The Milwaukee Bucks' big man was slapped with a five-game suspension Friday for violating the NBA's Anti-Drug Program. While Sanders isn't expected to serve it until next season, he was ruled out for the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign after undergoing surgery to repair a fracture of his right orbital bone in February.
For now, though, Sanders seems keen to advocate for the activity (i.e., using marijuana) that caused him to fail three separate drug tests over the course of his career and subsequently triggered the penalty from the league office.
It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me. I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it.
I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.
Sanders has done plenty to impair his own impact on Milwaukee's on-court success over the course of the season. He complained about his playing time (or lack thereof) under new head coach Larry Drew, missed a month-and-a-half after breaking a bone in his hand during a drunken bar brawl, was cited for animal cruelty and got into an all-too-public tiff with now-former teammate Gary Neal.
In the 23 games he did manage to play in, Sanders averaged 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 25.4 minutes.
If you're the Bucks, this isn't what you want to see from a guy to whom you committed $44 million over four years this past summer, to say the least. Nor is the team likely enthused in any respect by the stand Sanders is taking.
"Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans," the Bucks said in their official statement on the matter, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner. "We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension."
Sanders, though, isn't worried about this latest setback hindering his ability to live up to his rich extension, which kicks in next season. "Yeah I could [overcome that]," he added. "The recipe doesn’t change. It’s just more motivation to work harder. It’s something negative to deal with. But the recipe doesn’t change for me. I’m just as excited for the summer."
And why wouldn't he be? The team to which Sanders will return figures to be replete with promising, young talent. The Bucks, by virtue of their 14-62 record, will probably finish with the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick in what's expected to be a loaded 2014 NBA draft.
Whichever top prospect Milwaukee adds will be joining the likes of Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson and rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo on a squad that, with better health and improvement from its core group, could be back in the playoff hunt in short order.
In the meantime, Sanders won't likely shy away from sharing his opinions on marijuana use, which is still illegal at the federal level but has been legalized for medical use in 21 states and for recreational use in Colorado and Washington.
"The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that," Sanders said. "Once this becomes legal, this all will go away."
That is, assuming the NBA and the NBPA follow suit if/when marijuana is more widely legalized. Such a course of action is anything but guaranteed.
The league and the players union have spoken of tightening restrictions on drug use, though the union's lack of an executive director for the time being will make it difficult (if not impossible) for the two sides to make any substantive changes on that front.
For Sanders, the hope is that all sides will come to understand the health benefits of marijuana and how they might be amplified if its use is subjected to the administration of medical experts. Sanders continued:
The great thing about that idea is that, then you could get prescribed for it and see a doctor and they could tell you. You don’t have to self-medicate, you don’t have to over-medicate ourselves. Y’know, because we don’t know now. We can’t diagnose ourselves.
Once it becomes legal…you sit down with a doctor and [he says], 'You may need this three times a day. This dosage here.' And you don’t over-medicate. It [addresses] those needs medically that you need. It’s natural.
However natural smoking marijuana may be to Sanders, it doesn't help at all to clean up his heavily tarnished reputation. For Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney, Sanders' off-court problems stem from the same lack of maturity that led him to pick up six technical fouls, two flagrants and one ejection in the quarter of the season in which he was able to play:
That’s a problem, as it is when Sanders can’t be trusted to cut back on the smoking after two failed drug tests or do something as simple as not throw bottles at people. Milwaukee has $44 million riding on the idea that Sanders can be both a better basketball player and a more mature person than he’s been. There’s time yet, though the few months since Sanders’ new deal seem only to support the contrary.
Indeed, the Bucks can only hope that Sanders won't make them look foolish for rewarding him so handsomely.
Just as Sanders can only hope that the rules currently restricting marijuana use are lifted in time to nullify the suspension of his that'll hold him out of action in the fall.
Sanders can probably find sympathizers on Twitter.