6′8″ (or, debatably, 6′9″) British black former NBA player/psychologist John Amaechi appeared on the charmingly named Hoopsfix podcast, which itself concentrates on the almost absurd proposition of British basketball.
There he reveals – surely for the first time – that his oddly-spelled surname is actually pronounced Amaychee, though he is OK with the common mispronunciation Ameechee. Since the day he blasted onto the scene (“John Amaechi Comes Out as Former NBA Player”), my internal reading voice has dyslexically plowed through his surname as though stabbing each letter with a finger: Ahh-mahh-ee-chee (with equal vowel lengths). I resist the temptation to render it as Amæchi.
In the Canadian sense of the word, he’s one of those British middle-class blacks we never hear about, really. (His mom was a doctor.) I associate that social class with the insufferable British graphic designer Eddie Opara, who was granted the equivalent of a peerage, a Pentagram parnership. I don’t know why I do not associate it with British black actors like Idris Elba and Lennie James.
An hour or so into the interview, I finally realized that Amaechi was in fact spending the entire time talking about basketball. His teenage project to get himself into the NBA is a great story, but yes, he actually really and truly did like playing basketball and is quite happy to talk for two hours about it on a podcast run by a punter (en-UK). I enjoy obscure topics and, further, I defend actual sports and actual sportswriting and the like, but what he was doing and its effect on me both took me by surprise. John Amaechi actually was a basketball player. Unironically.
I found this baffling not just because he was and is homosexualist but because he wanted to be a psychologist since boyhood. Now he ostensibly is one, though what how he allegedly makes his living is in advising the corporate world on something or other. His professional Web sites are such ugly collations of bland boilerplate I don’t know why anybody would hire him. (That’s because his sites do not clearly state what he does. They’re appalling – and par for the course.) In the back of my mind, I guess I just figured that a gay British psychologist could not actually have been serious about basketball.
Further, I think we clutch at all non-sports characteristics of gay athletes in an active denial of their true interest and ability. It’s another manifestation of the insistence by word people, like journalists, that the body is merely a vessel, if that. It should not be surprising that a gay basketball player was a basketball player and is still interested in basketball.
Amaechi’s value proposition is surely his statement that it is not the gay athlete’s sole responsibility to come out. Being openly gay in sport(s) requires by definition support from the back and front offices and owners – who, also by definition, are rich. (Chris Rock: Shaq is “rich.” The white man who signs Shaq’s check is “wealthy.”)
John Amaechi is an army of one and, despite the fact his sites are such bullshit they undermine his integrity, he remains a fascinating personage.