The former Celtics player says he wanted to join his college roommate, Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, at Boston's Gay Pride Parade last year, but chose to keep his secret safe. He says he didn't want to be a distraction and wanted to put his loyalty to his teammates first.
Now Collins is speaking openly about his sexuality because he says he felt the country was ready. He came out first to his aunt, Teri Jackson, a San Francisco Superior Court Judge and twin brother and then to the world in a first-person story posted on Sports Illustrated's website Monday.
Collins sat down for an interview that was aired by ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday, one day after the veteran NBA center revealed his sexuality.
"I think, I know, in my personal life, I'm ready and I think the country is ready for supporting an openly gay basketball player," Collins told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
The announcement comes two weeks after his season with the Washington Wizards ended. Collins' teammates say they had no idea the 7-foot center was gay but they're proud of him for having the courage to come out.
"When you keep telling yourself a lie, at some point you buy your own cover story, like a CIA spy or something," Collins said. "I'm really good at playing it straight."
In the exclusive interview with ABC News, Collins says he wants to be a role model.
"I hope that every player makes a decision that leads to their own happiness, whatever happiness that is in life," Collins said. "I know that I, right now, am the happiest that I've ever been in my life. There's nothing more beautiful than just allowing yourself to really be happy and be comfortable in your own skin."
He also says he finds it's mind-boggling that he's the first active player in one of the four major U.S. Sports Leagues to come out.
"You're sort of waiting around for someone else to raise their hand. And you know I'm ready to raise my hand, but you still look around like 'Come on guys,'" said Collins.
Collins says he's just trying to live an honest, genuine life. He tells ABC News' Stephanopoulos that he one day hopes to be married and have children, but currently describes his relationship status as single.
"I tried everything in the book as far as trying to convince myself to lead the life that you should," said Collins, who dated women in the past and was once engaged. "Calling off the wedding was obviously a tough decision, but it was the right one, because I knew I wasn't getting married for the right reasons."
In regards to his basketball career, reaction from many NBA players and coaches has been supportive. Kobe Bryant showed his support in a Tweet that said, "Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don't suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said "He's one of my favorite team players I have ever coached."
NBA Commissioner David Stern said Collins has helped pave the way for others.
"I think we're going to get past everything in a good way. It's going to become a non-issue. He's great. His family is great. He's part of our family. And after the immediate media frenzy because the media can always be depended upon for frenzy, it's going to be alright, so what and it will help the next athlete that wants to do the same thing," said Stern.
President Obama even called to say he's proud of Collins' decision to come out.
"It's incredible. Just try to live an honest, genuine life and the next thing you know you have the president calling you," Collins said. "He was incredibly supportive and he was proud of me, said this not only affected my life but others going forward."
Some in the sports world have voiced their opposition. Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace posted then deleted tweets saying he didn't understand homosexuality. And a sports radio host in New York called the Sports Illustrated story "a dramatic attempt to sell a magazine."
Collins says he wants to keep playing in the NBA. The 34-year-old averaged 1.1 points this season for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. He will be a free agent this offseason but could sign with any team.
ABC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.