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Larry Sanders Says NBA Players Forfeit Freedom Of Speech When They Join The League

02/25/2015 05:40 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2015

In a video interview with The Players’ Tribune, published Wednesday, former Milwaukee Buck Larry Sanders explains why he mysteriously decided, at 26 years old, to walk away from the NBA and the millions of dollars still owed to him.

"I love basketball, and if I get to a point where I feel I'm capable of playing basketball again, I will," Sanders says, "[but] I've had to make the difficult decision to follow my intuition and allow myself the space and time to explore my true purpose in life."

Sanders, who had essentially gone missing from the team in recent months, reveals in the video that during that time away he had checked into a hospital that specializes in anxiety, depression and mood disorders. The NBA life had taken a toll on him, and he felt he was giving up too much of what made him happy for money.

"It taught me a lot about myself,” he says. “It taught me about what's important and where I would want to devote my time and energy."

The revelation that Sanders was being treated for mental health-related issues puts many of the comments recently made by Bucks players in better context: "Everyone goes through tough times; everyone has some demons," Bucks forward Jared Dudley said of Sanders recently; "We just want to make sure he's healthy, first and foremost,” teammate O.J. Mayo said.

Sanders completed a buyout deal with the Bucks just last Saturday night. As a result, he reportedly gave up roughly half of the money owed to him from the $44 million deal he had originally signed with the team in 2013.

But, in the video, Sanders doesn’t look like a man who just lost, like, $20 million. He looks at ease, happy with his decision and excited for what will come next.

“We all are more than just one thing,” he says in the video. “In a lot of situations, it’s very admirable for a person to take that risk to follow their heart and go after their intuition and their passion. I think for me it just seemed like a crazier, higher risk because of my higher paying, [high] profile job.”

Sanders also describes his frustrations with the league in the video. According to Sanders, once you join the NBA and get your first paycheck, your relationships start to change -- “We become ATMs to some people,” he says -- and the league starts to dictate what you say and how you act.

“You have to be correct in your statements. You have to state things a certain way,” Sanders says. “You give up your freedom of speech. For real, you really can’t say how you feel.”

Sanders was known during his time in the NBA as an outspoken proponent of marijuana legalization.

“Cannabis came later on in my life,” he says now. “It was, for me, used medically for some of the symptoms that I was having due to a lot of stress and pressure I was under given my work.”

Near the end of the video, Sanders leaves open the possibility that he will one day decide to come back to the NBA. But for now, he really wishes he could have left the Bucks on better terms. "I want them to know it was never about them,” he says.

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