. There have been lots of other pioneers. I'm obviously the first to come out in this country in one of the four major pro sports -- basketball, baseball, football, hockey. But some people would put soccer up there, too, and Robbie Rogers has already blazed a trail there. I'm just trying to live my life authentically."

The recently retired and now recently unretired Rogers, who phoned Collins yesterday while driving to a Los Angeles Galaxy tryout, said, "It feels a little weird to congratulate you for being honest."

Many, many others chimed in, from Magic Johnson ("I know Jason and his family well and I support him 100%") to Steve Nash ("The time has come. Maximum respect."); from David Stern ("We are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue") to Howard Stern ("Big support to @jasoncollins34. That's not an easy thing you did"); from Bill Clinton ("An important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community.") to Charlie Sheen ("in a word, you are AWESOME!! pure nobility. beyond respect. trancending [sic] courage. hash tag: mind your own biz everyone!:"); and from Rudy Gay ("Happy for my former teammate Jason Colllins [sic]. A true American.") to RuPaul ("Hey @JasonCollins34 I'm still gayer than you!")

Collins heard from his former coaches, including Larry Drew, Randy Wittman, Lawrence Frank, Doc Rivers and Mike Woodson. "With the Celtics facing the Knicks in the playoffs, my allegiances to my old coaches were kind of conflicted," Collins said of the latter two. He got tributes from players like John Wall, Richard Jefferson, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Al Horford, Emeka Okafor, Jerry Stackhouse, Baron Davis and Paul Pierce. He was lauded by Metta World Peace and Kevin Love. If someone named Understanding joins the chorus, he'll have an Elvis Costello song.

He was Topic A in the e-mail chain of fellow ex-Stanford basketball players. "Too soon! Too soon!" wrote onetime Cardinal forward Howard Wright.

No well-wisher impressed his mother more than Oprah. His mom was reluctant to speak publicly on Collins' decision to come out, and had resisted all the entreaties to appear on morning shows, evening shows and everything in-between. "But Oprah is her Kryptonite," he says. "When Oprah invited her and the rest of our family to drive up to Montecito [Calif.] and appear on TV this week, mom said, 'I've got to get my hair done!'"

Only one aspect of Day 1 upset Collins: He never made it to the gym to train for next season. "I just been a little ... busy," he said. "But don't worry. I'll be back at it Tuesday morning."

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