The Garden was buzzing Wednesday night with the news that former NBA player John Amaechi will reveal he is gay in a new book entitled “Man in the Middle.”
Current Celtics and former Orlando Magic coach Doc Rivers says he didn’t know about Amaechi’s sexual preference and would not have cared. Rivers coached Amaechi from 1999-2001.
“I was coach of the year the year John Amaechi started for me at the power forward spot [in 2000],” said Rivers. “He was great for me. That was one of the strongest locker rooms I’ve ever had. They all got along. I didn’t think it was an issue.”
Notable individual sport athletes have come out, but Amaechi becomes the first NBA player to publicly reveal his homosexuality. No active player in the four major American professional leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL) has ever come out. Amaechi played five seasons in the NBA with Orlando, Utah, and Cleveland.
Rivers said there were whispers about Amaechi when he was in Orlando, but he didn’t care to investigate one way or the other.
“People talked about it, obviously,” said Rivers. “Everyone thought maybe. I could care less, though. It was brought up to me, but you look at it and say ‘So what?’ Can he rebound? Can he shoot? Can he defend? On that one I’d have said no — on the defensive part. But everything else he was great.
“John Amaechi is a fantastic kid — he’s better than a good kid. He did as much charity work as anybody in our city. And he’s still doing it. To me I wished that’s what we focused on. We’re talking about his sexual orientation, which I really [couldn’t care less about].”
Rivers was asked what he would do if an active player on his team wanted to come out and if the world was ready for that.
“I wouldn’t care about the world,” he said. “When you’re brave enough to make that statement or any other statement, then you should do it. You have to understand that there’s probably going to be a backlash I guess, or if not then at least there’s going to be discussion. But I would tell him to do it. I would tell him to keep scoring and keep rebounding and do it. I don’t know if we’ll see that anytime soon, but it wouldn’t bother me at all.”
Would it be difficult for fans to cheer for a gay player?
“It was difficult for people to watch Jackie Robinson,” said Rivers. “And they got used to it. And they started cheering for him. It would be difficult for fans if the guy couldn’t play.”
Locker rooms in professional team sports are known as dens of pranks and machismo, and the NBA is no different. Rivers said he didn’t think having an openly gay player would be an issue in the locker room.
“We’re all insensitive at times about it,” he said. “There’s no taboo subject in the locker room. If he had to come out, they would have gone on him about it jokingly. They would have held no punches. They would have made fun of him just like they make fun of guys’ hair. Just like they make fun of Gerald [Green’s] clothes every time he comes in the locker room. That’s the locker room, and I don’t think that would change. And I actually think when guys do come out it will make it easier.”
Shaquille O’Neal was asked if he knew about John Amaechi’s book. O’Neal declined, and then asked what the book was called. When told it was, “Man in the Middle,” O’Neal broke into a version of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” O’Neal and Dwayne Wade then joked about other funny titles for the book. The comments were all in jest.
–“The fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well, whether they are playing or retiring,” Grant Hill told the Associated Press.
–“With teammates you have to be trustworthy, and if you’re gay and you’re not admitting that you are, then you are not trustworthy,” LeBron James told the AP. “So that’s like the No. 1 thing as teammates — we all trust each other. You’ve heard of the in-room, locker room code. What happens in the locker room stays in there. It’s a trust factor, honestly. A big trust factor.”
–“For real? He’s gay for real?” Philadelphia center Steven Hunter told the AP. “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.”
–“As long as you don’t bring your gayness on me I’m fine,” Philadelphia forward Shavlik Randolph told the AP. “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.”