Keyon Dooling Is Piecing His Life Back Together After Suffering A Nervous Breakdown

  • Dan Fogarty

In August, Keyon Dooling abruptly retired after 12 NBA seasons. At the time, his decision to stop playing ball was baffling: the Celtics had just re-signed him in July, and his family was preparing to move back up to Boston. Now, however, we have some more background info on what led to Dooling’s decision, and it’s both startling and uplifting.

Dooling suffered a nervous breakdown over the summer, a result of repressed childhood memories of sexual abuse. In an interview with Katie Couric last week, Dooling revealed he was shown pornography and forced to perform oral sex by a friend of his brother when he was 5. His father also showed him porn when he was 7 as a way to teach him about sex. Dooling was also abused by “young ladies, older ladies in our neighborhood.” In short: a very fucked up childhood.

Miraculously, Dooling grew up to be a standout ballplayer and a standup guy. As David Aldridge notes, he was always considered a good locker room presence, and his ability to move among various circles (and play diplomat) paved the way for a climb to a vice presidential role in the player’s union.

Soon, though, those early memories of the abuse he suffered — which Dooling had effectively blocked out — began to bubble up in scary ways.

As Dooling was deciding whether or not to return this season — he had an open invite, basically, from the Celtics — his behavior began to deteriorate. The week before the family moved back up north to Boston to get ready for the season, Natosha began noticing her husband acting erratically. He began having hallucinations.

“I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t good,” she said. “Just weird stuff that he would say, or do. I was just like, ‘Hmm, what’s going on? Is he OK?’ I even called his momma at one point, but she really couldn’t give me any answers. I knew something was wrong. Actually, I just stayed on my knees. I was just praying. That’s all I know to do, just go before the Lord.”

The erratic behavior continued. While settling in his new neighborhood, Dooling was roughhousing with some of his neighbors’ kids. Someone thought he was being too rough, and called police. Soon, 10-20 officers were at Dooling’s front door. Then ordering him on the ground. Then inside his house. Then separating him from his wife and kids.

And just like that, Keyon Dooling was committed.

Dooling was taken away and hospitalized for evaluation. He didn’t remember voluntarily signing into the hospital. The details are hazy, in part, because he was immediately put on medication. One of the primary symptoms of PTSD is paranoia, and Dooling was surely paranoid. He didn’t want to see anybody — or anybody to see him.

Heavily medicated, but realizing he had to fight his way out of the asylum and back to his wife and kids, Dooling started to unfurl the package of trauma that had led to his emotional deterioration. Aldridge does a fantastic job of tracking his recovery, and needless to say, it’s an amazing read; you should go check it out now.

After a visit from Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge – and lots and lots of introspection — Dooling’s on the upswing. He’s had a special position created for him by the Celtics, wherein he counsels players, does some community service, and gets some TV work in Boston. Considering where he was just a few weeks ago (an asylum) and what he’s dealing with (navigating the unimaginably distressing terrain of repressed memories of abuse) where Keyon Dooling is right now is remarkable.