Weeding through Larry Sanders’ mess

Written By BY RICK TELANDER rtelander@suntimes.com | @ricktelander Posted: 04/13/2014, 02:36am

Let’s think about what Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders said recently regarding the marijuana use that got him suspended for five games.

‘‘It’s a banned substance in my league, but I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it,’’ he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. ‘‘I study it, and I know the benefits it has.’’

Excuse me here if the hilarious image of Sanders in a white lab coat, bent over a microscope, comes to mind.

‘‘In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived,’’ he continued. ‘‘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.’’

Thank you, Dr. Sanders.

This may sound, at best, kind of stupid coming from an athletic, 6-11, long-armed man who signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension last summer to simply play basketball and stay out of trouble.

Staying out of trouble is tough for Sanders. From missing six weeks after injuring his thumb in a November bar fight at a Milwaukee club called Apartment 720 — why he wasn’t jailed for throwing beer bottles into the crowd is beyond me — to arguing with his teammates and coach, to getting cited twice on animal cruelty charges, to being lazy, he often seems so flighty and anger-ridden that his career is likely hanging by a thread.

Now, as the Bucks tank the rest of their miserable 15-64 season, Sanders has been voted the biggest dud in the Eastern Conference in an online poll.

But his problems are not without genesis. He still has visions of his violent childhood.

‘‘I remember flashes,’’ he told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. ‘‘Some of them won’t ever go away. Some of them are really vivid, really terrifying. There were occasions I’d be sleeping and I’d hear my dad come home late. He’d been drinking and gambling, and he’d use my mom as an outlet if he lost. I’d hear a chair crack against the wall or a loud scream. He was so big. She was only 5-5.’ ’’

For a while, Sanders was homeless, often sleeping with his mom in a battered-women’s shelter. He was kicked out of fourth, fifth and sixth grades because, as he puts it, ‘‘I had a problem with authority.’’

So, you know something? Maybe Sanders needs marijuana in some way. There are two states in our nation where the drug is legal recreationally. There are 20 states and the District of Columbia where it is legal medically.

‘‘The stigma is that it’s illegal,’’ Sanders said. ‘‘I hate that. Once this becomes legal, this all will go away. But I understand for my work, it’s a banned substance. I will deal with the consequences, and I apologize again to my fans for that.’’

Someday pot use will seem trivial, or at least no worse than martini-drinking. And Sanders is right about the benefits it can have and the difficulty of living in an era when rules can make anything arbitrarily against the law. So it goes. Yet Sanders has so much to lose.

He might want to play and ponder the truth in that old Bobby Fuller Four song: ‘‘I fought the law, and the law won.’’

I’d like to take a moment to salute my longtime friend Mike Morkin, who died on Wednesday.

Mork, as he was known to his teammates, was a tough, smart, cheerful defensive end for Northwestern back in the early 1970s. He had some health and addiction problems as time went on. He fixed the addiction part, but the rest he couldn’t.

This was a man who never complained about anything. Back then, about 10 of us upperclassman players lived off campus in an old house at the corner of Emerson and Asbury nicknamed ‘‘Sleepy Hollow,’’ after a subdivision sign someone had stolen and put in front of the place. The house was three stories tall, split into halves, and those of us on the top floor had coiled ropes near our beds, which we intended to use if the barn-like structure ever caught fire.

Mork had major shoulder surgery his junior year and came out of the hospital with a gigantic white plaster-of-Paris cast that pinned his arm to his chest and covered his entire upper torso. What I remember well is Mork periodically taking off that cast — with a little help from his friends — so he could dance and sing with the rest of us, his pale, withered arm frozen like a man caught striking his breast in penance, bellowing his original tune, ‘‘Turtle Shell Blues.’’

There are many former players who are deeply saddened to see Mork leave. There’s a service for him Monday at Kelley & Spalding Funeral Home in Highland Park, and a whole lot of us will be there.

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