A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

A Man Apart: Ex-NBA player comes out of the closet
By Frankie Edozien

On Valentine's Day, ESPN Books will release the much-anticipated autobiography of former professional basketball player, John Amaechi.

But a week before its release the book caused a media firestorm as Amaechi, a Nigerian, revealed through his publicist that he is gay and the book "Man in the Middle" is a coming out tale.

Shockwaves went through the National Basketball Association. Amaechi had played five seasons with the league on the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz rosters. He was traded to the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks but never played for those teams.

As a student he excelled as a college player at Penn State and even did a stint in the European basketball league.  Amaechi is a big man. At 6-foot-10, the brutish center averaged 6.3 point a game. He was not as well known or as accomplished on the court as Hakeem Olajuwon or Dikembe Motombo, the other Africans who have made a name for themselves in the NBA. But Amaechi's tome is a flame throwing page-turner that pulls the curtain on homophobia in pro-sports, while also courageously taking a stand for gay Africans to ditch the closet.

About the NBA's complex relationship with gay sexuality, he writes: "coming out threatens to expose the homoerotic components of what they prefer to think of as simply male bonding... And it generally is. It's not so much that there is a repressed homosexuality at play (except for a small minority), only that there's a tremendous fear that the behavior might be labeled as such. Or, as I heard the anti-gay epithets pour forth that gay men in the locker room would somehow violate this sacred space by sexualizing it."

Though he was raised in Boston, it was during his years living in Salt Lake City that he says he grew comfortable with his sexual orientation- due in part to the accepting gay community in the town. Still, he writes that Jazz owner Larry Miller's "made his antipathy to gay people clear."

But he lived dangerously while on the road, frequently going to popular gay clubs in New York City where tons of revelers could have 'outed' him. "Alll it would have taken was a single anonymous cellphone call from inside Splash to Page Six and I would have been toast. I was hiding, but in plain sight."

Amaechi, whose mother is British, retired to the United Kingdom and continues to do the huge amount of charity work he did as a professional player. He now lives in Manchester, an industrial town that is both a gay mecca and an enclave for African immigrants.

The reaction to the book has clogged up the blogospheres and newspaper column inches. The reactions have ranged from shock, disbelief, surprise, frequent notations that he was less than stellar among his peers, to indifferent shrugs.  Everyone blabbing seems to have a strong opinion, but Amaechi seems to have made peace with his life as a star athlete and his once-hidden sexual orientation. He rightly came to conclude that being a professional ball player with all the money, fame, adulation and all that came with it did not make him who he is. "This was not my life. I was never a basketball player; I just happened to be really good at it for a while."

One only wonders how much bigger an impact this African man's story would have made if he had achieved this realization and had the courage to live openly and freely while still a player under a multi-million dollar contract.