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Friday, November 18, 2011
John Amaechi on what motivates pros

By Kevin Arnovitz

The most interesting revelations in John Amaechi's 2007 memoir, "Man in the Middle," weren't about his life as a closeted NBA center, but rather Amaechi's observations about the mind of the pro athlete. Amaechi's passion for basketball didn't drive him to the NBA, a sentiment he says he shared with his teammates, as different as he was from them in virtually every other facet of life. According to Amaechi, NBA players do it for the money and fame, along with a few other ancillary benefits like groupies and self-worth.

Amaechi sat down with De Le Batard this week to discuss the scandal at his alma mater, Penn State, and to share some of his thoughts on the NBA lockout:




There's a funny moment when Amaechi draws a blank after being asked by Le Batard what he misses about the NBA apart from being in shape. Amaechi jogs his brain for several seconds, staring into the air, then replies, "I mean, the money's good."

Amaechi, now a psychologist and social entrepreneur, returns to the misunderstanding he feels the public has about why pro athletes do what they do:

People who think you need to love something in order to do it don't understand fundamental human motivation. That's not how it works. To me, this is one of the huge hypocrisies that sports people perpetrate because it's good for marketing. It's this idea that ... they convince everybody they love it so much that they'd do it for nothing. And yet nobody does it for nothing. Two leagues have been locked out ... and players have agents to make sure that every year they make more, even though what they make is more than anyone can possibly conceive of -- what they make in a month is more than anybody can possibly conceive of.

Ask the players right now in the NBA. "If you loved the game, would the season be eroding, knowing that you're still going to make a gajillion dollars a year?" Really?


Amaechi doesn't begrudge players their right to earn as much as they can (he confessed he misses his NBA paycheck). He's just a guy who's intolerant of misperceptions, particularly those he senses are peddled for cynical reasons. And the notion that professional athletes play for the love of the game doesn't conform to his experience, neither as an NBA player nor a scholar of the human mind.

Later in the interview, Amaechi describes how fellow travelers greeted him the day he walked through a terminal at LAX en route to New York prior to publicly coming out -- and the way they received when he returned through that same terminal later in the week.