Walking away: Dooling on retirement, family and his Celtics friends

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Walking away: Dooling on retirement, family and his Celtics friends

Keyon Dooling could have continued playing in the NBA.

At 32 years old, he still has miles left in his legs and plenty of shots to hit. He could have entered his 13th season if he wanted to. But he doesn't anymore.

A wave of surprise hit the league last week when the Boston Celtics announced they had waived Dooling and he would be retiring from the game. But why? Why would a passionate player who loved basketball and, more importantly, the Celtics organization and his teammates hang it all up when he had the opportunity to play on a squad he believes will win it all this season?

Sometimes the biggest factors in an athletes life have nothing to do with the sport he or she plays. In this case, Dooling's decision to leave the NBA didn't have much to do with basketball at all.

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Laughter bounced off the beige walls of the Dooling household as his loved ones filled the rooms with warmth and happiness. On this particular late September evening, Dooling, his wife Natosha, daughters Deneal (11), Gabrielle (9), Jordan (5), son Keyon Jr. (2), cousin Kevin (17), brother Cedric Johnson, and god brother Harry Turner had gathered together. These were the people who, over the last 12 years, Dooling had left every few days for a road series. These were the people who had shared his attention with the demanding NBA schedule.

"The average career is four-and-a-half years and I tripled that almost," Dooling told CSNNE.com as he settled into a brown leather chair at the marble high top table in his dining room, his usual three-piece suit traded for a tailored button down shirt and jeans. "The grind of the NBA just has taken its toll on me, on my body. More so than that, my family -- I've missed birthdays, school conferences, dropping my kids off, school plays, school dances. I've missed just being daddy so much. I have enough. I have all the resources I need, I'm a blessed man. I'm not limping away; I was able to walk away."

Dooling, the 10th overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, contemplated retirement five years before actually leaving the game. Then a member of the Orlando Magic, he underwent tests that revealed a degenerative hip. At the time he was only 27, too young to stop. Besides, no one wanted him to either.

"I really wanted to retire as soon as I found out," Dooling explained. "But I played ball for everybody else, for my family, and I still loved to play. I was still willing to go through that grind. I've taken medicine, I've gotten shots, I've done a lot of things to be able to go out on that court, but I couldn't let my family down. They love to see me play ball."

Dooling's career was never about himself. That's not the way he lives his life. The needs of others have always come first, whether it is a close family member, a teammate, or a distant friend of someone knows.

His willingness to help those around him made him one of the most accessible players in the NBA. From All-Stars like Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo to players including Trevor Ariza, Courtney Lee, and Jameer Nelson who met him early in their careers, Dooling, the First Vice President of the NBA Players Association, has spent personal time with countless athletes around the league, listening to their stories, offering advice, and providing a shoulder to lean on and a place to turn.

He also extended the same generosity and commitment to every community he played in (Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Jersey, and Orlando). Dooling felt his community outreach and desire to help always went unnoticed in the NBA, yet he continued to give back without the recognition other players receive for their charitable deeds.

Who was Dooling leaning on? For over 30 years, he took on everyone elses problems and internalized his own. The pillar of resiliency had cracks, too. He was just too strong to notice them as he focused on his career and the needs of others. But after re-signing with the Celtics in July and beginning preparations for another season, Dooling realized he didnt want to play any longer.

"I was talking about it with my wife and with my pastors and all the people that are in my life, and nobody wanted me to retire. Nobody wanted me to retire," he said. "It took literally a meltdown for everybody to see how serious I was about not playing ball anymore. For so long I've always denied myself and what I feel for others, in particular my family of origin and my wife and my children and my friends who I really trust.

"It just got to the point where it was like, they don't know how much pain I'm in. They don't know how lonely the road can be. They don't know the stuff that comes along with being an NBA player. They don't know how many people call my phone begging for money every day. They don't know how many people call me asking for advice. They don't know how many people rely on me to be happy when they're down. They don't understand the grind that mentally I have to go through to be this man I am every day.

"I just gave out too much and I wasn't getting enough back. Nobody ever really, with the exception of the Celtics organization, nobody ever truly appreciated me until this year."

Years of repressed emotions came rushing back during this realization. Moments Dooling had blocked out hit him like a tidal wave crashing ashore. Too much. It was just too much. He had a meltdown. Dooling was hospitalized this summer and received professional help.

