Former gay NBA player spoke on stereotypes


For a large chunk of his childhood, John Amaechi was convinced his mother was a Jedi, possessing the same all-knowing, calming vibe as the fictional Star Wars masters.

A doctor in England, she could calm her patients’ worried families with a reassuring word and steady hand – a moment that could make a difference in someone’s life.

As he grew older, Amaechi realized his mother wasn’t a lightsaber wielding superhero, and her ability to leave a positive rather than a negative impression on someone was something everyone could incorporate into their day-to-day life, including his own.

“Live big like I live big. Realize your interactions have an impact on people,” Amaechi, a psychologist, author and former NBA player, said to a crowd of more than 100 people at the University of Scranton on Thursday night.

He spoke about being the only black student at his primary school and how being overweight, tall, unathletic and a bookworm made him the perfect target for bullying. His classmate’s ridicule stuck with him throughout childhood and even into his NBA career.

“People don’t seem to realize the way people look at people affects the way people look at themselves,” he said. “It’s amazing the power of stereotypes, of assumptions. … Those assumptions make us blind.”

Amaechi spent 5 years in the NBA, playing for Cleveland, Orlando and Utah. His best season, with Orlando Magic (99-00), Amaechi averaged 10.5 ppg and 3.3 rpg per game, playing 80 games (53 started), in 21.1 minutes per match.

Despite being 6’10, Amaechi was never a great shooter, averaging only 40 percent of shooting from the field in his career. Amaechi played a total of 294 NBA games (93 started), averaging 6.2 ppg and 2.6 rpg in 16.4 minutes per game.

After his NBA career, Amaechi wrote a book, “Man in the Middle,” about being a closeted athlete – becoming the first professional basketball player to openly talk about being gay.

Now he travels the country and Europe engaging in discussion about inclusion, respect and how simple interactions can leave permanent impressions on people, positive or negative.

In a world where aggressively offensive rhetoric, off-color jokes and polarizing groups are becoming the status quo, Mr. Amaechi challenged audience members to use small acts of kindness, compassion and respect to dispel stereotypes and generalizations about all groups of people.

/Thetimes-tribune/

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