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04/29/2013 07:35 pm ET | Updated Apr 30, 2013

Jason Collins' LA Childhood Was The Beginning Of His Journey To Self-Acceptance

AP

NBA center Jason Collins has become America's first male athlete in a major professional sport to come out as gay. In a personal essay for Sports Illustrated published Monday, the NBA free agent goes into detail about his happy childhood in Los Angeles and the role his hometown continues to play in his journey toward self-discovery and acceptance.

Collins describes his LA childhood as a protected, happy one inspired by art and culture. But as he grew older, Collins became more and more aware of how his budding sexuality differed from his twin brother's. From Sports Illustrated:

I had a happy childhood in the suburbs of L.A. My parents instilled in us an appreciation of history, art and, most important, Motown. Jarron and I weren't allowed to listen to rap until we were 12. After our birthday I dashed to Target and bought DJ Quik's album Quik Is the Name. I memorized every line. It was around this time that I began noticing subtle differences between Jarron and me. Our twinness was no longer synchronized. I couldn't identify with his attraction to girls.

The secret rift didn't shake Collins' bond with his brother. Together, they went on to lead their high school basketball team at Studio City's prestigious Harvard-Westlake prep school to the state championships for the first time ever -- twice. They won both championships in 1996 and 1997, confirmed Harvard-Westlake President Tom Hudnut to The Huffington Post, and by the end of the twins' senior season, the team was ranked third in the nation.

(Fun fact: Collins' high school teammates also included actor Jason Segel, notes Studio City Patch).

"I was very proud of him because he saw an opoportunity to exercise leadership in his field and took it,' said Hudnut about Collins' revelation. "I think it took a great deal of courage for him to do that, but it was entirely consistent with his personality. He's a very bright, very witty, very outgoing personality whom people really enjoyed being around."

Hudnut, who has been with the school for 26 years, has known both Collins brothers since they were 14 and says they still come back during the summer time to do basketball clinics and support the school.

Collins and his brother also went on to play for Stanford University. It was Collins' Stanford roommate Joe Kennedy who would eventually become an integral part of his coming out story decades down the road. But throughout his youth, admitted Collins, he continued to deny his sexuality to himself and those closest to him. He dated women and was once even engaged.

Collins, 34, has played for six NBA teams over 12 seasons. Last year he played for both the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards, and right now he's a free agent. It was his open contract, coupled some major pieces of news this past year (the Supreme Court DOMA arguments and the Boston marathon bombs) that pushed him to live more authentically -- and part of that meant going public about his sexuality. Now that he's training for next year, he spends his time "running through the Santa Monica Mountains in a 30-pound vest with Shadow," his German shepherd, and hoping that his new revelation won't negatively effect the decade-long friendships he has formed with other athletes in the NBA.

Fortunately, it's already looking like Collins doesn't need to worry so much about the fallout. Since his revelation, professional athletes and other figures in the sports world have come forward to show support for him -- including Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who tweeted this message:

Lakers player Steve Nash also tweeted in support of Collins, writing, "the time has come." Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, another Southern California native and gay rights advocate, also added his voice to the mix.

Story has been updated to include quotes and information from Harvard-Westlake president Tom Hudnut.

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