"It just all came to a head," he said. "To be honest with you, I blocked a lot of things out of my life. I'm a man who's been abused, sexually, emotionally, mentally. I've been abused in my life, and there's so many guys around the NBA who have been abused and I know it because I've been their therapist. I didn't even have the courage because I blocked it out so much that I couldn't even share that."

Dooling says his strong mindedness allows him to block out pain, hurt, and anything else he doesnt want to feel. But at 32, he unearthed the memories he had buried deep inside and faced them head on. Dooling had been abused by both strangers and those he knew as a child. He refuses to harbor hate for those who have hurt him.

Instead, he wants to share his story as a way to help others in similar situations cope. Dooling once had a fear of being judged for his past. Now he believes there are many players in the league who could benefit from it to build a stronger future for themselves.

"I used to think I had fear and anxiety, but I had the wrong concept of that," he said. "It wasn't fear and anxiety. It was actually power if you would embrace it. (Voice drops) I just couldn't embrace it at that time. I just wish I had the courage to talk about my abuses, and I'm not putting anybody out there because that's neither here nor there. I was abused by some random people and some familiar people and it happened not frequently, but it happened. One time is too many. I just wish I had the courage because so many of our guys have been abused."

Dooling knew this was the right time to walk away from the game and contacted Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge and head coach Doc Rivers. He loved playing for the Cs and had turned down more money from other clubs to re-sign with them this summer.

"I had to come back for Rondo, Kevin, and Doc," he said.

The expressive Dooling had developed a close relationship with the two most enigmatic players on the Celtics. He sat next to Rajon Rondo in the locker room and shared many talks away from the court. Over the course of the season, he saw a side of the 26-year-old point guard few are familiar with.

"I see the leader that he is, that he's becoming," said Dooling. "I see the way he treats his teammates. Our guys spend so much time at the Rondo family home. His wonderful wife cooks meals for us and the ladies, they vibe, and were downstairs with the fellas playing cards, talking trash, watching sports. Rondo's wife found this place for us. Rondo and I met each other in Toronto to go see Drake along with Kevin Garnett.

"Rondo is my friend. I want my son to play ball like Rondo but shoot like me. That's my brother. It pisses me off to see the way the media treats him because hes strong. They're scared of strength and he's honest. It's okay to be strong. What's wrong with that man being strong? He's earned his right. He's come from nothing, he's come from nothing. He's the second-best player in the league. He didn't make the USA Team, sometimes hes a replacement for the All-Star Game. He's the epitome of an unselfish player. He rebounds the basketball, he affects the game in five statistical categories. He shoots a higher percentage than all the point guards and they always talk about how he can't shoot."

Dooling continued, "Not only do I think he's the second-best player in the NBA behind Kevin Durant, but I think he is an amazing leader. I think he doesn't get a fair shake in the media and I wish they knew my friend the way I did."

Dooling got to know Garnett during the NBA lockout last summer. He, like most players, was not a fan of Garnett on the opposing team. A meal in the basement of a restaurant changed everything. By the time he was traded to the Celtics that winter, Dooling was reuniting with a new friend.

"I'm probably the only guy that can be a hundred percent transparent with Kevin and him respect it," said Dooling. "I love him. He's a brother to me. I hated him before I got here. During the lockout we went to Philippe's and we ate in the basement and we just talked and wow. I was like, 'I didn't realize how much alike we are.' Me and Kevin are just alike in so many ways.

"He's a true intellect and he knows everything. We just get along so well and I'm so honest with him and I give him a different perspective. He gave me the last little lesson that I needed about toughness and being firm and how to empower people. Kevin Garnett is a genius. He is literally a genius. He knows everything. He stays up all night researching everything. The commitment that he has to the game of basketball is ridiculous.

"He's probably the best player of this time, of this generation. If you look at the way all the bigs play, they don't mimic Tim Duncan. They mimic Kevin Garnett. If Kevin was coached by Doc (Rivers) a long time ago and if Kevin played with five other All Stars and all these great players in this great system, I'm sure he would have the same amount -- see our game is a little bit weird. The best players don't always win, and Kevin Garnett at the end of the day is probably the -- if you don't want to call him the best of this generation, you can definitely call him the most influential just because Kobe (Bryant) was like Mike (Michael Jordan). Derrick Rose and all these guys, it was other people who came before them like that. And when Kevin came into the league, he was different from Bob McAdoo, he was different from all those players who fit that mold.

