STOCKPORT, ENGLAND—British homosexual John Amaechi sent shockwaves throughout the sporting world last week when he announced, much to the surprise of his family and friends—in addition to NBA players and fans—that he lived a double life for five years in which he secretly worked as a professional basketball player.
"It was difficult living with this secret," said Amaechi, who in his new autobiography Man In The Middle reveals that he played in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, and perhaps most shockingly, the New York Knicks. "I loved it and hated it at the same time. And I was afraid that if I ever acted on some of my impulses, like say by requesting more playing time, that I would have ultimately embarrassed myself and everyone close to me."
"Now, it's like a tremendous weight has been lifted," Amaechi added, stating that although he still feels a certain shame about his furtive involvement in the often shadowy world of professional basketball, it has been a great relief to finally be able to speak openly about his professional life.
According to Amaechi, who spent most of his NBA career on the bench and only averaged six points and two rebounds per game, he knew at an early age that he was different from all the "normal players" when he went undrafted out of college, was unnoticed during his first season in which he only played 28 games, and was never involved with guns, drugs, or shifty agents. Amaechi claims he never once had the urge to record a sub-par rap album.
Furthermore, no matter where Amaechi played, he always felt "awkward and out of place" on the court, adding that he was "never really certain if [he] was a center or a power forward."
"I had no idea," former Cavaliers teammate Terrell Brandon said. "Sure, I saw John around the Cavaliers, but I didn't want to jump to any conclusions. He was tall, yeah, but he didn't look like a basketball player. He didn't act like a basketball player. And just because he hung around with a lot of basketball players and sometimes wore flashy jewelry, that didn't necessarily mean he was one, y'know?"
"Oh, please—I knew it all along," former Jazz teammate John Stockton said. "I mean, just look at the way he dressed—basketball jersey, mesh shorts, sneakers There was, in my opinion, no doubt that he was, at least a little bit. Just because he was homosexual doesn't mean he couldn't be a basketball player."
In his book, Amaechi states that he even hid his occupation from his parents because he "came from a traditional British household" and his parents would not have approved of their son being an NBA player. Amaechi admits he was constantly worried during the Jazz's nationally televised playoff series with the Sacramento Kings in 2002, because cameras panning over to the bench could have revealed to his family and friends at home that he was in the NBA.
"The last thing you want is for them to find out that way," said Amaechi, who claims his parents have been "very supportive and accepting, although they don't understand why someone would want that kind of life."
"I think Coach [Jerry Sloan] knew," said Amaechi, adding that Sloan treated him differently than his teammates, most of whom played significantly more minutes. "And, I am sure that some of the diehard fans, the ones who came to every game and stayed even when we were getting blown out, I think they knew."
"But what hurt the most was that I didn't feel comfortable around my own teammates," he added. "And if I had told them I was a basketball player, I don't think they would have accepted it, or even believed it."
The response to Amaechi's announcement around the league has ranged from complete indifference to unconditional support.
"I can't believe I showered with that guy," said former Jazz teammate Karl Malone, who played with Amaechi for two seasons. "I mean, it's just weird. I really think I would have remembered something like that."
"Good for him," said Houston Rockets shooting guard Tracy McGrady, who played with Amaechi when he was on the Orlando Magic. "You know, I wish he would have come out earlier. Like in the third quarter of some games. Maybe he wasn't the best gay basketball player I've ever seen, but we could have used another big man in the lineup."
Though he refused to name names, Amaechi said that he knows other men out there who, unsuspected by the world, are also living secret lives as professional basketball players.
"I just hope my new book will inspire them to come out when they retire," Amaechi added. "Despite the way we're portrayed in the media, and in spite of the way we're treated by the world at large, being an NBA player is nothing to be ashamed of."