Final Analysis: John Amaechi

A former NBA star on having two separate, but parallel, lives.

By Jay Dixit, published May 1, 2008 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

John Amaechi strides through life subverting expectations: He's a towering six-feet-10 but speaks with a refined English accent. He played five seasons in the NBA, then stunned the world by revealing he's gay. The son of a Nigerian man, he was raised in the U.K. by his English mother. Today Amaechi runs a consulting firm that does diversity training and is earning a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

When did you know you were gay?

Early on. Most gay people realize they're different, and that it's not something you should chat about. I was more interested in trying to be invisible.

Did you feel different being part Nigerian?

I was an outsider on multiple levels. I was one of three brown faces. I was taller than every teacher, and I was fat. Hopefully it gives you a little empathy.

Did you come out before coming to the U.S.?

No. I was a huge, towering figure and huge, towering figures aren't like that. I was playing a hypermasculine sport and those people weren't like that either.

How was it being closeted on an NBA team?

It wasn't a question of hiding it, but of having two separate but parallel lives going on at once.

Do you think people treat you differently because you're British?

Absolutely. My friends' wives would say, "Oh, Amaechi's not gay, he's British."

Did you feel inauthentic having to pretend?

Most people don't divulge everything about themselves to their co-workers. You don't show somebody every facet of yourself. If what you show people is authentic, then you're being authentic.

What about before you were out to yourself?

It wasn't "I'm not gay" but simply, "I can't possibly be this person." It was so strange to be a college sports hero and yet to feel within myself that I just was not and could not be that person. There is nothing quite so frightening as knowing you can sever the bond to those who love you most with a single word.