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Miami Heat players support gay colleague Jason Collins

Heat players offered support for Jason Collins and championed him as a pioneer on Tuesday, one day after the 12-year NBA veteran announced he was gay.

With the Heat in a holding pattern until the second round, questions about Collins and his first-person story for dominated the post-practice media availability at AmericanAirlines Arena. Collins, 34, is the first openly gay male athlete in a major American professional sport to reveal his sexuality while still an active player.

“I think it’s very noble on his part,” LeBron James said. “I think it’s a strong thing to do, and I think as NBA players, we all offer him our support.”

Collins, in a powerful piece for Sports Illustrated, wrote: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

News of the story carried beyond the realm of sports Monday with President Barack Obama calling Collins to tell him he “couldn’t be prouder of him,” Obama said during a news conference on Tuesday. Obama added that gays and lesbians deserve “not just tolerance but recognition that they’re fully a part of the American family.”

The Heat’s players echoed those words, with Chris Andersen perhaps being the most vocally supportive, calling it a “historical moment” if it “encourages others to step up and say this is how they feel and this is who they are then more power to them.”

Andersen recognized the bravery in Collins’ decision, saying “he’s going to have a tough road, but you know what, I think he’s in the right part of a state of mind that he’s going to be … a tough leader.”

Collins, who finished this season with the Wizards, is a free agent with an average of 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds for his career. A physical, seven-foot center, he has played for six teams throughout his 12-year career. The journeyman could find himself out of the NBA next season, but commissioner David Stern said if that happens it would not be because of his announcement.

“I think that our guys want to win,” Stern told NBA TV on Monday during Game 4 of the series between the Hawks and Pacers. “If he can help, he’ll be signed. If it’s viewed that he can’t, then he won’t be. But it will not be on this issue for sure.”

Heat swingman Mike Miller, who played with Collins in Memphis during the 2007-2008 season, said finding work won’t be a problem for his former teammate.

“Listen, we come out here to do our job just like everyone else,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a basketball player or if you’re going into an office. It’s the same thing.”

Five seasons removed from playing on the same team, Miller and Collins remain friends. Collins mentioned Miller in his essay for

“I’m glad I can stop hiding and refocus on my 13th NBA season,” Collins wrote. “I’ve been running through the Santa Monica Mountains in a 30-pound vest with Shadow, the German shepherd I got from Mike Miller. In the pros, the older you get, the better shape you must be in. Next season a few more eyeballs are likely to be on me. That only motivates me to work harder.”

While Collins will now be the focal point of publicity no matter where he plays, Chris Bosh said he hopes Collins will not be treated any differently by players. Bosh expects nothing will change.

“I don’t think you have to go out of your way,” Bosh said. “Just treat him normal. He’s a human being, and it’s not like he has two heads or anything. It’s the same dude. Say what’s up and everything is just normal.”

Next series Monday

The Heat’s second-round series will begin on Monday even if the first-round series between the Bulls and Nets ends Thursday night, the NBA announced. The Bulls have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series. Bosh said the long wait is a “gift and curse” and that “just staying in shape, keeping our edge, and keeping our mental focus” will be “a huge challenge.”

“So, we have our work cut out for us this week,” Bosh said.

While the Heat swept the Nets this season, Bosh said he doesn’t favor playing one team or the other. The Bulls ended the Heat’s 27-game winning streak.

“They’re going to have to play their series, they’re going to have to battle it out, but there is no such thing as an easy road to a championship — whether that’s playing Chicago and battling it out or playing a motivated Nets team, nobody wants to get beat, period,” Bosh said.

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