I must admit I'm a bit depressed coming down from my first Gay Games experience, where my team the San Francisco Rockdogs won gold in the A division for basketball.
My journey to gold at the Gay Games has been more than what may appear at the surface. I retired from professional basketball just one year after completing a college career that included three straight trips to the NCAA tournament, a Sweet 16 run and an Elite 8 campaign. Moreover, I was part of group of guys, a family, a coach that was like a father figure, teammates that were like brothers, a coaching staff and university that served as extended family and now a network that supports me in ways unparalleled in my life. It's safe to say I wasn't in the market for a new sport family.
Basketball was a part of my life, but I never really chose the game: It seemingly chose me. I was 6-foot-4 in sixth grade and lived in Delaware, where high school basketballI is EVERYTHING (after Blue Hen football, of course). Before I knew it I was ranked in my state, in the country, first team all-state, player of the year and part of this institution ofsSports that I never really felt a part of.
I didn't grow up idolizing Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson. I grew up reluctantly watching basketball with my dad and wondering why there weren't more colorful players like Dennis Rodman in the NBA. I grew up masking my inner self and learning behavior that would make me more like my piers in sports. I practiced canned responses and conversation bullets that would get me by in that world. I was an outsider on the inside. I was the only person like me. I thrived in the idea of TEAM as family, where my difference was appreciated or at least tolerated in a loving "family" type of way as long as I was working hard to be a productive member of the program.
Today I wouldn't consider myself super competitive in sports in a typical hyper-masculine sense because I felt like I have nothing left to prove in basketball.
From 2007-2013, I could count on two hands the number of times I casually played basketball for fun. I was more concerned with developing goals and finding passion while living in New York City. In that time, I found my passion for artistic performance while rediscovering my talent for writing and, in 2009, I embarked on my personal journey of developing my career as a hip-hop artist. This left little time for playing basketball.
During this time, Dana O'Neil from ESPN approached me about doing a story on my sexuality and my experiences in sports. I initially declined because my family feared that I would be publicly humiliated, ruin my sports legacy or worse possibly be murdered by extremists. Then in 2011 I agreed to do the story because I was at a place in my life where I was confident enough in who I am and what I wanted to be transparent about: my life experiences.
As a result, none my family's initial reservations came to fruition; On the contrary, coming out has helped me fully cultivate who I am and who I want to be. Even more importantly, my journey and my story have impacted so many others. I helped set precedence for the coming out of other professional and collegiate athletes like Jason Collins, Micheal Sam and Derrick Gordon. I personally just think of myself as being #GIANT: big enough to be who I am and to have the confidence to just be me while encouraging others to do the same.
With all that said, My music career has been a daily grind and I truly think all my experiences in sports have prepared me to move diligently in my chosen industry. Being a sports stand out in the art world has been a double edge sword of some sorts. Indie artists like me fight to cultivate a lasting and impactful brand that resonates with fans. I had grown a bit reluctant to do interviews or answer questions about sports because it was overshadowing my efforts and successes in my artistry. In addition to sports attention drowning out my music media coverage, there was also a disconnect with playing basketball. There was no team, no family, no greater goal more than simply flexing my competitive muscles in pick up games and in a local gay league that didn't seem like the right fit for me. I was again an outsider on the inside. I was a gay athlete with no place to compete, have fun and feel a part of something bigger than myself.
Then I found the Rockdogs. Actually, they found me. I was not recruited per se like some think. I met a guy that had lived a similar successful high school basketball life and was now part of a traveling gay basketball team that meant a lot to him. One weekend a team mate of his could not attend a tournament and the spot opened. I didn't expect to enjoy playing, and I certainly didn't anticipate meeting some of my life's role models in addition to solid friends.
I had no idea that there was so much history involved with this Rockdog family. I had no idea that they had a reality show on Logo - "Shirts and Skins" in 2008 - and I was completely oblivious to the National Gay Basketball Association and their destination tournaments. I also was unaware of the Rockdog's commitment to excellence, winning and the larger family of guys that serve as mentors to the younger generation of newer players.
I've played for the Rockdogs for the past two years and we've travelled to Las Vegas, Miami, Portland, Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans. We won all of these tournaments except the last; Brothers United, another NGBA program, defeated my Rockdog team in the championship throwing off the wave of dominance for what I would guess the past decade of NGBA history.
That loss shook the core of our foundation. Some questioned the organization, the loyalty, the purpose of coming to these tournaments and why they wanted to be apart of this in general. For me, it made me feel basketball again. For a long time I steered clear of wanting to be competitive in sports because the idea of failure is not an option for me. To lose alone is failure, but to lose with a team of guys you consider family only makes you better, closer and stronger. Losing that championship and how my team, my family handled it, though not flawless, it made basketball and the grind for greatness real again - I was suddenly invested.
When I convinced myself that I was going to compete in the Gay Games, I had one goal: Win GOLD. In that pursuit, I gained experiences with this group of guys that I do not have with any other group of guys. I am blessed to have been part of arguably one the most dynamic Villanova basketball teams in school history. Those bonds are unparalleled and I cherish those relationships and experiences with no buts.
My Rockdog experience is different because we are all gay and play basketball competitively. But this group of guys has embraced me the adult and actualized artist with no egos and with no preconceived ideas of me. They've embraced me and are my new family. The Gay Games Cleveland experience not only sealed the deal with my Rockdog family but also gave me a week to embrace all my NGBA brothers and sisters in addition to meeting gay athletes from all over the world competing in their respective sports.
Winning gold was an added bonus. The Gay Games experience taking over the city was beautiful to see and be a part of. It really all was very therapeutic for me to embrace other gay athletes from all over the world and ultimately reconnect with a big part of who I am that I may have been neglecting.
With that said, In Paris 2018 I am planning on defending my gold medal. So you all have four years to get your game right, combine your teams or whatever you have to do because the Rockdogs will be there and ready to continue our legacy of excellence. How #GIANT is that?