Slam dunk! This is what John Amaechi used to do best – even as a self confessed “terrible athlete” who first picked up a basketball at 17.
Twelve years later, he became the first and only Brit to bag a place in the US Basketball Hall of Fame, and the only British player to have had a career in the NBA.
He went on to captain the English squad. Even in “retirement” the skipper led the English to bronze (its first and only medal finish) in the 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne.
John’s the Beckham of basketball, a talisman off court and on, part of two European championship teams, and the player who turned down the golden ticket, a seven-year guaranteed contract from the most successful team in American sport over the last decade, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The rest is history. Today John’s sights are set even higher. He doesn’t like to live in the past, but for the kids he’s about to meet in Blackpool, it’s part and parcel of what makes him such an immensely inspirational role model.
He already runs a sports charity for young people in Manchester, some 2,000 youngsters a week passing through, is a director for the London organising committee for the Olympic Games, setting strategy for procurement, recruitment and standards for every employee, supplier and volunteer.
“It’s a huge opportunity – including for us in the North West,” he admits.
At the core of what he stands for is a belief in the intrinsic value of other human beings, no matter what.
He’s aware of Blackpool’s social deprivation issues and their impact upon the aspirations of young people, with more being labelled as not in education, training or employment. Part of his brief is to help halt the rot in expectations of a crucial age group.
On Monday, February 6, he presents a workshop at Blackpool Sixth Form College, to a group of 44 students.
John wants to help them see the bigger picture, tempt them to stay, as part of a wider college initiative to give them the best chance of a brighter future.
The college has Beacon Status, and has been designated as a national teaching school.
John admits: “Sometimes you don’t know what kind of impact you’ve had, sometimes it’s 18 months before there is some change, but I try to leave every single one feeling, at the very least, uplifted, and having a few bits of specific actionable items they can take with them. I want them to stop thinking ‘I can’t do it, I can’t imagine doing it’.”
He’s well placed to offer distinct lessons to anyone who feels undervalued or excluded.
His New York best-seller Man in the Middle chronicled his own life and struggle. He came out as gay in 2007.
He’s the headliner for the college’s diversity day, talking to 300 students after the workshop, before meeting boys and girls in the college’s own basketball academy, and staff to build upon the messages and themes of the day.
Netting Amaechi is a coup for Steve Legge, sport and enrichment development officer at the sixth form, and director of the college’s basketball academy.
He explains: “John’s passion and knowledge in the areas of equality and inclusion, coupled with his impressive resumé, made him the perfect choice for delivering a Diversity Day here.
“We see a fantastic opportunity for our students, and know John will build on the college’s core values to raise their aspirations and develop their awareness of key social issues, such as the effects of prejudice, and the impact of bias on society. He is particularly passionate about promoting the overcoming of unconscious bias amongst young people.”
John, an organisational consultant, psychologist and high performance coach, concedes: “The bar is set pretty low when it comes to people’s expectations of talking to a sportsperson.
“But I grew up when family doctors were superstars in their towns, and everywhere we went people stopped my mum, the doc, for a talk. She was always ready to listen, she made time, it didn’t matter who they were, an elderly gent who had just lost his wife, a young kid, whatever, she found a way to relate to them at exactly the right time and level.
“My mother held the key. I remember thinking she was this remarkable, almost super human being. I didn’t have to look past my own family for inspiration or positive role models.
“My style is conversational, I talk, but listen too. You can’t be a good talker without being a better listener.
“I can tell how people respond, one person, or 1,500, and connect. I try to help people get in touch with the possibilities without throwing out the obvious reality.
“It’s important to stay real. Young people can spot a fake. It’s also important to support this school’s innovative approach to working with young people particularly at a time when we need emotional literacy more than ever.”