He has finally spoken publicly about his basketball farewell, and about so much more than that, and the explanation from Larry Sanders is what many expected, while hoping those expectations were wrong.
From his Q&A session at The Players’ Tribune, the quote of particular note: “I know I disappeared for a while. People were wondering where I was. I actually entered into Rogers Memorial Hospital, and it was a program for anxiety and depression. Mood disorders.”
So with that admission, Sanders told the world this: He is but one of 44 million people who, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, experiences mental illness in a given year. He was also willing and able to get help for his issues, something so many who share his mental circumstance can’t or won’t do.
And with that, basketball becomes secondary, no matter how much money is involved. For what price do you put on a person’s health, regardless of how many people cheer for or against him, who celebrate or denigrate his decision? So often, mental health concerns lead to sad and tragic developments. Sanders thinks he’s giving himself his best chance for a better story. It is commendable.
“I think I love basketball. I’ll always be playing basketball,” he says. “But for it to be consuming so much of my life and time right now, it’s not there for me. It’s not that worth it.” Maybe someday, he says, he’ll play again. He doesn’t know.
Many quarters won’t understand, and many will stigmatize him further, because that’s par for the course when it comes to mental illness. The sad truth is that if Sanders suffered a catastrophic knee injury that threatened his career, few would begrudge his exit. Nor would many begrudge the buyout of his contract, a contract both he and the Milwaukee Bucks once thought was a good and fruitful partnership, and have now both agreed to end.
But because the career-threatening impetus began in his brain, and the issues behind it can be neither clearly seen nor easily understood, the response is different. He will be blamed for being uncommitted or lazy or greedy, or all of the above and then some. And because he turned to marijuana to help aid his recovery, and thus run afoul of NBA rules, he will be accused of preferring cannabis to the court.
It is all so much more complex. Healing mind and mood has little in common with the open-and-shut process of healing ligament and bone. So yes, Sanders can leave the door open for a basketball return, not knowing if he’ll ever walk through it. And yes, both he and the Bucks could’ve decided to stick to their contract in hopes of that day coming to pass. But both have decided it to be in their own best interests to move on. Public reaction will be swift, and in many cases incendiary, and then folks will also move on.
Were Larry Sanders our brother or father or husband or son, the reaction would surely be different, and surely softer, and shared in privacy. But nothing is soft about NBA spotlights. It is the nature of the stage. And so, Sanders will go heal away from it, and do so with his family and friends, in privacy.
May it go well for them all.
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