Sunday, November 26, 2017

Happy Birthday to First Out NBA Player John Amaechi

John Amaechi was born today, November 26, in 1970. He is a retired basketball player who currently works as an educator and broadcaster in Europe and the United States.

In February 2007, after his retirement from the NBA, Amaechi became the first former NBA player to come out publicly after doing so in his memoir, Man in the Middle. Since then he has been regarded as "one of the world's most high-profile gay athletes."

The son of a Nigerian, Igbo father, Amaechi was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was raised by his English mother in Heaton Moor, Stockport, England.

Amaechi moved to the United States to play high school basketball at St. John's Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio. He began playing college basketball at Vanderbilt but transferred to Penn State, where he was a two-time First Team Academic All-American selection. While at Penn State, Amaechi became a motivational public speaker and a mentor for area youth.

The 6 ft 10 in, 270 lb. center was signed undrafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1995. Amaechi played 28 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 1995–1996 season, then played for 2 years in Europe. In September 1996, he won the FIBA Intercontinental Cup, being the first scorer (alongside Fragiskos Alvertis) of Panathinaikos with 59 points in the 3 games of the tournament. In 1997–1998 he played with Kinder Bologna but left mid-season before the Italians won the Euroleague.

In 1999, he returned to the US, signing with the Orlando Magic. With a solid 1999–2000 season, where he averaged 10.5 points in 21.1 minutes per game, he gained fame for scoring the NBA's first points in the year 2000. 

He was traded to the Houston Rockets before the 2003-04 NBA season  and, though he was an active player, he did not participate in any games for them. The Rockets later traded him and Moochie Norris to the New York Knicks before the Knicks bought him out of his contract and he eventually retired from playing the sport altogether.

In a 2002 interview with Scotland on Sunday, Amaechi had previously spoken about gays in the NBA: "If you look at our league, minorities aren't very well represented. There's hardly any Hispanic players, no Asian-Americans, so that there's no openly gay players is no real surprise. It would be like an alien dropping down from space. There'd be fear, then panic: they just wouldn't know how to handle it."

In May 2007, a few months after coming out, Amaechi said he had "underestimated America", adding that he had expected the "wrath of a nation" but it never materialized. He made these statements despite having been the subject of death threats a few months earlier.

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