John Amaechi Preaches to “Live Big”
“This will hopefully be a wonderful and weird experience for you,” said John Amaechi in his opening statements in front of students, faculty, and alumni in the HUB Auditorium Monday night.
The 6’9” British psychologist and former NBA player came back to Penn State to speak about how his days on the basketball court helped him realize what qualities he possessed that made him special. The event was sponsored by the Penn State All-Sports Museum and LGBTA.
Amaechi never touched a basketball until he was 17-years-old, and in 6 months, realized he would soon be playing in the NBA. Having grown up in Manchester, he sent thousands of letters to high schools throughout the United States, asking if they would want him to play for their team. Only 3 replied, and he ended up going to school in Toledo, Ohio. Just a few short years later he was playing at Penn State.
“I loved it here,” said Amaechi of his experiences in Rec Hall playing under Head Coach Bruce Parkhill and becoming Penn State’s first-ever All-Big Ten player. “I still get the chills when I hear ‘We are Penn State,’” he said.
He talked about his mother, who was a doctor and a major influence in his life until she passed away shortly after he graduated from college. He told a story of how he imagined his mom was a Jedi after he saw the original Star Wars movie and saw how calmly she dealt with her patients.
The main focus of Amaechi’s speech was that we all can and should “live big,” as he does every single day. He joked about how his stature made him more aware of the space his body takes up. Playing in the NBA made him realize that sports can create “giants,” and that sometimes professional athletes need to be taught how to be a “good giant.” They can achieve this by resisting the urge to crush the “little people” around them.
When he came out of the closet, becoming the first openly gay NBA player, Amaechi realized that the little things in life matter most. The thousands of different situations that can occur on a daily basis make such a huge difference in the lives of others. If you are aware of how big you are to these little situations, you can instantly make a difference in someone’s life and make them feel better.
After the speech was over, Amaechi was open to questions from the audience. When asked about hiding his true sexuality while he was in college, he strongly emphasized that he regretted it, saying, “Don’t hide what makes you special.”
To close out, he spoke about the nostalgic feelings he had coming back to campus. He talked to Penn State’s current basketball team earlier today and told them that, one day, “all that will matter is the tiny things you did for other people.”
In this, he made sure that the audience knew how to “live big…always.”