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Ball Don't Lie

Keyon Dooling opens up about his history of abuse, reasons for his retirement

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Keyon Dooling (Rocky Widner/ Getty)

When Keyon Dooling retired last week, it was a surprising development. He had just signed a new contract with the Boston Celtics in July, and by all accounts he still had much to contribute to the team and locker room as a veteran leader and capable perimeter defender. Many grasped at reasons for his decision, and the logic wasn't always there.

On Thursday, Jessica Camerato of CSNNE.com published a story on Dooling's decision and the life experiences that went into it. It's a brave set of revelations from Dooling, who discusses his history of abuse and his hopes for the future. A small sampling of a must-read piece:

"I was talking about it with my wife and with my pastors and all the people that are in my life, and nobody wanted me to retire. Nobody wanted me to retire," he said.

Years of repressed emotions came rushing back during this realization. Memories that Dooling had tried to bury were flooding out. "I actually had such a meltdown that I had to get professional help and I ended up in the hospital," said Dooling.

"It just all came to a head. To be honest with you, I blocked a lot of things out of my life. I'm a man who's been abused, sexually, emotionally, mentally. I've been abused in my life, and there's so many guys around the NBA who have been abused and I know it because I've been their therapist. I didn't even have the courage because I blocked it out so much that I couldn't even share that . . .

"It took literally a meltdown for everybody to see how serious I was about not playing ball anymore."

But he was absolutely serious. "For so long I've always denied myself and what I feel for others, in particular my family of origin and my wife and my children and my friends who I really trust," he said.

"It just got to the point where it was like, they don't know how much pain I'm in. They don't know how lonely the road can be. They don't know the stuff that comes along with being an NBA player. They don't know how many people call my phone begging for money every day. They don't know how many people call me asking for advice. They don't know how many people rely on me to be happy when they're down. They don't understand the grind that mentally I have to go through to be this man I am every day.

"I just gave out too much and I wasn't getting enough back . . . [With] the exception of the Celtics organization, nobody ever truly appreciated me until this year."

[Related: NBA will reportedly fine players for flopping]

The idea here is simple: What was best for Dooling as an athlete wasn't always what was best for him as a person. While the specifics of his abuse are not given here — and frankly don't need to be for the impact to matter — his breakdown and subsequent epiphany proves that he needed a change in his life. Retirement was the best available option, and we wish Dooling the best as he enters a new phase of his life.

However, Dooling won't necessarily be leaving the world of basketball just yet, if at all. According to Camerato, the Celtics have invited him to join the team on road trips, where Dooling would likely do community service. On top of that, he already has several offers from teams to work in a variety of roles including scouting, player development, and related front office jobs. Clearly, the NBA still wants to be involved with Dooling, even if he no longer thinks playing is in his best interests.

What's clear, regardless of his decision, is that Dooling has recalibrated his priorities. Though he'd seem to be a natural as a coach, Dooling has ruled out that option in order to spend more time with his family. Retirement ends one defining era of his life, but with newfound openness and clear conceptions of what he needs, Dooling has a bright future.

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