Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
Former Jazz player John Amaechi autographs copies of his book "Man in the Middle" at the Borders bookstore in Murray on Friday.

MURRAY — John Amaechi was sure he'd find protesters at his Utah book signing Friday. Instead, the former Jazz player autographed copies of his book "Man in the Middle" for a small crowd at the Murray Borders bookstore.

"When I first landed, I was just afraid people would kill me. I'm relieved that didn't happen," said Amaechi, who made headlines earlier this month when he became the first NBA player to publicly speak up about being gay.

The local book promotion was a big change from Thursday's book signing in San Francisco, where over a hundred people were already lined up and waiting for Amaechi's appearance.

However, Utah Jazz fans may be the ones most intrigued by Amaechi's first book (he says he's already working on another). He details life as a professional basketball player and closeted gay man in a state and sports program not known to embrace the gay lifestyle.

In the book, released Friday, Amaechi calls Jazz owner Larry Miller a "bigot" and says he learned he was traded because Jazz coach Jerry Sloan "couldn't comprehend me, especially my sexuality." He speaks highly of teammates Greg Ostertag and Andrei Kirilenko.

"I think, resoundingly, people are expecting that I slam Utah. But if you read the book, that's not the truth at all," said the 6-foot-9-inch English native. "Because again there's a really clear situation in my mind between the misery of my interactions with the coaching staff of the Utah Jazz and the joys and happiness of everything else, from where I lived to the friends that I made to the places that I got a chance to visit here in Utah."

Playing for the Jazz and living in Utah, he added, was a "positive experience" and one he said he would not exchange for the $17 million contract with the Lakers he was offered because of the friends and experiences he had in Salt Lake.

He added that he loved the "surprisingly large" gay scene in Utah, but being gay isn't the primary theme in his book. The 340-page book has only 30 pages with references to being gay.

"If anything, there's a message there that the most improbable of people can achieve the most extraordinary things with guidance and with a plan and with help and assistance," he said. The book tells a realistic, pragmatic plan for becoming successful, he said, detailing his decision-making processes, sacrifices and pitfalls.

Amaechi said he wants to open people's minds to bigotry. He referred to retired NBA player Tim Hardaway's comments last week, when Hardaway responded to Amaechi's coming out by saying "I hate gay people."

"I think that you have to pull a thread of good out of monumentally ignorant hateful pieces of rhetoric. The thread of good is finally, people, stop telling me that there is no problem with homophobia in this country," he said. "The fact that you can be fired in 33 states, including Utah, for being gay should be enough to indicate that to you. But sometimes it takes a big mouth to make that happen."

E-mail: astowell@desnews.com