Uri Kukia (seen above during his time as a player for Hapoel Jerusalem) is the first active Israeli basketball player to publicly announce his homosexuality.
(photo credit: BSL)
Former Israel national team player Uri Kukia became the first active Israeli basketball player to publicly announce his homosexuality on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old forward currently plays for Hapoel Ramat Gan in the National League, but spent most of his career in the BSL, including stints at Hapoel Jerusalem, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Holon.
Kukia said that he felt this was the right time to speak out as he has found personal peace, living with a partner with whom he is raising a baby girl. He added that he wanted to show everyone that you can have a long and successful basketball career even if you are gay and that he also felt the need to show gay teenagers that it is fine to be different.
Kukia’s announcement was largely lauded by the local sports world.
“Uri Kukia, you are my sportsman of the year. Well done for the brave and important step,” tweeted Maccabi Haifa defender Dekel Keinan.
Kukia’s coaches and teammates past and present who spoke on the matter said his sexual orientation was never a secret.
“I knew and it never bothered anyone,” said Sharon Drucker, who coached Kukia at Hapoel Galil Elyon and Hapoel Jerusalem. “Uri was always a player everyone loved and who was valued by everyone.
Uri is a pioneer and I’m really proud of him.”
To date, there have been very few Israeli athletes who have publicly spoken about their sexual orientation.
Last May, former basketball player Gili Mosinzon brought to the fore the issue of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) in Israeli sport. He announced in a long Facebook post that he is attracted to men as well as women, becoming the first professional male Israeli athlete to do so.
While female athletes opening up about their sexual orientation has lost its taboo, including in Israel (for example former top-100 tennis player and current Fed Cup captain Tzipi Obziler), it is still extremely rare for professional sportsmen to talk about their attraction to men, both in Israel and abroad.
Jason Collins became the first openly homosexual player to compete in the NBA after publicly announcing his sexuality in an article in Sports Illustrated magazine in April 2013.
In February 2014, Michael Sam became the first openly gay professional American football player.
He was drafted by the St Louis Rams later that year, amidst a flurry of media interest, and is currently playing in the Canadian Football League.
Last year, former Hapoel Jerusalem center and ex-NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire found himself mixed up in controversy, making a homophobic comment in an informal survey examining basketball players’ attitudes towards having a gay teammate.
He made headlines across the world after telling Israeli website Walla that he would go out of his way to avoid a homosexual teammate.
“I’m going to shower across the street, make sure my change of clothes are around the corner,” he said, with a smile. “And I’m going to take a different route to the gym.”
Asked if he was joking, Stoudemire said, “I mean, there’s always a truth within a joke.”