Jason Collins (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
ATLANTA -- In an instant, veteran NBA player Jason Collins became the most talked-about person in professional sports.
In a Sports Illustrated article released Monday, Collins declared: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." His declaration makes him the first openly gay athlete on a U.S. professional sports team.
Collins, a 12-year veteran, played for the Atlanta Hawks from 2009 to 2012.
Monday night in Philips Arena, four of his former teammates prepared for the Hawks playoff game against the Indiana Pacers.
As players drifted in and out of the locker room before game time, reporters stood by, poised to ask the question of the hour: "What do you think of Collins' announcement?"
"It takes a lot of courage to be able to do what he did," said Hawks power forward Al Horford, who played with Collins for three years. "I think there's some pressure lifted off of him."
"It was a big step for sports, period," he added.
Hawks forward Josh Smith, also a former teammate, said Collins' actions may help pave the road for others.
"Whoever it is that's uncomfortable coming out, I think they should look at big Jason and have that confidence," Smith said. "I respect it 100 percent."
Zaza Pachulia said Collins, a fellow center, was a great teammate and talked about their time playing together as "big men" for the Hawks.
"We worked together three years," Pachulia said. "He was a great person, great guy."