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All of me

All of me


In the NBA John Amaechi didn't lie. He just didn't say he was gay. Now he's come out; some critics say it's too late. What's a 6-foot-10 man of principle to do?

When 36-year-old former NBA center John Amaechi came out as a gay man in February, he was not hailed as a hero. Why did he wait till he was retired? gay critics carped. Why did he have to air his private business at all? straight critics rejoined. It's instructive commentary on what we expect of our heroes and what we expect of ourselves. In a gay press exclusive interview with The Advocate, Amaechi opens up about the real dangers of being gay in the big leagues--and why no active male professional athlete is coming out anytime soon.

Born in the U.S. and raised in England, Amaechi started his basketball career at Penn State, home of the notoriously homophobic women's coach Rene Portland. He played for four NBA teams in five years. He turned down a $17 million contract with the L.A. Lakers to stay with the Orlando Magic before moving to the Utah Jazz, where he had a combative relationship with coach Jerry Sloan. Case in point: When Sloan called him the c word during a game, he told him to fuck off. He is the first male pro basketball player to tell the world he's gay and only the sixth male athlete in the major U.S. pro sports ever to come out.

With Amaechi, it's not how high he rose in the NBA but that he got there at all. His new memoir, Man in the Middle (ESPN Books, $25.95), uncorks a story of tough challenges met with tougher resolve. Example: Amaechi's right hand was nearly severed when he was 16 at the time he started playing ball. So, he became ambidextrous--a skill that helped him get to America and the pros.

Being gay was not the point then. It is now. In addition to his work in England with his Amaechi Basketball Center, Amaechi is a new spokesman for Human Rights Campaign's Coming Out Project. "I'm resilient enough, eloquent enough, and outspoken enough to try and open some minds," he says.

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Anne Stockwell