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Amaechi, John (b. 1970)  
 
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The eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, tried to lure Amaechi away the next year, but he turned down a multi-million-dollar contract to remain with the Magic, who, under the league's collective bargaining agreement, could only offer him considerably less.

"This team needed me more than the Lakers did. This also was the first team that actually believed in me. And that should count for something. I couldn't reward their loyalty with desertion," Amaechi states.

Sponsor Message.

At the time, Magic owner and Amway founder Richard DeVos assured Amaechi that he was a member of the "Magic family" and would "always have a place there," but at the end of the year, when he became a free agent and thus able to command a higher salary, DeVos made no effort to re-sign him. Amaechi therefore accepted a twelve-million-dollar, four-year contract with the Utah Jazz in 2001.

Amaechi had a tempestuous relationship with Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who Amaechi felt was not giving him enough playing time. Amaechi later learned "from friends who worked in high-level front-office jobs with the Jazz" that "Sloan had used some anti-gay innuendo to describe" him. He suspects that his sexual orientation may have been a factor in Sloan's decision to trade him to the Houston Rockets after his second year in Utah. Sloan later denied knowing that Amaechi was gay.

Amaechi had not explored the gay scene in Orlando during his years there, although he did occasionally venture out to clubs when the team was on the road. In Salt Lake City he encountered and began socializing with other gay men. He enjoyed entertaining in his home, but he always remained there when guests suggested moving the party to a dance club.

Despite his discretion, some of his teammates apparently guessed his sexual orientation. When one, Greg Ostertag, asked him about it directly, Amaechi replied obliquely that Ostertag had "nothing to worry about." Another player, Andrei Kirilenko, sent what Amaechi called a "sweet invitation" to a New Year's Eve party: "Please come, John. You are welcome to bring your partner, if you have one, someone special to you. Who it is makes no difference to me."

Amaechi's career in the NBA was drawing to a close. He played little in Houston in 2003 and was dealt to the New York Knicks that December. At that point, having "no desire to start over," Amaechi had his agent arrange to have his contract bought out, and he retired from the professional game. He did, however, make a notable subsequent appearance on the court, leading the United Kingdom team to a bronze medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

A focus of Amaechi's attention since his retirement has been the Amaechi Basketball Centres (ABC) Foundation. Amaechi established the organization in 2000, and the first ABC opened in Manchester in 2002. Seven more branches are planned.

The ABC Foundation's philosophy statement declares that "in principle the ABCs are a community resource using the medium of sport, more specifically basketball, to draw young people into an environment where positive interactions with authority figures and peers from all walks of life encourage the development of strong, healthy, and well-adjusted members of society." Although basketball is central to the program, the ABCs encourage both the physical and mental development of young people. The work of ABC is supported by a number of organizations, including The National Literacy Trust, Reading Is Fundamental, One Parent Families, the police force, and various schools and colleges. Amaechi's coach and mentor Joe Forber serves as the foundation's director.

After retirement, Amaechi became a television commentator, covering the broadcast of NBA games in the U.K. He has since become a regular guest on a variety of television programs.

Amaechi came out publicly in 2007, telling his story in a memoir, Man in the Middle. No other NBA player, past or present, has acknowledged being gay, so his memoir received a great deal of media attention and helped underline the problems faced by gay athletes in professional sports.

Reaction to Amaechi's revelation was mixed: he received "thousands of e-mails from people all over the world," most of them supportive but others hateful. Some of the messages even contained death threats.

The response from NBA players was also mixed. Voices in support included superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley. Grant Hill of the Magic expressed the hope that Amaechi's public acknowledgement of his homosexuality would "give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well," and Coach Rivers stated, "I actually think that when guys do come out, when that day happens, it will make it easier. I can't wait until it's not an issue."

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