Derrick Gordon made history in 2014 as the first openly gay male basketball player on an NCAA Division I team to play a game. He is also the first player to play in the NCAA tournament with three different teams, Western Kentucky, UMass, and Seton Hall.
But he won’t be moving on to the NBA as many expected. He did not receive a single NBA tryout, and Gordon believes that is because he came out as gay.
“I wasn’t getting anywhere in terms of workouts,” Gordon told Gannett New Jersey on Tuesday. “Nobody was calling. Even after I went to the (Las Vegas) combine in July, I still didn’t get any feedback.”
Gordon stood out in his college career mostly for his tenacious defense, hustle and leadership skills. He helped lead UMass to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade. He feels if he had been just any other athlete he would have gotten at least some interest to see what he could do against players at his same level.
“I personally don’t believe it was because of my game,” Gordon said. “I think at least I could have been given a shot to work out (for an NBA team), to play against some of those other players instead of being shut out…I didn’t get a fair shot to show what I could do. It was without a doubt because of the fact that I’m gay. I was heartbroken.”
Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay NBA player when he came out in 2013 after playing in the league for years, has become a mentor to Gordon. Collins is disappointed that he wasn’t given a tryout, Gordon reported. Collins has since retired.
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Gordon has now set his sights on becoming a firefighter, which he announced on Instagram.
I've had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way…But I'm making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I'm excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!
“I’m excited. Ever since I was little, when the trucks came by and I would hear the alarms go off, it always caught my attention,” Gordon said. “I always pictured myself in the back of a truck, in the passenger’s seat, as the driver. I always thought, if I don’t play basketball, this is what I would love to do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a dangerous job, a career as a firefighter. But it’s a great opportunity.”
Still, he wishes he had been given an opportunity to try to make an NBA team.
“Honestly, the NBA is just not ready for an openly gay player right now,” he said. “Maybe it’s going to take some time for it to get to that point. I’m going to support that person, whoever that is. Right now, in 2016, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.”
Watch a video profile on Derrick Gordon below, produced by Outsports.