Keyon Dooling always thought about his post-career during his playing days in the NBA.
After a successful career of 13 NBA seasons on seven teams, Dooling, 33, is calling it a career to be a life coach for the NBA and D-League.
The former Missouri star has known for a while that the clock was ticking for a return this season.
“Last year I came back toward the end of the season,” Dooling said. “And I don’t want to put my body through that again.”
Dooling, known to many in the basketball world as a calm and respected presence in the locker room, missed most of last season after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from being sexually abused as a child.
Growing up in a tough part of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dooling was sexually abused multiple times by both sexes when he was still young. The former NBA lottery pick had never come to grips with it, and he suffered a mental breakdown last summer, which led him to be diagnosed with PTSD.
“I thought I had lost it,” Dooling said.
After going through various forms of therapy and rehab, Dooling returned to the court last April with the Memphis Grizzlies. He credits basketball for keeping his composure together through the years and for helping make life beyond the projects of South Florida a reality.
“I recognized at a very early age that basketball could be a way to get me out of this neighborhood,” Dooling said. “It kept me focused. It kept me out of trouble. It kept me on the right path. It was my therapy because we didn’t have therapy. Basketball was a safe haven from the realities of my life.”
Dooling’s experiences with sexual abuse led him to found the Respect 55 Foundation, which promotes awareness for sex abuse not just in children but also adults.
“There are a lot of people my age that still haven’t dealt with it,” Dooling said. “So the little boy or girl inside them is still being tormented. My goal with my organization is to promote a lot of prevention and awareness for everybody in that category.”
To raise awareness for his foundation, Dooling went on a seven-city tour, making one stop for each city he played for throughout his career. Partnering with teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, Dooling and his charity held a rally in each city in order to raise awareness for sexual abuse.
While Dooling said his charity is intended to prevent awareness for sexual abuse, he also wants it to shed light on things that came as side effects of being abused as a child.
“The things that I had to deal with that people don’t realize were things like anxiety, insecurity and a lot of internal things that get affected when it happens at such an early age,” Dooling said. “I’m so happy I went through therapy because I was able to get back on the right track.”
With Dooling now having more time on his hands, one of the things he’s looking to do is to reconnect with the Missouri basketball program. Dooling spent two seasons in black and gold — one under Norm Stewart and one under Quin Snyder. He hasn’t visited Columbia in about eight years. Dooling credits Stewart for being tougher on him and for teaching him “much-needed lessons.”
“Now I have this extra time and I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with the program,” Dooley said. “I hope they bring me back soon.”
The feeling seems to be mutual on both ends.
“Many former players come back throughout the year, and I know the staff loves to have them back to get to know the guys and reconnect with the program,” team spokesman Dave Reiter said
With the weight of basketball presently off his shoulders and his post-traumatic stress dealt with, every aspect of the NBA veteran’s life is going strong.
I’m at an all time best in my personal life,” Dooling said. “I was in a mental institution last year. To be where I’m at now is truly a blessing.”