Opinion: Why Australia’s elite basketballer is ready to tell the world he is gay

Editor’s note: Isaac Humphries is a professional basketball player for Melbourne United, part of Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL). He previously played college basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more reviews on CNN.


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One of the best feelings in the world is playing a professional basketball game while looking your best.

Isaac Humphries

You can perform in front of nearly 10,000 people a night; they applaud your name, they wear your shirt. And all of this while you throw a powerful dunk and bow to the crowd.

Well, that should be the best feeling in the world, right? And for a brief moment, I guess so.

It was 2020. I was 22 and playing with the Adelaide 36ers, two years before signing with my current team, Melbourne United.

Now imagine what happens when all that adrenaline stops after a game. For me, the euphoria disappeared the moment I walked out of the arena. I would come home to my flat in Adelaide’s coastal suburb of Henley Beach and find myself all alone.

I felt like I had no choice but to be alone. That’s when my wave of depression hit the hardest.

In my entire career, there was no reality where I could be an openly gay man while playing basketball. So far.

I’ve played everywhere – Kentucky, the NBA, Europe, the Australian national team – and it’s the same: for the most part, being an athlete at this level is about making money, dating girls and be the best basketball player possible. be.

So I lined up, no matter how uncomfortable and weird I felt doing it. I just wanted to fit in and not draw attention to myself. There were almost no examples of a male professional basketball player doing anything other than that, so I was resigned to the fact that my real life would begin after I retired.

Melbourne United's Isaac Humphries shoots during an NBL game against Cairns Taipans in October.

My depression got so bad that the thought of not making it to retirement became a very real possibility.

There was one night towards the end of 2020 when my loneliness, self-loathing, and shame finally took their toll, and I decided it would hurt less to kill myself. Unfortunately, I had decided that was the end of it. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I realized what I hadn’t done.

I ended up starting this season as if nothing had happened. But halfway through, some leg injuries caught up with me. I was stopped for the rest of the season and most of the next one too.

Simple things like getting up from a chair or walking up a flight of stairs – not to mention any explosive movement while playing – have become nearly impossible.

Part of the solution was to follow my strength and conditioning coach, Nik Popovic, to Los Angeles to continue my rehabilitation. We had originally moved to Sydney to do rehab, but he had just gotten a new job at the University of Southern California. he’s the best in the business, so the only way for me to keep making progress on fixing my knee was to join him there.

LA has always been my favorite place in the world. In addition to my basketball career, I’m also a musician, so I was very lucky to have spent a lot of time there and developed a network of friends and peers.

Being in LA over the years has also given me my first experiences of seeing members of the LGBTQ+ community in a positive light.

Growing up in Australia, I went to a private all-male school from the age of about 13, where there was an unspoken expectation that everyone was straight – and that was the end of the conversation. Add to that the world of competitive sports that I was part of, and there was really no opportunity for me to see members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Things didn’t change when I became a professional basketball player. LGBTQ+ the representation had rarely been there in top-level male-dominated sports, where it is generally seen as a negative point of difference. Anyone who’s ever been in a locker room understands the feelings going around. There is unintentional derogatory slang and ridiculing anything that has a gay connotation.

In Los Angeles, it was completely different. I was surrounded by some of the most successful people in the world – musicians, TV and film producers, media personalities, A-list celebrities – and I could see that being openly gay can bring joy.

For the first time in my life, I saw that people at the top of their game can be open and honest about who they are, and that came with a visceral, contagious happiness.

So while I was in Los Angeles in 2021 healing my wounds, I also got to experience more of being with the LGBTQ+ community. It was mostly by making friends who were openly and unequivocally gay themselves – shame wasn’t even a consideration.

I learned so much about the experiences of members of our community and was shocked at how many stories were eerily similar to mine.

I’ve seen that being open about who you are can be the most freeing thing a person can do. Being gay was no longer synonymous with shame; it came with liberation.

No one was hiding who they were. And it created the happiest, most positive environment I never knew existed.

This is what I hope the sport can become. I want it to be a place where anyone can strive to be amazing, without fear of backlash just for who you are.

Isaac Humphries in action during a match between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix earlier this month

You can be a gay man and an elite basketball player in one of the best leagues in the world. I am living proof.

My journey to get to this point in my life has been harder than it should have been, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Without these black spots, I would not have been thrown into situations where I had to explore, discover and learn to accept who I really am.

If there are any negatives that come with my decision to come out, I’ll take those stings so others don’t have to; as long as it means we progress along the way and the children in particular feel they can be whoever they want.

I’m so lucky to be able to do that with this team at Melbourne United. It says a lot about the club that I feel really comfortable doing this with them. For other sports teams, create welcoming environments for people of different sexualities, faiths and races. Not only is it the right thing to do, but I promise you’ll get the most out of every person in your organization.

I would also encourage a little more empathy at all levels. A comment here or there could seem funny in the moment, and sentiment that might be considered anti-gay might seem harmless in the grand scheme of things – but you never know who might be in the room with you and how it might affect that person.

I know what it’s like growing up in an environment that isn’t welcoming, and I want to do my part to make sure basketball is out of it.

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