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Jason Collins to retire from NBA

NEW YORK -- Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay athlete in North America's four recognized major team sports when he played for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets last season, announced Wednesday his retirement from the league.

The 35-year-old Collins made the announcement in a first-person story for Sports Illustrated. It's the same forum he used in April 2013 to publicly reveal his sexuality.

Collins also penned a story for ThePlayersTribune.com announcing his decision.

He joined the Nets in February and played 22 games for the team but was not on the roster this season.

"It feels wonderful to have been part of these milestones for sports and for gay rights, and to have been embraced by the public, the coaches, the players, the league and history," Collins wrote in Sports Illustrated.

Collins started his career with the New Jersey Nets in 2001 and rejoined the franchise in Brooklyn. Collins made the official announcement at the Barclays Center on Wednesday night before the Nets' game with the Milwaukee Bucks.

He elected to officially announce his retirement Wednesday because he was in New York City for a Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative event, and it was Bucks head coach Jason Kidd's first game back in Brooklyn.

"It just made perfect sense," he said. "The past 18-19 months have been incredible. I've grown so much as a human being."

Kidd was Brooklyn's coach last season, and Collins singled him out for the "courage" he showed in bringing him on board.

"It had been argued that no team would want to take on a player who was likely to attract a media circus from the outset and whose sexuality would be a distraction," Collins wrote. "I'm happy to have helped put those canards to rest."

Collins wore No. 98 during his final seasons in the league; 1998 was the year that Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, was killed.

Collins said his most poignant moment came during his third game back last season, when he met Shepard's family in Denver.

Following Collins' revelation, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out in February and was drafted by the NFL's St. Louis Rams. He was later cut by the Rams and was released from the Dallas Cowboys practice squad last month.

Sam saluted Collins via Twitter on Wednesday:

In April, University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon became the first openly gay player in Division I men's basketball.

Billie Jean King called Collins "an influencer on and off the basketball court" in a statement to The Associated Press. Collins thanked the former tennis great for her support when he first came out.

"I hope his decision to live his truth and do so on his own terms will inspire him on the next phase of his journey," King said.

But Collins noted Wednesday that there are still no openly gay players in the NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball.

He wrote that someday being a gay athlete won't be a big deal.

"Believe me: They exist," Collins wrote. "Every pro sport has them. I know some of them personally. When we get to the point where a gay pro athlete is no longer forced to live in fear that he'll be shunned by teammates or outed by tabloids, when we get to the point where he plays while his significant other waits in the family room, when we get to the point where he's not compelled to hide his true self and is able to live an authentic life, then coming out won't be such a big deal. But we're not there yet."

Collins said he came to a decision that he would retire sometime over the summer.

"After last season and especially over the summer my body was talking to me like it does to all professional athletes after a certain while. It's a young man's game and Father Time is undefeated, and it got another one," Collins said.

Collins also singled out Nets guard Deron Williams for the support that Williams gave Collins before he came out in the Sports Illustrated article.

"He reached out to me and it was incredibly supportive," Collins said.

Collins played 13 seasons in the NBA. He called his greatest highlight starting at center in the NBA Finals against San Antonio Spurs and Tim Duncan in his second season in the league.

He was never known for his statistics, but mentioned that he wanted to be known as a "great teammate."

And he was.

"Playing 13 years in the league, people will slap different labels on you," Collins said. "First and foremost, I always want my legacy to be known as a great teammate, someone who always sacrificed for the team. Whether it be on the offensive end, setting screens, de-cleating people. I love when that happens. And then on the defensive end, being physical out there and making sure the opponent knows when they get into the paint that there would be a consequence."

Collins plans to continue to be an advocate for LGBT organizations, foundations and other programs. He also wants to stay involved in basketball in some capacity as well.

Information from the ESPNNewYork.com contributor Mike Mazzeo and the Associated Press was used in this report.