It was 10 years ago when Derrick Gordon thought about quitting basketball. The ultra-talented guard’s teammates at UMass Amherst teased him endlessly about his suspected orientation, driving him into a season of isolation.

Now a decade later, Gordon is a trailblazer. As the first out gay player in Division 1 men’s college basketball history, he’s an inspiration to young queer athletes all over the world. But just as importantly, he’s living a happy and open life.

Over the weekend, Gordon celebrated his boyfriend’s birthday! The delightful couple went ax throwing in Los Angeles.

“Happy birthday to this amazing man next to me😍🎉🥳,” Gordon posted on Instagram. “May you be gifted with life’s biggest joys and never ending bliss. Continue to keep being that amazing wonderful man who was born on this special day!”

Now retired from basketball, Gordon remains involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy. Last month, Gordon and his handsome partner, Scott Backman, attended the GLAAD media awards.

It looked like the night was a perfect 10, though Gordon regrettably didn’t get a chance to Oprah, who was hosting the proceedings.

Maybe next time!

“Anyone is who struggling on accepting themselves always remember you’re LOVED and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” he posted.

It wasn’t that long ago when Gordon needed to hear that message himself. The New Jersey native was a standout player at St. Patrick High School in Plainfield, where he played with NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving and NBA vet Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. During Gordon’s senior season, St. Patrick almost went undefeated, only losing to the No. 2 team in the nation, St. Anthony.

That special campaign was documented in an HBO film, Prayer for a Perfect Season.

Gordon started his college career at Western Kentucky University, before transferring to UMass in 2013. The Minutemen started Gordon’s first season with 10 straight wins, climbing up the NCAA rankings to No. 12 overall.

But then they underwent some struggles, splitting their final 16 games. The Minutemen fell out of the top 25, and lost to Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Two weeks after that loss, Gordon came out to his teammates, though it wasn’t an easy ordeal. The previous summer, Gordon’s then-boyfriend posted a picture of them at a gay bar along the New Jersey coast. Gordon wasn’t publicly out at the time, but didn’t think anybody would find the pic on his boyfriend’s Instagram account.

Then he “liked” the photo, prompting his UMass teammates to discover the post. From then on, some of Gordon’s teammates pressed him on whether he was gay, and teased him throughout the fall and winter.

Gordon’s steadfast denials didn’t stop the harassment.

“That was probably the lowest point I was ever at. I didn’t want to play basketball anymore,” he told Outsports in his 2014 coming out story. “I just wanted to run and hide somewhere. I used to go back to my room and I’d just cry. There were nights when I would cry myself to sleep.

“Most of the time when you see me on campus, I’m alone. … I feel like I can’t be who I am or live my life.”

With that cruelty in mind, Gordon was reluctant to come out. His fears weren’t abated when head coach Derek Kellogg called a team meeting and said he was gay…to complete silence. Not a single player reacted to the faux announcement.

In the preceding weeks, Gordon started to live a little more openly, albeit not in Massachusetts. During one trip to Manhattan in mid-March, Gordon hooked up with out former NFL player Wade Davis, as well as out high school basketball coach Anthony Nicodemo and former ESPN Radio host Jared Max. The four of them enjoyed a great night out on the town, showing Gordon it’s possible to be gay, happy and free.

Gordon remembered those positive feelings when he told his teammates at the end of March. His father sent him a supportive, and prescient text before the big moment.

“I love you and I’m proud of you. I’ll always be there for you. Everything’s going to be fine,” he said.

When Gordon opened up to his teammates, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It was one thing to tease a teammate who was rumored to be gay. Teasing a teammate who was actually gay is a different scenario.

Afterwards, Gordon’s mental anguish abated. He felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

“It’s a great feeling. I haven’t felt like this. Ever,” he said. “It’s a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders. I can finally breathe now and live life happily. I told all the people I need to tell.”

Gordon played at UMass for one season as an out gay man, before transferring to Seton Hall for his senior season. The Pirates went on to win the Big East Conference Tournament, with Gordon leading the way.

Following his stint at Seton Hall, Gordon stepped away from playing competitively, but kept working at his game. He wound up signing two pro contracts in two years, playing in Cyprus and Germany. Gordon’s stint in Cyprus was especially notable: the Mediterranean island is heavily Orthodox Christian.

Yet, Gordon’s teammates embraced him, standing up for him when an opposing player called him a “f*ggot.”

“This isn’t going to hurt me or bring me down,” he said at the time.

Knowing Gordon’s trials and tribulations, it’s heartwarming to see him so content with his life. He and his bf make the most of their time in sunny Southern California, participating in activities like goat yoga and hitting up the Dodgers’ annual Pride Night.

In addition to having fun, it’s apparent that Derrick and Scott uplift each other.

“Since you been around I smile a lot more than I use to. I think the most beautiful thing is finding someone who loves you all,” Gordon posted.

Hear! Hear! Gordon’s coming out process wasn’t easy, but his happiness now shows there is light, and love, at the end of the tunnel.

Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated