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By Leslie Robinson
At last an NBA player has come out. I think we should celebrate. Somebody go cut down a net.
Former NBA center John Amaechi has joined former football players David Kopay, Roy Simmons and Esera Tuaolo, and former baseball players Glenn Burke and Billy Bean as openly gay veterans of America’s major pro sports.
We’re still missing a hockey player. Maybe a Boston Bruin and an Edmonton Oiler will take care of that by marrying in Montreal.
Amaechi tells his story in the forthcoming book “Man in the Middle.” British-born of English and Nigerian descent, Amaechi retired from the NBA three years ago, after playing five seasons with four teams. As a 6-foot-10 center, he averaged 6.2 points and 2.6 rebounds a game, not Hall of Fame numbers, but not numbers he should shake his large head in his large hands over, either.
Doc Rivers was his coach in Orlando. “John Amaechi, when I was coaching him, was a great kid. He did as much charity work as anybody in our city, and he’s still doing it. That’s what I wish we focused on,” said Rivers to The Associated Press. “Unfortunately, we’re talking about his sexual orientation, which I couldn’t care a flying flip about.”
The conventional wisdom has been that any active player who came out would suffer a flying flip from teammates, opponents or fans. Now reporters have a concrete reason for testing that wisdom.
“For real? He’s gay for real?” Philadelphia center Steven Hunter responded on hearing the news. “Nowadays it’s proven that people can live double lives. I watch a lot of TV, so I see a lot of sick perverted stuff about married men running around with gay guys and all types of foolishness.”
A pro athlete who watches a lot of TV? There’s a shocker.
Despite his damning cultural analysis, Hunter also said, “As long as he don’t make any advances toward me I’m fine with it. As long as he came to play basketball like a man and conducted himself like a good person, I’d be fine with it.”
“As long as you don’t bring your gayness on me I’m fine,” echoed Hunter’s teammate Shavlik Randolph. “As far as business-wise, I’m sure I could play with him. But I think it would create a little awkwardness in the locker room.”
Well girls and boys, this is progress. They’re actually saying they’re OK having a gay teammate. Even if they’re deathly afraid he’ll leave a Valentine’s Day card in their lockers.
What exactly do they fear? Do they think they’ll be ogled while undressing? I’d be mighty surprised if they hadn’t all checked each other out already, to compare a few things. Are they afraid he’ll make an advance? Are they afraid they’ll accept?
The sanctity of the locker room has come up a lot since he came out. A quote from Amaechi’s book, smack on the cover of “ESPN The Magazine,” puts a wonderful spin on the subject. With players around him flaunting their bodies, primping, and admiring each other’s jewelry, Amaechi realized “the most flamboyant place” he’d ever been was the NBA locker room!
ESPN has cornered the market on Amaechi’s coming out. ESPN Books is publishing his book, which “ESPN The Magazine” is excerpting. He’s given an extensive interview to ESPN’s show “Outside The Lines.” Coming out these days can be a multi-media experience, shepherded by a mega-company monopolizing the moolah in it.
On ESPN.com, out senior writer LZ Granderson wrote he won’t be impressed until an active player comes out. I understand. But I believe John Amaechi has made that much easier for someone to do. So at the least, let’s credit the big man with an impressive assist.