Fair Game: Derrick Gordon Gets Ready for Another Season with UMass

The first openly gay Division I basketball player gears up for another season at UMass. by Kevin Koczwara

Associated Press

Derrick Gordon was at a breaking point. The shooting guard had successfully concealed his sexual orientation for years, but after his UMass basketball teammates discovered a photo of him and his then-boyfriend in front of a gay bar on Instagram, he felt trapped. Yet the idea of coming out seemed risky—he didn’t want to hurt his chances of getting into the NBA. Besides, how would his friends, family, and, most of all, his teammates treat him once they knew?

Gordon had earned a State Championship in 2009 with future NBA players Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyrie Irving at St. Patrick’s High School in Plainfield, New Jersey. As a freshman at Western Kentucky University, he led the team in scoring, rebounds, and minutes played as a freshman. One season in, Gordon transferred to UMass Amherst due to a coaching change.

Gordon’s ability to get to the rim and score complemented the Minutemen’s fast-paced style, landing him on UMass’s starting lineup in 2013. Though the team made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, Gordon struggled to fulfill his potential. He started all 33 of UMass’s games and was the team’s fourth-leading scorer, but the magic that had made him a top-150 recruit in high school remained elusive.

“I was going through a lot. I was going through a bit of depression during the season,” Gordon says. It didn’t help that his twin brother, Darryl, was serving a five-year prison sentence. (Gordon has “MBK,” short for “my brother’s keeper,” tattooed on his chest.)

Eventually, he decided he was tired of his double life. On March 30, 2014, he told his parents and his coach, Derek Kellogg. He came out to his teammates a few days later. By Wednesday of the following week, the news had gone viral, and with that, Gordon became the first openly gay Division I collegiate basketball player.

As the media began converging on UMass to cover the story, Gordon says notes began popping up ­under his door, thanking him for being true to himself. “I made the decision, and if I knew things were going to be this way I would have come out a long time ago,” Gordon says. “It’s just been so amazing.”

Gordon says he’s prepared for life on the road. “I’ve played basketball my whole life, and I’ve been called the worst things you can be called,” he says. This year, he plans to help his team get back to the NCAA Tournament—starting with a home game against Siena College on November 14. “I can finally be open to myself,” Gordon says, “and play the game of basketball that I love.”