Keyon Dooling couldn’t sleep.
It was August 2012 and Dooling had been on medication in a psychiatric hospital for five days. After being weaned off the medication, he hadn’t slept for two nights, growing dizzy with thought.
Dooling had been with his good friend Avery Bradley just outside of Seattle in July. The two distributed nearly $40,000 in food to the city’s hungry. Out to dinner at a restaurant one evening, a man groped Dooling in the restroom. The 13-year NBA veteran was suddenly overcome with an anger he didn’t know he possessed. Memories of being sexually abused as a 7-year-old flashed through his mind.
The incident sent him into a tailspin that ultimately landed Dooling in the mental facility. Wearing only a green hospital gown and staring at the room’s clean, white walls, he tossed and turned trying to clear his mind.
“I was extremely scared, extremely emotional, I was extremely fragile and for the first time in my life, that tough, macho swagger that athletes have to have was not there,” Dooling told SLAM. “It was a nightmare for me. I’m not an advocate for a mental institution. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
In that bottom floor of the hospital, the then 32-year-old Dooling first told his wife Natosha that he was assaulted as a child. The couple met when they were 16.
“I eventually got enough courage to say, Hey, I was molested. I was so scared to see her reaction, but it was so amazing that it was like a weight that had been holding me down fell off my shoulder,” Dooling says. “She was just heartbroken. She felt terrible knowing that this issue was plaguing us in our every daily lives for so long.”
Dooling ultimately retired from the NBA before the 2012-13 season. He ended up joining the Memphis Grizzlies during their run the 2013 Western Conference Finals but now says his playing days are done for good.
Natosha’s sympathetic response led him to a realization. Dooling determined he needed to share the troubles he’s overcome and how he reached his level of professional success despite his troubled childhood.
His book, What’s Driving You??? How I Overcame Abuse and Learned to Lead in the NBA, is set for release on July 15. The project touches on overcoming his fears from his childhood, his experiences on both sides of fatherhood and will serve as a stepping stone in healing from any form of mental trauma.
SLAM caught up with Dooling about the book, his overall plan to attack mental illness and sexual abuse as well as some hot topics from this NBA postseason.
SLAM: The last time we saw you on the court, you came back with Memphis at the end of the 2012-13 season and were a part of their run to the Conference Finals. How redeeming was that to be back on the court and in the public eye after your breakdown?
Keyon Dooling: To be honest, it wasn’t redeeming, it was the worst experience I had as a pro. I had been in the front office [in Boston] the whole season, so I wasn’t in shape. I pushed my body to the limit, I was able to crack the rotation, play in the Playoffs, etc., but it was a tough experience. I’ve always been a chemistry guy, a glue guy, but when you come in late in the season, you don’t really get embraced by the team. You don’t really have any friends. That was the first time in my career I wasn’t at the center of the team. That was a bit of a challenge for me, but it was fun. The Grizzlies were a good team that year and it was fun to be able to get back and compete at a high level.
SLAM: The Grizzlies ended up running into the Spurs and got swept. We just saw them dominate the Heat in the Finals. How difficult is it to defend that offense?
KD: It’s almost impossible to defend because everybody’s a threat, everybody is unselfish and everybody is totally bought in to Coach Popovich’s system. It’s beautiful to watch. I love our players, I think they drive our game, but the team game to me is so beautiful. You can’t really gameplan for it because everybody’s a threat. When you have a Big Three or two main guys, coaches are so good and players are so good that you can take them out of things if it’s just two or three guys. But when everybody’s a threat, even the guys coming off the bench, hey man, that is tough. That is tough.
SLAM: Building an NBA career of 13 seasons isn’t easy. How were you able to sustain playing at that level and keeping a roster spot for over a decade?
KD: I think I learned how to be a pro. When I got to the Miami [in 2004], I learned what work ethic was, I learned what basketball study habits were all about and I learned discipline. I got mentorship for the first time as well. Those four things really helped me become a consummate pro.
SLAM: Who mentored you?
KD: Eddie Jones was my biggest mentor. He took me under his wing. He taught me to dress for different occasions. He taught me how to show up early to work, get my lift in and get my shots up. He taught me how to ice down no matter what even when you’re feeling good. He taught me how to take my family on vacation and have fun with my children and give them life experience. He taught me how to be more thorough as a businessman. So I give a lot of credit for my development to Eddie Jones and the whole Heat organization. He’ll be my mentor for the rest of my life. The guy’s got it figured out.
