Jason Collins admitted that not too many know the backstory about the phone call he received from President Obama in late April, hours after a Sports Illustrated column revealed that the 12-year National Basketball Association (NBA) veteran is gayparticularly where he was going.
Collins has a friend who works for Valerie Jarrett in the White House, and the friend was among 60 or so family and close friends who Collins informed the day before the Sports Illustrated issue (May 6 cover date) went live.
On that Monday morning when Collins was officially coming out, he received a phone call between calls he was making, and yet he did not answer it because the ID showed the caller was unknown. Minutes later, Collins checked his voicemail and heard it was Jarrett, the senior advisor to the president, with her personal support.
"I was kicking myself for missing a call from Valerie Jarrett," Collins said.
One of Collins' phone conversations Monday, as now the first openly gay active NBA player, was with Oprah"and she didn't block her number," Collins said, laughing.
He finished the call with Oprah, which was "a great conversation," he said, and was heading to the bathroom when he received another phone call with "Unknown ID."
"I knew I had to answer it," Collins said. "A woman identifies herself and says, 'Can you hold for the president?'
"Naturally I said, 'Yes,' though part of me thought it was about to be the biggest practical joke ever. Sure enough, he gets on and I recognized his voice right away; his voice is so distinct."
Collins, at the home of his agent at the time, went back around his agent and his publicist. "My agent's face was just lighting up; he was so happy," that the President had called, Collins said.
Collins, a Los Angeles native who graduated from Stanford, has played for six teams in the NBA, most recently the Washington Wizards. His NBA career has spanned 713 regular-season games, plus another 95 in the playoffs. He is currently a free agent, hoping to be signed for the 2013-14 season.
He has given part of the credit for his smooth coming-out to his agent, Arn Tellem, who Collins said, "I wouldn't have been able to do this without him."
Tellem has known the Sports Illustrated writer who assisted with Collins' coming-out story since they were 9. "That trust was there [between Tellem and writer Franz Lidz], and that was key," Collins said.
Collins met with the writer, the writer's daughter, and an editor. They just sat around the dining room table at Collins' house and talked for almost four hours.
Two days later, Collins was sent a draft of his coming-out story for proofing.
The world learned Collins is gay days later.
"The process was amazing," said Collins who, when asked what he'd do different, replied, "Nothing. I don't think I would change anything."
Collins' coming-out was trailblazing. Obama and Oprah immediately joined the Collins support crew, as well as many of the top NBA stars, including Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Still, he truly had no idea what to expect when the world learned that the 7-foot, 250-pound Collins was gay, "but I knew it was something that I had to do. I felt like I couldn't stay quiet anymore," he said. "Obviously [coming out] has changed my life for the better in so many ways."
People now approach Collins to come out, which he once was doing to others.
Collins said that five or six people have come out to him since he revealed he is gayfrom average Americans to celebrities. "Some were unexpected," he said, not revealing any names.
"I still remember, toward the end of last season, debating how I was going to do it. What am I going to do?" Collins said. "At the end of the day, everyone has to do what is best for them, what will make them happiest. Coming out has made me much happier; I don't have that stress anymore. As I often tell people, you don't know how good you are going to feel once you get rid of that stress."
Collins' coming-out was aided by John Amaechi, a gay former NBA player who was once teammates with Collins' brother, Jarron.
Jarron called Amaechi and said he knew someone who was thinking of coming out. Jarron said the person was a really good friend and he wanted to make sure with Amaechi that he could pass along Amaechi's phone number.
Jarron didn't say that it was, in fact, his brother who was coming out.
"I called [Amaechi], and just having that sounding board of someone who has walked down this path was helpful," Collins said of his early April phone conversation with Amaechi. "John has been incredible, helpful because I needed someone who has gone down this path."
Jason and Jarron were golfing on that Sunday in April, 24 hours before their worlds were going to change forever. Golfing has been a sibling tradition before something big is going to happen, Jason said.
Jarron called Deron Williams, the former University of Illinois standout who has played in the NBA since 2005. He told Williams that Jason was coming out, and Williams then told Jerry Stackhouse, who has played in the NBA since 1995and was teammates in the league with Jason.
Stackhouse immediately sent Jason a text message, offering his full support.
Collins responded by calling Stackhouse. "Right then, I just thought, 'If this is how it's going to be overall, it will be great,'" Jason said.
Jason spent that Sunday night, the night before the world learned of the gay NBA player, calling family members and friends, so they would hear directly from Collins. It was a broad spectrum of calls Collins was making that nightto friends, teammates, coaches, etc.
"It's been crazy, surreal," Collins said. "I'm very blessedhaving the friends and family who I have in my life, and just the opportunities that I've had.
"The most important thing for me now is, being in shape and ready to play basketball."
So he gets a call from an NBA team, wanting his services as a center in the NBA.