- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

John Amaechi’s personal life doesn’t change the debate on gays in professional team sports, if there ever was one.

Amaechi is the first NBA player to identify himself as gay. He will tell all in his upcoming book, “Man in the Middle.”

Of course, calling Amaechi an NBA player is sort of like calling Paris Hilton a recording artist. The 6-foot-10 Amaechi averaged 6.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 294 games in five seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz. He was traded to Houston during his final season but never played.

Most NBA fans, much less casual sports fans, have never heard of John Amaechi.

Only a superstar revealing he is gay in one of the three major sports will matter. Only then will teammates, management and fans be exposed as open-minded, bigoted or something squeamish in between.

Only Magic Johnson’s revealing he was HIV positive changed people’s attitudes about that disease.

People cared about Johnson. The NBA and the Los Angeles Lakers had a financial investment in him. Teammates, opposing players and fans had an emotional investment in him.

No one cares Amaechi is gay because no one cares about him. He’s not even an active player.

Moreover, Amaechi’s intentions aren’t totally altruistic.

He is trying to move books. His book is being published by ESPN Books. His announcement was accompanied by plenty of cross promotion from ESPN and ESPN.com. It will be excerpted in ESPN the Magazine.

In the book, Amaechi called Jazz owner Larry Miller a “bigot,” said former teammate Karl Malone was a xenophobe and said coach Jerry Sloan “hated” him.

“I respect the game of pro basketball,” Amaechi wrote. “I just don’t think it’s all that important. I wasn’t going to be embarrassed by Jerry Sloan because basketball had a proper role in my balanced life and I didn’t blindly worship a game he made pretty much the entirety of his existence.”

Sloan released a statement through the Jazz: “I have coached more than 100 players during the past 19 seasons, and it has always been my philosophy that my job is to make sure Jazz players perform to their maximum ability on the floor. As far as his personal life is concerned, I wish John the best and have nothing further to add.”

Amaechi, it seems, wanted total acceptance from the Utah Jazz, of him and his sexuality. But he wanted to be less than totally committed to his chosen profession of basketball. When asked to work hard by Sloan, he aimed to keep it in perspective.

NBA commissioner David Stern wants to do the same.

“We have a very diverse league,” he said. “The question at the NBA is always, ‘Have you got game?’ That’s it. End of inquiry.”

That’s the question Amaechi never sufficiently answered. He signed a three-year contract for $12 million, and he didn’t want to work.

That’s a bigger issue than his sexuality.

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