Former Player Larry Sanders Opens Up About Feeling Anxiety in NBA: 'I Didn't Feel Like a Human'

Larry Sanders revealed how life in the league challenged his mental health and family life

Larry Sanders
Larry Sanders in 2021. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty

Former NBA player Larry Sanders says that he often felt like a "product" during his time in the league as he grappled with the anxiety that came with his career as an athlete.

In a recent episode of No Chill with Gilbert Arenas, Sanders, 33, recounted his early days in basketball, and how he struggled to adapt to the rigid standards and requirements that came with playing pro.

"I started playing ball when I was 15," explained Sanders. "I fell in love with the basketball culture, I was adopted by it. I was tall, I was fast, you know, I had these attributes that were attractive and fit into the game. But a lot of it, it didn't resonate with my soul, honestly."

After being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2010, Sanders said it became "an issue" for him as he tried to "conform to someone else's standards."

"You know, I like living life on my terms because I can and thrive," he elaborated, adding, "Being talked to certain kind of ways, kind of that bought and sold atmosphere … I ain't really like that s--t."

Sanders –—who played in Milwaukee for five years before moving to Cleveland for a single season with the Cavaliers — also said he struggled with the unpredictable nature of his career. "Have a conversation with me. Don't let me see some s-- t on the news about where I'm going," Sanders said of NBA trades.

"I got a family, you know what I'm saying. I got kids … I've got to uproot tomorrow and they got to figure it out by the phone," Sanders explained. He added, "I didn't feel like a human, I felt more like a product in a lot of ways and very disposable. ... it weighed on my mental health."

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And soon, that developed into anxiety, he told Arenas, which he said he self-treated with marijuana.

While the NBA has stopped randomly testing players for marijuana — which is now legal for non-medical use in 18 states and approved for medicinal purposes in 37 — Sanders' time in the league saw much more stigmatization around the drug.

"It was helping," he said of the marijuana. "My most consistent year of smoking weed and playing was when I averaged three blocks and a double-double."

But in 2015, Sanders was suspended for 10 games after multiple failed drug tests, according to USA Today.

"It was like, 'I know what's good for me. I know these alternatives that you all are offering me are going to put me in a weaker position in the long term,' " Sanders said of the NBA's alternative suggestions of anxiety treatment, which he didn't specify. The athlete added, "I knew what helped and what worked. It always came down to legalities."

Sanders, who played his last season in 2017, said on the podcast that he is "happy" that the NBA has relaxed its policy on marijuana

"I don't want anybody to go through the s--t I went through," said Sanders.

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