By now it’s been pretty well established Milwaukee Bucks forward Larry Sanders is winding down his starring role in the Worst Season Ever. The Bucks were built to win, at a moderate pace at least, and instead they’re going to probably finish 2013-14 with the worst record in the NBA. The team us up for sale, to varying degrees that haven’t been sussed out yet, while coach Larry Drew and general manager John Hammond await the potential purgatory that a change in ownership could create. Sanders was signed to a four-year, $44 million contract extension before the season started, and the face of the franchise has responded by getting into an alleged bar fight, responding with poor play following an injury allegedly sustained in that fight, and he was recently suspended from the NBA for marijuana use.
Of course, many people in the NBA use marijuana. The league’s relatively lax laws surrounding the drug make it so you can get away with two positive tests before striking out on the third swing and taking a public five-game suspension in. It’s not exactly the harshest drug program in the western world.
Sanders, who won’t serve out his suspension until 2014-15 because he’s currently unable to play because of an orbital fracture (not sustained during an alleged bar fight, it should be noted), responded to the suspension with the usual press release platitudes. He acknowledged he made a mistake, or three, and kindly asked Bucks fans and his teammates for patience while he waits out both the offseason and his eventual five-game turn on the pine.
On Friday, though, Sanders slightly changed his tune, speaking openly and honestly about his pot use. In a way that was refreshing, somewhat accurate, but also full of Larry Sanders-isms. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
"It's something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me," Sanders said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel and NBA.com. "I will deal with the consequences from it. It's a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it. I know what it is if I'm going to use it.
"I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we've been deprived. You can't really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.
"The stigma is that it's illegal. I hate that. Once this becomes legal, this all will go away. But I understand for my work it's a banned substance. I will deal with the consequences and I apologize again to my fans for that."
The tired “it’s medical, maaaan, it grows in the ground” response earned the eye roll you likely gave it, but it is also worth wondering just how ahead of the game Larry Sanders might be in this particular instance.
Again, Larry Sanders is alleged to have been in a bar fight earlier this season. Alcohol, as anyone that has been in a bar fight is aware, often tends to encourage these things. Basketball players are asked to hit their peak hours between 7:30 and 10 at night, 82 times a season, while putting on a nice guy face for the media for a half-hour afterward before attempting to sleep and be up for shootaround the next morning. It’s a weird schedule. There are lots of cameras. There is also quite a bit of banging going around, induced pains that aren’t exactly mollified by a heaping helping of anti-inflammatory pills.
As a result, as many young professionals do, these players need a way to come down. Both the ego and the body are sent into hyperdrive during that jaunt up and down the court, and it’s not something that a 2,000-calorie meal at The Cheesecake Factory can help settle. Some tend to work over both the ego and that ascending heart rate with a vodka cranberry or six at the club.
Others smoke weed. And though we recognize that the drug – and it is a drug – is illegal in most outposts in this country, and though I personally can’t stand the stuff, it would seem like a packed bowl and spirited bout of play on the Xbox in the safety of a hotel room would be far more preferable to one’s sanity and safety than buying yet another round in a bar.
Because these guys have to do something. Yes, it’s a charmed life; a well-compensated turn that often has a chartered jet waiting for players to take a trip to their next similarly well-compensated gig in another town, but it’s also a weird lifestyle. Larry Sanders, like many people his age, doesn’t think marijuana use is that big of a deal. And with the knowledge we have about what the demands are for NBA players as they roll around North America from October until spring, we should probably start to turn a corner in this regard, when it comes to discussing marijuana use.
No pun intended, but Larry Sanders was a dope for getting caught. Again, you get two unannounced strikes before the NBA comes down on you with that suspension, and if the third positive test was at any time past the first week of February, when a James Harden elbow ended Larry’s season, then Sanders doesn’t have the excuse of needing to come down following a heated professional performance. It just means he wanted to get high, even while facing down an 0-2 count.
For other, more mindful players? This is a drug we need to consider. It’s still mostly illegal, readily available, and for a group of young men who often have to step out into the cold air at 11 p.m. with their hearts still racing from The Big Game, it’s probably a preferable tonic for what’s throbbing.
This isn’t an advocacy piece. Again, the drug isn’t for everyone, and we shouldn't be treating an AAU player’s sprained knee with Hindu Kush. And Larry Sanders really shouldn’t be the poster boy for anything at this point.
It’s just something to think about as the laws lighten and times change. Larry Sanders might be a doofus for getting caught for a third time, but at least we’re not discussing video footage of haymakers thrown in a bar in the wee hours.
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