Retired NBA coach Phil Jackson dismissed the possibility of an openly gay professional basketball player during a group interview on Tuesday with Huffington Post Live.
“I’ve never run into [a gay player] in all my career,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s NBA career began in 1967 where he played for the New York Knicks. He is the all-time winningest championship coach in NBA history, claiming a total 11 titles while leading the Chicago Bulls and later the Los Angeles Lakers.
Retired NBA athlete and head coach Kurt Rambis, who was also part of Tuesday’s interview, attempted to clarify Jackson’s words, saying, “There’s never been a player that’s been openly gay in the NBA while I’ve been involved in the NBA, whether it was a player or a coach. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was.” He added that former Utah Jazz player John Amaechi was the only gay basketball player that came to mind “who openly admitted his homosexuality” after retirement.
When asked whether the NBA needed to be more inclusive of gay athletes, Jackson responded, “That’s a ridiculous question…There’s no inclusiveness to be had, so that’s really a strange question.”
But the NBA has not been void of anti-gay incidents. In 2011, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using a homophobic slur against a referee on the court. He later admitted it was an ignorant comment. In the college game, Rutgers coach Mike Rice was fired Wednesday after video footage of a team practice surfaced online that showed Rice physically abusing and directing homophobic slurs against players.
The world of professional sports is currently undergoing an evolution as athletes speak out on the possibility of an openly gay teammate. NFL players Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe, two of the LGBTQ community’s most vocal allies, have both discussed the need for more inclusiveness in the sports community, as others vocalize opposition. Recently, the Seattle Seahawks’ Chris Clemons tweeted that any athlete who chooses to come out would be doing it for selfish reason. “They just trying to make themselves bigger than the team,” he added.
Unlike the San Francisco 49ers, who were quick to condemn a homophobic comment by one of their players earlier this year, the Seahawks declined to denounce Clemons’ tweet, saying it was a personal opinion.