"The Darius Miles and all these young kids who come up, the Anthony Davises, all these kids are more Kevin Garnett than anybody else. They mimic Kevin Garnett more than anybody else. Kevin Garnett has motivated more players to get better than any other player in our time because of the way he approaches the game and how he talks to them. But he's not doing it to belittle them, he's doing it to drive himself. Kevin is awesome. I love that guy to death. I feel that way about a lot of our guys but those two guys in particular, I wanted to be there for them."

Dooling will still be involved with the Celtics this season. He plans to keep his home in the Boston area and has been invited by Rivers to travel with the team to road games. Dooling would like to do community service in the cities the Celtics play in through his charity, the Gametyme Foundation.

He also intends to keep his position with the NBA Players Association through the All-Star Break in February. He cites his relationships with the players in the league and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter as reasons to stay on the board for the first half of the season.

"The guys don't want me to quit," said Dooling. "I've got to be there right now for Mr. Hunter and I'll probably step away after All-Star Break because Mr. Hunter is an amazing man. He's an amazing man and he's a stand-up guy. It's a shame what happened between him and (NBPA President) Derek (Fisher) because both of them have been my role models. It's a shame because I know how much they used to love each other."

He continued, "I just really want some unity. I want them to embrace Mr. Hunter for what he has done, really what he has done for our players, and how he has protected us. Any player who wants to take advantage of the Union, I challenge them to go and tap into all the resources. You have free audits, you've got supplemental health care, you've got 401Ks. More people have made more money under Mr. Hunter than any other time. If we would have stayed together, we probably could have fought a little harder. But it's okay. I think the NBA and the owners were more together than us, and that's why we lost to a worthy opponent. I don't want to say lost because everybody wins, but I just don't like where our union is with Derek and Billy in the middle of that because they're both amazing guys."

Once his tenure comes to an end, Dooling would like to see new faces step up and join. He mentioned Garnett, Rondo, and Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes by name as players he feels are qualified to serve on the executive board, with Garnett as president and Rondo as first vice president.

"I think we need men of integrity, honesty, well thought out men, men who aren't controlled by their agents," he said. "There are some great guys out there."

As for the next step in his career, Dooling is considering his options as he enjoys the beginning of his retirement. One NBA organization alone offered him four job positions, including front office, player development, and scouting. He had to put them on hold for consideration. Dooling would ideally like to take on a role that allows him stay with his family, which is why he has no interest in coaching.

"I don't have any ambition to coach," he said. "I would have to be away from my family too much and that's the big reason I retired."

Dooling is also involved in several business ventures, including his role as a distributor for Ritter Dental, a dental company, and Livingston Lures, which manufacturers fishing lures. He and Natosha also run the sports lifestyle website Sportsality.

First and foremost, though, is his role as a family man. Dooling is enjoying taking his children to school and helping his wife around the house. After years juggling life away on the road, he is ready to be home.

"I have to be a better husband and I have to be a better father to my kids," he said. "I have to cut off all my friends out there and just be their friend, not their provider. Not only financially, emotionally. That's where I was drained."

The father of four encourages other players to focus on their families first, then basketball and charity. As he begins the next phase of his life with his family, he thinks back to how his parents, Brenda and the late Leroy Junior, raised him in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"My dad always told me I was the best in the world," said Dooling, batting back the tears from his eyes. "He always told me how great I was and how I could do everything. He always told me I was a president, he always told me I was the best basketball player, he just loved me for who I was. He would be proud of the man that I am, of the father that I am, the husband that I am. The basketball career he'd probably be like, 'They held you back,' because he always would say that. You can't see it, but I see it.

"Both of my parents were amazing. My siblings, my big brothers were amazing to me. I think God for my family of origin, and when I made it to the NBA it was a great moment because I was able to change their life to give them a better life. But now as I close my NBA chapter, its like a new chapter for me with my family, my wife, and my children and they're the primary focus. Now it's time for me and my family to grow together organically."

After 12 years and 721 games in the NBA, Dooling now has the opportunity to make that happen.

Pick or trade? Celtics find themselves in similar position to 2014 Cavs

Pick or trade? Celtics find themselves in similar position to 2014 Cavs

BOSTON – Even before the Boston Celtics landed the top overall pick in next month’s NBA draft, there has been talk about Boston potentially trading it away.

While Danny Ainge has made no secret about being open to all options involving the top overall pick, there are a couple of things to remember.

Moving the number one overall pick is not a decision that’s made lightly.

That’s why only twice since the ABA-NBA merge in 1976, has the number one overall pick not played for the team that selected him.

