Editor’s note: Isaac Humphreys He is a professional basketball player for Melbourne United, which is part of the Australian National Basketball League (NBL). He previously played college basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. Read more Opinion on CNN.
One of the best feelings in the world is playing professional basketball when you are at the top of your game.
You can perform in front of nearly 10,000 people a night; They’re chanting your name, putting on your shirt. And all while you throw a powerful dunk and cheer up the crowd.
Well, it must be the best feeling in the world, right? And for a brief moment, I think it was.
That was in 2020. I was 22 and playing for Adelaide 36, two years before I signed for my current club, Melbourne United.
Now imagine what happens when all that adrenaline wears off after a match. For me, the euphoria disappeared the moment I stepped out of the ring. I would go back to my flat in the seaside Adelaide suburb of Henley Beach, and be alone.
I felt I had no choice but to be alone. This is when my wave of depression was going to hit hard.
Throughout my career, there has never been a reality where I could be an openly gay man while playing basketball. Until now.
I’ve played everywhere—Kentucky, the NBA, Europe, the Australian national team—and they’re all the same: For the most part, being an athlete at this level is about making money, dating girls, and being the best basketball player you can be.
So I fell in line, no matter how awkward and weird I felt. I just wanted to fit in and not draw attention to myself. There were almost no examples of a professional basketball player doing anything other than that, so I resigned myself to the fact that my real life would begin after I retired.
My depression had gotten so bad that the thought of not making it to retirement became a very real possibility.
There was a night towards the end of 2020 where my loneliness, self-loathing, and shame finally took its toll, and I decided it wasn’t going to hurt my life. I had sadly decided it was the end. It was only when I woke up the next morning that I realized what I hadn’t done.
I ended up at the beginning of this season as if nothing was wrong. But halfway through, I caught up with some previous leg injury. They were closed for the rest of the season and most of the next as well.
Simple things like standing up from a chair or walking up stairs — not to mention any explosive movement while playing — became nearly impossible.
Part of the fix was following my strength and conditioning coach, Nick Popovich, to Los Angeles to continue my rehabilitation. We originally set up shop in Sydney to catch up on my rehab, but he just got a new job at USC; He’s the best in the business, so the only way I could continue to make progress fixing my knee was to join him there.
Los Angeles has always been my favorite place in the world. On top of my basketball career, I’m also a musician, so I was really lucky to get to spend a lot of time there and build up a network of friends and peers.
Being in LA over the years has also given me my first ever experience of seeing members of the LGBTQ+ community in a positive light.
I grew up in Australia, and went to an all-male private school from around the age of 13, where there was an unspoken expectation that everyone was straight — and that was the end of the conversation. Thrown into the world of competitive sports that I was a part of, there were really no ways for members of the LGBTQ+ community to see.
Things didn’t change when I became a professional basketball player. LGBTQ+ Representation has rarely been present in male-dominated top-tier sports, as it is generally seen as a negative point of difference. Anyone who has ever been in a locker room understands the feelings floating around. There is unintentional derogatory slang, mocking anything with a gay concept.
In Los Angeles, it was completely different. I’ve been around some of the most successful people in the world—everyone from musicians, TV and film producers, media personalities, and A-list celebrities—and got to know that being openly gay can come with joy.
For the first time in my life, I saw that people who are at the top of their game can be open and honest about who they are, and it came with a deep, infectious joy.
So while I’m in LA in 2021 fixing my injuries, I also got to experience more of being around the LGBTQ+ community. It was mostly through making friends who were openly gay and unequivocally themselves – shame wasn’t even a consideration.
I learned so much about the experiences people go through in our community, and I was shocked at the number of stories that were eerily similar to mine.
I’ve seen that being open about who you are can be the most liberating thing anyone can do. Being gay no longer comes with shame; Came up with editing.
Nobody was hiding who they were. And that created for a happier, more positive environment that I didn’t even realize existed.
This is what I hope the sport becomes. I want it to be a place where anyone can strive to be awesome, without fear of backlash just for who you are.
You can be a gay man and an elite basketball player in one of the best leagues in the world. I am living proof of that.
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 those dark spots, I wouldn’t have been pushed into situations where I had to explore, discover, and learn to accept who I really am.
If there are negative aspects that come with my decision to come out, I will take those barbs so other people don’t have to; As long as it means we’re making progress along the way and kids especially feel like they can be whoever they want to be.
I’m very fortunate to be able to do that with this Melbourne United team. It says a lot about the club that I feel really comfortable doing that with them. For the other sports teams out there, create environments that are welcoming to people of different nationalities, religions, and races. Not only is it the right thing to do, but I promise you’ll get the most out of everyone in your organization for it.
I would also encourage more compassion across the board. Comment here or there Seems funny in the moment, and sentiments that might be considered homophobic may seem harmless in the grand scheme of things — but you never know who might be in the room with you and how that might affect that person.
I know what it feels like to grow up in an environment that doesn’t feel welcoming, and I want to do my part to make sure basketball is no longer one of them.