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Grateful Amaechi to lead gay pride parade in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY -- John Amaechi still has fond memories of
Salt Lake City despite his struggles on the basketball court.

The first former NBA player to acknowledge he is gay said his
affection for the community balanced out his scant playing time and
clashes with his coach. In memoirs published in February, he called
Salt Lake City "the hippest, gayest place east of San Francisco."

Amaechi returns to celebrate that by serving as the grand
marshal for this weekend's Utah Pride Parade. He has also accepted
grand marshal honors for parades in Los Angeles and Chicago.

"I really owe Salt Lake. My time there would have been so
multiply miserable had it not been for so many people -- gay,
straight and otherwise -- who made my time there so special," he
said.
Amaechi signed with the Jazz in 2001, feeling betrayed by his
former team, the Orlando Magic, who he claims reneged on a promise
of a rich contract. His mentality that basketball was his job -- not
his life -- didn't fly with Utah coach Jerry Sloan, Amaechi said.

He made several good friends in Salt Lake City and often hosted
parties at his downtown loft, which is where he stayed when those
friends headed to Salt Lake's gay clubs. Guarded about his
sexuality while in the NBA, Amaechi was careful about going out.

He is naturally reserved: Don't expect to see Amaechi dancing on
a float Sunday. He'll leave that to some friends joining him in the
parade.

"I'm not as dynamic and sexy," he said. "I'm much better at
giving a few words."

Giving a few words is what Amaechi does these days with his
company, Animus Consulting. He works as a motivational speaker,
addressing organizations and corporations in his native Britain and
the United States, usually on the importance of diversity and
communication. He also runs the Amaechi Basketball Centres
Foundation in England, which uses the sport to teach life skills to
children.

I really owe Salt Lake. My time there would have been so multiply miserable had it not been for so many people -- gay, straight and otherwise -- who made my time there so special.

John Amaechi

Coming out has resulted in many book signings and invitations to
speak, mostly to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered groups.

"Now it seems in America I'm just 'that gay guy,'" he said.

That fixation probably needs to change before a professional
male athlete will come out while still playing, Amaechi said. He
said he hasn't heard from any former teammates currently in the NBA
since his admission. Former Penn State teammates and retired Jazz
star Karl Malone and his wife have reached out to him.

"Essentially, they e-mailed and called to express that they
fully supported me, and they knew the content of my character and
it doesn't change what they think about me," Amaechi said.

He jokes that he and Malone couldn't have less in common, but
somehow the two got along -- perhaps because of their differences.
Amaechi expressed great respect for his conservative former
teammate.

A city known for its conservatism, Salt Lake has been identified
as a gay-friendly travel destination in recent years. Mayor Rocky
Anderson supports gay rights, and Census numbers suggest the city
has a significant number of gay households.

Utah's gay pride celebration has expanded this year to run from
Friday through Sunday and includes concerts by En Vogue and Sheena
Easton.

As a single-day event in the past, it drew estimated crowds of
more than 30,000.

"This city has just come the distance in the last 10 years,"
organizer Terry Mitchell Nani said.