After an at-times notable but mostly just steady and entertaining 11-year NBA career, Cuttino Mobley(notes) was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the New York Knicks with Tim Thomas(notes) in exchange for Zach Randolph(notes) and Mardy Collins(notes). A post-trade physical turned up hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — an enlarged heart, the same condition from which Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis suffered, and an affliction about which Mobley had reportedly known throughout his career.
The Knicks finalized the deal (after all, they needed to shed Z-Bo's contract), but Mobley never stepped on the court for New York, retiring in December 2008. He worked out with the Boston Celtics for a few days back in September, but didn't catch on.
In late January, the Providence Journal's W. Zachary Malinowski reported that the 35-year-old Mobley was listed in documents filed with the Rhode Island Department of Health as "the sole financier for the Summit Medical Compassion Center," a proposed medical marijuana dispensary to be located in Warwick, R.I., about 20 minutes outside of Providence. In a wide-ranging column published Tuesday, Mobley discussed with ProJo columnist Bill Reynolds the dispensary and some of the other irons he's got in the fire.
As Reynolds tells it, their sitdown had nothing to do with Mobley's on-court career — "It was about what he wants to do with the rest of his life."
"I want to help people," [Mobley] said.
He knows that innumerable people have helped him along the way, from Max Good at Maine Central, to Jim Harrick at URI, who gave him confidence, assistant coach Bill Coen, who made him start to believe in his talent. It’s also the way he was raised, his version of spirituality, the sense that you help others when you can. So he helps fund an AAU team in Philadelphia. He built a basketball court in Africa. He helps out his old high school. He has a foundation in Philadelphia that helps single mothers and homeless kids.
"You get it after a while," Mobley said. "You know what you're supposed to do."
One of the things he wants to do now is start a wellness center in Warwick, one that will be allowed to dispense medical marijuana. He says he got interested in the field of wellness both through his own medical condition and those of other people close to him, and adds that the health field is one of the fastest growing in the country.
Mobley told Reynolds that the proposed dispensary is just one element of a larger plan to "get more involved in Rhode Island," where he starred for the University of Rhode Island in the mid-1990s — "this state that helped him at a vulnerable time in his life, this state that saw him go from a young, unstructured kid to someone who grabbed the basketball dream and has made the most of it."
Before he can open up shop, Mobley will first have to secure a license, which could prove tricky — Rhode Island state law allows the state Department of Health to authorize between one and three dispensaries, and 18 license applications have already been filed, according to Reynolds' Journal colleague Tracy Breton.
And even if he gets the license, there's still some question as to when exactly anybody will actually be allowed to operate a dispensary.
While Rhode Island became the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana in January 2006 and one of the first three states to approve the sale of medical marijuana by licensed producers in June 2009, repeated regulatory delays, staffing shortfalls and a reported lack of qualified applicants (the state denied all submissions from the first batch of 15 applications last September) have stalled the initiative. In Tuesday's ProJo piece, Breton reported that any decision on licensing approval had been delayed another week, until March 15, to give the Department of Health's new interim director time to review the submitted applications.
There's been loads of study, debate and rancor about the issue of medical marijuana in the 11 years since the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine reported that cannabinoid drugs have a "potential therapeutic value ... for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation," none of which is likely to disappear regardless of how many states approve the drugs' distribution and use by licensed dispensaries and patients. It's also unlikely that introducing a not-that-famous former professional basketball player into the advocacy mix will spur sweeping changes of opinion from many people who've already made up their minds.
Whichever way your sympathies run, Mobley's a guy who seems to want to use whatever money, influence and profile he may have in the service of doing something within the boundaries of statute that he feels might help some people. We might not all agree with the cause he's chosen to champion, but in a media landscape that frequently fricasees athletes for a perceived dispassion toward most types of social advocacy, that much, at least, is worth commending.