For about two months, we've been wondering what's going on with Larry Sanders, the gifted and mercurial shot-blocking big man who parted company with the Milwaukee Bucks around Christmas amid conflicting reports about his desire to continue playing professional basketball before receiving a 10-game suspension for a fourth violation of the league's anti-drug policy relating to marijuana use. Just before the All-Star break, the former Virginia Commonwealth standout suggested that answers were forthcoming:
Soon you all will know the truth.
— Nappy Gilmore ™ (@LarrySanders) February 10, 2015
On Wednesday, one week after Sanders and the Bucks agreed to terms on a buyout of the four-year, $44 million contract extension he signed in August 2013, the 26-year-old offered his side of the story surrounding his departure in a first-person piece and video published by The Players' Tribune:
In the piece, Sanders confirms that he's not planning an immediate return to the NBA: "I love basketball, and if I get to a point where I feel I’m capable of playing basketball again, I will." He also clarifies the reason for his separation from the Bucks:
Well, I know I disappeared for a while, and people were wondering where I was. I actually entered into Rogers Memorial Hospital, and it was a program for anxiety, depression and mood disorders. It taught me a lot about myself. It taught me a lot about what's important and where I would want to devote my time and energy.
I think I love basketball. I'll always be playing basketball. But for it to be consuming so much of my life and time right now, that's — it's not there for me. It's not that worth it. [...]
I wish I could have said goodbye formally to the Bucks at the arena, at the Bradley Center. I want them to know that it was never about them. It was never about the fans or how they treated me, because that was awesome. These decisions are for my family.
Sanders also addressed his unapologetic use of marijuana, which has led to multiple run-ins with the league office:
Cannabis came later on in my life. It was, for me, used medically, for some of the symptoms that I was having due to a lot of stress and the pressure I was under, given my work. [...]
You come into the league, you get dropped this large amount of money out of nowhere. People automatically change around you. That just happens. You become an ATM to some people. You have to be correct in your statements. You have to state things a certain way. You give up your freedom of speech, for real. You really can't say how you feel. There's no one really, you know, trying to guide, teach you what you should do and shouldn't do.
Sanders understands that many people might hear his comments and respond with, essentially, "That's what the money is for." The stresses, pressures and responsibilities associated with being a high-profile athlete seem to be part and parcel of his chosen profession — an at-times unpleasant part, to be sure, but one for which he was being compensated to the tune of $11 million a year by a Bucks franchise that invested in him with the expectation that he'd be the centerpiece of their defensive foundation.
"I think this seems to be a desirable, lucrative job and position, so people say, 'How could you be unhappy there? How could that be a place you don't want to be?'" Sanders said. "Values and the relationships with the people I love — that's, like, my real riches. That's my lasting wealth. [...] Happiness is an internal thing."
And, in Sanders' case, pursuing that happiness and those relationships means walking away from tens of millions of dollars — the terms of his Bucks buyout stipulate that he'll receive roughly half of the remaining value of his extension, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski — in a decision that, ultimately, only really needs to make sense to him.
People really like labels. You get to identify something with something else that you may think. It makes sense to you. You may rationalize it. I just ... don't neglect the "and," you know? Don't neglect the "and." That's what I'll say. You say I'm selfish. And I'm loving. And I'm caring. And I'm fearful sometimes, and I'm also brave. We all are more than just one thing. [...]
I'm a person. I'm a father. I'm an artist, I'm a writer, I'm a painter, I'm a musician. And sometimes I play basketball.
Right now, though, he doesn't. And considering the complicated, ongoing and oftentimes non-linear process of addressing the sorts of issues that have led Sanders away from the game, maybe that's the best thing for everyone involved.
As my colleague Eric Freeman wrote two years ago during our coverage of the complicated relationship between Royce White and the Houston Rockets relating to his anxiety disorder, "Certain jobs and responsibilities don't make sense for someone with this condition, and those specifics differ from person to person." It would be unduly speculative to conflate the conditions of White and Sanders without more information about their individual cases, but the general point holds — if specific elements of the job trigger specific serious problems for Sanders, and he and his team have been unable to find a viable path toward resolving those issues in a way that works for all parties, then maybe Sanders and the NBA just aren't a good match right now.
I'd love to see a player as unique, talented and evidently thoughtful as Sanders find his way back. For his own sake and for the sake of those close to him, I'd rather he find the internal happiness that's unfortunately eluded him in the context through which we've come to know him.
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