But in looking at the two instances when it did happen, 1993 with Chris Webber (drafted by Orlando, traded to Golden State) and 2014 with Andrew Wiggins (drafted by Cleveland, traded to Minnesota), the Wiggins deal best resembles the kind of situation that the Celtics now find themselves in with the top overall pick in hand.

In 2014, Cleveland wound up with the number one overall pick for the second straight year. In 2013, they shocked many in selecting UNLV’s Anthony Bennett which turned out to be a huge mistake.

But the following year, taking Andrew Wiggins out of Kansas with the top pick was more of a no-brainer.

The Cavs were soon faced with the kind of problem every team would love to have.

Just a couple weeks after the draft, LeBron James announced that he was taking his talents back to Cleveland.

The number one pick and James returning to Cleveland?

Does it get much better than that for a Cavs fan?

As it turned out … yeah. It got a hell of a lot better, actually.

While a James-Wiggins-Kyrie Irving Big Three will probably win you a lot of console championships, in the real world of NBA basketball it wasn’t going to work.

The Cavs knew this, which is why they made no secret about willing to part ways with the top pick (Wiggins) for the right player.

That player was Kevin Love, who had grown tired of all the struggles he endured with the Timberpups who never grew up enough to win enough games to get to the playoffs.  

Minnesota, understanding that they may be better off down the road without Love, decided to move him for a bunch of pieces centered around Wiggins who went on to become the league’s Rookie of the Year.

Cleveland’s motivation for making the deal had a lot to do with being in the best position to compete for a title right now, without having to do major work at the front-end of their rotation.

LeBron James. Kyrie Irving. Kevin Love.

Fill in the rest of the roster with good players who are great fits, and just like that ... you're a title contender. 

Boston finds itself in a similar position to the Cavs in 2014.

Unlike most franchises with the top overall pick, Boston doesn’t need that player to come in and carry the franchise from Day One.

Remember, Boston advanced to the Eastern Conference finals this season with one of the younger teams in the playoffs.

Of the players under contract for next season, Al Horford – he’ll be 31 years old on Saturday – is the oldest player.

So with all that youth still developing their games, still figuring out how best to impact the Celtics, Boston knows they would be much better served if they can convert that top overall pick into a proven, established All-Star that can move them that much closer to title contention sooner rather than later.

That’s why Cleveland was so eager to trade the pick, knowing it would likely return a proven star for a team that at the time felt they were one piece away from being a true title contender.

Boston, which lost to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals last week, is at least one high-impact performer (I believe two personally) from posing a stronger threat to the Cavs’ dominance than we saw in a conference finals that Cleveland ended in five games.

There are a few big names that the Celtics have shown interest in the past, and they could once again come into play this offseason.

Indiana’s Paul George is a player Boston has had its sights on for a while now. The only real concern the Celtics have with George is whether he’ll re-sign with them next summer when he becomes a free agent.

Rumors have circulated for a few months that the Palmdale, Calif. native is longing to be closer to home and play for the Los Angeles Lakers who have identified him as a primary free agent target when he becomes available.

Indiana might be motivated to move him sooner to ensure they’ll get something for him if he does, in fact, decide to move on.

But are the Celtics willing to risk giving up the number one overall pick (along with other key assets) for a player who may only be around for one season?

And while it is a long shot and on paper makes little sense, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis shouldn’t totally be discounted, either.

The Pelicans are a franchise right now that’s not going anywhere with their current allotment of talent, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

They gave up their first-round pick this year as part of the DeMarcus Cousins trade, so they’re not on the clock until the 40th selection, or 10th pick in the second round.

It would take a significant amount of assets to acquire Davis, but considering his age (he’s just 24 years old), talent, and versatility at both ends of the floor, he becomes an instant game-changer if the Celtics can get him.

Boston also likes Jimmy Butler of Chicago, although the Celtics aren’t likely to need to give up the number one pick to get him.

The Bulls have been hesitant to move Butler for many reasons.

For one thing, he’s a hell of player.

In addition, his contract (he has three years left on a five-year, $92.3 million deal that began with the 2015-2016 season) is very team-friendly for a player regarded as being among the top-15, top-20 in the NBA.

With the salary cap steadily rising, Chicago would likely have to pay significantly more than that if they traded for say, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, who each hit free agency in the summer of 2018.

No matter what direction the Celtics decide to go with the number one overall pick, there will be some risk involved.

But with that risk comes the tremendous potential to be rewarded with a great player who could be just what this franchise needs in order to bring home Banner 18. 

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.