John Amaechi was a center for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz. He also played three seasons in Europe.
The news, first reported by Outsports.com on Tuesday, caused a small ripple in the N.B.A. world. Amaechi, in a book to be published next week by ESPN Books, “Man in the Middle,” wrote about his reluctance to disclose his sexuality in the homophobic culture of sports. The New York Times received a proof of the book.
Amaechi’s publicist, Howard Bragman, told The Associated Press yesterday, “He is coming out of the closet as a gay man.”
Amaechi, 36, said he has never defined himself as a basketball player.
He acknowledges another definition, one that he did his best to hide alongside teammates and opponents in the N.B.A.
“Coming out threatens to expose the homoerotic components of what they prefer to think of as simply male bonding,” Amaechi wrote. “And it generally is. It’s not so much that there’s 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.”
Bragman is the publicist for the W.N.B.A. star Sheryl Swoopes, who came out in October 2005, and the golfer Rosie Jones, who came out in March 2004. Swoopes and Jones were still competing when they came out.
Five male professional athletes have come out after their careers ended: David Kopay wrote a best-selling book after he retired from the N.F.L. in 1972 and Esera Tuaolo wrote a book in 2002 when he retired from the N.F.L. The others were Roy Simmons, a former N.F.L. offensive lineman; and the former major league outfielders Glenn Burke and Billy Bean.
N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern told The A.P.: “We have a very diverse league. The question at the N.B.A. is always, ‘Have you got game?’ That’s it, end of inquiry.”
Amaechi said he was careful never to express interest in any teammate or opponent, so as not to ruin the “social fabric of any team” or, as he wrote, risk his career.
Amaechi, who was raised in England, was traveling in Europe yesterday and was not available for comment, Bragman said. Amaechi lives in Manchester, England.
After playing at Penn State, Amaechi joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as an undrafted free agent for the season. He then played in Europe for three years and returned to the N.B.A. in 1999 to play for the Orlando Magic for two seasons. He wrote he felt betrayed by Orlando the summer after he turned down a $17 million offer from the Los Angeles Lakers. The Magic did not re-sign him.
He went instead to the Utah Jazz, where he played his final game in the 2002-3 season. It was in Salt Lake City where, he wrote, he started to be more comfortable with his sexuality in a community that had a large gay population. But Amaechi wrote that he had a contentious relationship with the Utah coach, Jerry Sloan.
“I learned that great coaches do not make great human beings, though,” wrote the 6-foot-10 Amaechi, who averaged 6.3 points and 2.6 rebounds in 16.4 minutes a game during his five N.B.A. seasons.
He wrote that Jazz owner Larry Miller “made his antipathy to gay people clear.”
Amaechi, who was traded from Utah to Houston in 2003 but never played for the Rockets, wrote that he felt he had “been sent packing because Sloan couldn’t comprehend me, especially my sexuality.”
Sloan issued a statement yesterday that said: “John is 1 of 117 players I have coached in the past 19 seasons, and it has always been my philosophy that my job is to make sure Jazz players perform to the maximum of their abilities on the floor. As far as his personal life is concerned, I wish John the best and have no further comment.”
By the fall of 2004, Amaechi was an inactive player on the Rockets’ roster and was a throw-in when the Knicks exchanged Clarence Weatherspoon for Moochie Norris.
Amaechi never played for the Knicks, but he wrote that when he was in New York during road trips, he frequented a gay club.
He said: “All 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.”
He had become tired of hiding, though.
“Every year had been more and more of a struggle,” he wrote. “This was not my life. I was never a basketball player; I just happened to be really good at it for a while.”