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Former NBA Player Says He's Gay

English center John Amaechi is the first NBA player to publicly announce he's gay.

His admission on Wednesday came three years after his playing career ended, making him the sixth professional male athlete from one of the four major U.S. team sports — basketball, baseball, football and hockey — to openly discuss his homosexuality.

Amaechi details his life in his autobiography "Man in the Middle," which will be released on Feb. 14.

"He is coming out of the closet as a gay man," said Amaechi's publicist, Howard Bragman.

Martina Navratilova, perhaps the most famous openly gay athlete in the world, praised Amaechi's decision and said it's imperative for athletes to come out because of what she called an epidemic of suicides among young lesbians and gays.

"It's hugely important for the kids so they don't feel alone in the world. We're role models," she said. "He will definitely help a lot of kids growing up to feel better about themselves."

Orlando's Grant Hill, who said he didn't know Amaechi when he was with the Magic, also applauded the decision to go public.

"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," Hill said.

LeBron James, however, said he didn't think an openly gay person could survive in the league.

"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," James said. "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."

Injured Philadelphia 76ers forward Shavlik Randolph acknowledged it's a new situation.

"As long as you don't bring your gayness on me, I'm fine," Randolph said. "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."

But, the way Miami center Shaquille O'Neal sees it, the locker room mentality could also work for a gay player by rallying his teammates to his defense.

"If he was on my team, I guess I would have to protect him from the outsiders," O'Neal said in Boston on Wednesday night. "I'm not homophobic or anything. ... I'm not the type who judges people. I wish him well."

In his book, Amaechi describes the challenge of being gay in a league where it's assumed all players are heterosexual. He describes the blatant anti-gay language and attitudes he experienced in NBA locker rooms.

"We're all insensitive at times. There's no taboo subject in the locker room," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who coached Amaechi in Orlando, where he said he had one of his strongest locker rooms. "I think if he would have come out they would have got on him jokingly. ... And I actually think that when guys do come out, when that day happens, it will make it easier."

Rivers said that if Amaechi had come to him, player to coach, ready to go public, he would have encouraged him to do so.

"I think when you're brave enough to make that statement, or any statement, and you're ready to come out about anything, then you should do it," Rivers said. "You have to understand there will be a backlash. At least there's going to be a discussion, but I would tell them to do it. I would tell him to keep scoring, keep rebounding and do it.

"I don't know if we'll see that anytime soon. But it wouldn't bother me at all."

Amaechi also writes that while playing in Utah, coach Jerry Sloan used anti-gay innuendo to describe him. Sloan said on Wednesday that although his relationship with Amaechi was "shaky" because of the player's attitude, he didn't know Amaechi was gay. Sloan had no comment about Amaechi's contention that Sloan used anti-gay innuendo when referring to him. Amaechi said he found out about it in e-mails from friends in the Jazz front office.

Asked if knowing Amaechi was gay would have mattered, Sloan said: "Oh yeah, it would have probably mattered. I don't know exactly, but I always have people's feelings at heart. People do what they want to do. I don't have a problem with that."

Former NFL running back David Kopay came out in 1977; NFL offensive lineman Roy Simmons and defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo did so more recently. Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A's in the 1970s, and Billy Bean, a utility player in the 1980s and 1990s, also have come out.

Each did so after retiring. Burke died of complications due to AIDS in 1995.

WNBA star Cheryl Swoopes revealed that she is gay in Oct. 2005. Swoopes still plays professional basketball.

Amaechi, 36, writes in the book that he never touched a basketball before the age of 17. A quick study despite being a "terrible athlete," he found his confidence in the game and made it his goal to play in the NBA.

Amaechi, who played college basketball for Penn State, played in 301 NBA games for four teams over five seasons. The 6-foot-10 center averaged 6.2 points and 2.6 rebounds. He began his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1995-96, then spent a few years playing in Europe. He rejoined the NBA to play for the Orlando Magic from 1999-01, then played two seasons for the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz traded him to Houston, which traded him to the New York Knicks. When the Knicks waived him in January 2004, he retired. He came out of retirement to help England win the silver medal in last year's Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

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