Harry E. Walker/Landov
April 30, 2013 08:45 AM

Yes, Jason Collins feels a certain amount of pride. But he also feels enormous relief.

“I know that I, right now, am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,” the NBA player, who this week became the first openly gay athlete in a major U.S. team sport, tells ABC News.

“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 I hope that every player makes a decision that leads to their own happiness.”

Collins, 34, a 7-foot center for the Washington Wizards, understands that his decision isn’t just personal but historic – and he hopes other gay athletes follow his lead.

Jason Collins
Kwaku Alston For Sports Illustrated

“I’m ready to raise my hand but, you know, you still look around like, ‘OK, come on, guys,’ ” he says. “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 says he struggled with his sexuality for years, and was even engaged to a woman once. “I sort of describe it as, you know the sky is blue but you keep telling yourself it’s red,” he says.

Eventually he told his parents, who were supportive, and that changed everything. “Once you have that big talk with whoever that is in your family and you get that support, you get that love, you know the rest of it is kind of downhill from there,” he says.

RELATED: NBA’s Jason Collins Is First Active Pro-Athlete to Come Out

Collins said the outpouring of support he’s received has been incredible since his first-person story was posted Monday to Sports Illustrated‘s website. “You just try to live an honest, genuine life, and next thing you know, you have the president calling you,” he says.

Collins will be a free agent this summer but hopes to continue his NBA career. “The NBA is like a brotherhood,” he says. “And I’m looking at it that we’ll all support each other on and off the court.”

RELATED: Jason’s Twin Brother Jarron Collins Reacts to the News

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