SLAM: You mentioned getting shots up. I was always struck by how funky your shooting form was, where you’d cock the ball back over your shoulder before your release. How did you develop that?
KD: I changed my shot my eighth year of my career. The Orlando Magic was a team that I loved to play for, but I wasn’t a great three-point shooter at that time and that offense was geared around Dwight, spreading the floor and being able to knock threes down. My range, the way I shot it earlier in my career, I was pretty effective, but I couldn’t shoot with range. So I moved it a little bit further to the side to try and extend my range and I trained like that for almost a whole summer. And I made almost more threes my eighth year in one season than I had made the previous seven. So, it was a funky adjustment, but it extended my career another five years because I could make threes.
SLAM: The first four years of your career were with the Clippers. Did you ever have any experiences with Donald Sterling that tipped your hat off to the kind of person the public now knows he is?
KD: I didn’t have any experiences with his ideologies on race. But, he definitely made us uncomfortable in the locker room. Whether he was bringing people in there when were we half-naked or totally naked, or his attitude on the sidelines, the negative attitude that he would have was a bit tough to deal with, you know? But all in all, I didn’t have a whole bunch of encounters with Donald Sterling.
SLAM: After your traumatic summer, you retired before the 2012-13 season struggling to come to grips with your past. Can you even explain how you were able to bury all that and mask it for how long you did?
KD: You mask it by a lot of different things. Sometimes you mask it with anger, sometimes you mask it with changing your mood—whether that’s drinking or indulging in, you know what I mean, promiscuous behaviors—you can mask it so many ways. But I wouldn’t say I was hiding my pain, I would say I was just entrenched in my career and in my job and in my family and I was just trying to move forward and think, Those things didn’t happen to me. I was mostly mistaken. You can’t just move on, you actually have to deal with the things in the past so that you can have a bright future.
SLAM: Who the first person you ever told that you were abused?
KD: My wife, at the bottom floor of a mental institution and I talk about that in the book, What’s Driving You???, that’s coming out next month. My wife was the first person I told and that was one of the hardest conversations I had to ever have in my life. To tell the woman I’ve loved since I was 16 years old, Hey babe, I’ve been keeping this away from you our entire existence. It was a tough conversation to have, especially for a man. When it happens to you by somebody from the same sex, it’s a little bit more embarrassing I would say, because I was also taken advantage of by teenage girls as well, it created two different kinds of emotions. From my experience, when it happened with older young ladies, it made me sexually dysfunctional and I think the fact that it happened from a young man made me extremely angry and belligerent. Those two things I navigated through at some point in my life. I’ve gone through all the symptoms of what happens to people who are molested: depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction and post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve suffered through all of those at one point or another in life.
SLAM: What ultimately made you decide to write this book?
KD: A couple things made me decide to write this book. One, it was a cathartic experience. I had to get that out. There are so many people that have gone through the things that I’ve gone through, so I wanted to make sure that those people have an opportunity to heal. I wanted to put those tools out there so people who have grown up in poverty, or started out not so good academically or had been molested, I wanted to show you can start at a place and work your way into having success. And then to fight sexual abuse. One out of every four ladies before the age of 16, one out of every six young men are molested before the age of 16 and then they say there’s about 25-30 percent, like myself, who don’t even talk about it. So when you talk about almost half of our children being victimized and the side effects that comes with it, it’s killing our country. So I felt like me, as a basketball player and as a role model, somebody who people look up to, if I step out and talk about the most embarrassing, darkest time of my life and how I came through it and how I overcame the mental institution and intense therapy and having to walk away from the game, if I could do it you could do it and here’s how I did it. So I wanted to leave a blueprint for people who are sick and healing. I wanted to give an opportunity, if they didn’t want to go to a doctor or something like that, I wanted to give them some useful tools to at least help them start to heal.
SLAM: What separates your book from the average self-help book?
