With his tall, lean physique and agility on the basketball court, Larry Sanders was a rising star when he signed his first NBA contract in 2010. But the shine wore off sooner than many expected, with Sanders walking away just five years later.
On paper, the turning point looks like it came when Sanders signed his $44 million, four-year contract with the Milwaukee Bucks in August 2013. What followed was months of issues, including disorderly conduct fines, injuries and several positive test results for marijuana.
From December 2013 til February 2015, Sanders was sidelined or suspended for over 30 NBA games. But things changed in February, with Sanders choosing to buy out the rest of his contract, after an extended absence that no one seemed to know much about.
A few days after Sanders’ departure was announced, he also opened up about his experiences and decision.
In an exclusive video released by new media platform The Players Tribune, Sanders explains he had been in a treatment program at Roger Memorial Hospital for anxiety, depression and mood disorders.
“It taught me a lot about myself, it taught me a lot about, you know, what’s important and where I want to devote my time and energy,” he says.
In a written piece that goes with this video, Sanders also explains that his decisions have never been about the money.
“As a person who grew up with nothing, I know money is important. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to play in the NBA,” he writes.
“But at the same time, that’s not what fuels me. I’ve never chased money. It’s never been how I define success. Happiness isn’t behind a golden gate.”
He says that he has decided to follow his intuition and, while that is a difficult decision to make when there was so much security in having an NBA contract, he wants to explore his passions and the possibilities they hold for his life. He says he is choosing to “allow myself the space and time to explore my true purpose in life.”
“Everyone has to make a living. I’m no different from the person whose 9-to-5 isn’t their dream job. It’s a scary thing to walk away from security but I’m more afraid of living with the “what if.””
The heartfelt explanation Sanders gives has generally been met with support from the media and the public. Some of the commenters on The Players Tribune YouTube video even share their own experiences with life changes and depression.
“I thought he was on crack or something,” one viewer says, adding that he thinks Sanders is the “real MVP” [Most Valuable Player] for opening up about it.
“I quit my job because I was depressed too. Now I’m following my passion for writing. I doubt Larry will see this, but it’s great because it shows we’re all the same. A (sic) NBA player and myself both had the same situation and both following our paths.”
Another viewer adds that “mental health and wellbeing are much more valuable than any big-money contract”, and many others have shared their support for Sanders as well as for conversations about depression and mental health.
Sanders himself has also shared some perceptive advice for people that do have an opinion of his decision, saying “don’t neglect the ‘and”.
“You say I’m selfish. And I’m loving and I’m caring and I’m fearful sometimes…and I’m also brave. You know, we all are more than just one thing,” he says.