KD: I want this to be an experience; it’s not just a book. I have artwork with the book. The artwork tells the whole story: some of the bottom floor scene in the mental institution, some of my triumph moments are depicted in the artwork. So, people will get an opportunity if they visually heal, they’ll get to see things to help them heal throughout the book and I put a soundtrack with it. There’s positive rap music that goes with the whole thing. The soundtrack is going to be available on iTunes as well and the music is done by an artist named Bless’ED, who is unbelievable. The music is inspiring, uplifting, positive music. It’s healing music. It’s music for the soul. Everything’s original.
The way that I want to engage people with this particular project is I want to bring all those together and do a one-man show. I’m gonna bring the music, the artwork and the performance to a stage setting. I’ll be doing it starting in August and hopefully I’ll be able to take it across the country. Basketball players are so creative, but we’ve been so busy playing basketball that we can’t really operate on any of our other gifts. Now that I have all this freedom and life experience, I really want to put that in a performance type setting. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re calling it the I Am Respect Tour. Respect is the name of my foundation, The Respect Foundation. We do two things: We focus on helping people heal from sexual abuse and we are big advocates for mental wellness. We think that therapy is the gateway to healing. Those are the two most important things about this tour.
SLAM: How long a process was it to complete the book from start to finish?
KD: The book was pretty easy for me to write. It took me about three months to write. I actually went back to the place where I got molested to write that particular part of the book. I actually went back to so many places where I had these hardships. I wanted to go to those places to feel those emotions. And, yeah, I cried quite a bit. I will say I cried, but I smiled so much more than I cried.
SLAM: In your first interview following your mental breakdown with CSN New England, you said you counseled other players during your career. Was that a cathartic experience for you, too?
KD: I took so much pride in helping our young men develop because I know how important mentorship was to me and I didn’t get that early in my career. I probably would have made $30 million more if I had Eddie Jones my rookie year. I wanted to make sure I gave myself to all these young men who don’t have fathers, who don’t have big brothers, I wanted to put good stock in them. I wanted to teach them how to tie a Double Windsor, I wanted to show them how to speak during interviews, I wanted to show them how to love their wives, support their children, deal with frustration, manage relationships. It was something that’s naturally in me; I have a natural coaching in me. I aspire to be a head coach one day, but right now I’m very satisfied with being a life coach, because the work that I’m doing right now, won’t allow me to do basketball right now. We need to get our guys’ minds’ right, shelter our communities we come from. We need to do something to help the overall health of our society. That’s a big goal of mine. I really want people to get back to the basics.
SLAM: You spent part of that 2012-13 season in the front office in Boston. What are your specific goals in basketball now moving forward?
KD: I think my immediate goal is to inspire our guys through my story. I think all our guys have a book in them. The journey of an athlete is so awesome. A lot of us start out in the hood, get opportunities to go to private school, go to college, live in every region of the country, to leave the country and travel the world. Our life experience is so awesome it’s hard to explain. A lot of people can’t really relate to that particular journey. I want to be the best life coach on the planet. I have the program called KD’s Blueprint for Success and it’s an incremental program on how to navigate through life, not just basketball, but through life. I really want to do a good job of putting that out. That’s really my main focus. I’m going to put that on an e-learning platform so I can do life coaching virtually, we’ll be able to work with corporations, there are so many ways we’ll be able to interact and engage with the people. It’s going to be called Keyon Dooling University, I believe. Then I want to take my I Am Respect Tour on the road and really make an impact on many communities. And then my last goal, I want to be an NBA lifer. I want to work in and around the NBA for the rest of my life.
SLAM: As a lifer, what roles do you see yourself holding?
KD: I’m never one to put limitations on myself, but I will say, as a player, I played 13 seasons, but I was also the first vice president of the union, I sat on the competition committee, was a five-time captain, so I served in so many different areas of our game. I helped contribute to the CBA. I do want to coach and I do want to do front office work as well. I do want to ultimately be a coach and then be a GM. Those are two realistic goals of mine. I’m a ball player, so I think I’m never going to miss a shot, but I really think I’m putting myself in a position for somebody to really embrace what it is that I can bring. The community work that I do, the mental work that I do, the basketball work that I do and then the spiritual work that I do can all be an asset to a team. I’m a Christian, I’m very proud of that. I also want to be a spiritual mentor and help people find their faith as well. But I know I have to earn it, I don’t want anything given to me. That’s how I’ve lived my entire life.