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The Guardian

NBA star James Donaldson stands up and runs for Seattle mayor

After losing everything, the former Norfolk-born NBA All-Star nearly killed himself. Now he wants to lead the city where he was saved James Donaldson played 14 seasons in the NBA with the Sonics, Clippers, Mavericks, Knicks and Jazz, making the All-Star squad in 1988. Photograph: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images The tallest candidate mayor in Seattle history, 7-foot-2 James Donaldson, props up a battered Saturn SUV in a corner parking spot in the cacophonous Georgetown neighborhood, where modest homes and a row of restaurants share a space with a massive airstrip, several sets of railway tracks and a highway entrance ramp. Planes, trains and automobiles – the urban symphony. “Georgetown is the loudest neighborhood,” says Donaldson, 63, after sitting at an outdoor table at All City Coffee, wearing athletic sandals, khaki shorts and a sweatshirt gray from Washington State University. Donaldson, a military kid born in England, played basketball at the WSU and began his 14-year NBA career in 1980 across the state with the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics. (After a questionable hijacking by a sneaky crew of Dust Bowl oil men, they are now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder.) To Donaldson, who holds the NBA record for most games played (957) without ever attempting a three-point shot, squeezing into a normal-sized human’s chair, it’s like a full-sized human squeezing in a kindergarten chair. His behavior is cerebral and calming; if he could be paid to read people sleep, Donaldson would win the best prize. As for the Saturn, he had to roll the seat back, which is normal for all the vehicles he has driven. This is Donaldson’s second run for mayor of Seattle, a city that seems to be moving further and further to the left with each passing year. The first time he ran, in 2009, he finished a disappointing fourth and failed to get out of the primary elections. But still, life was good. He was a highly respected businessman, with six physiotherapy clinics and a side business that took him to China, where he met his wife and son. He owned a home in a nice neighborhood and served on the board of directors for the National Basketball Retired Players Association. James Donaldson has gone from athlete to politician. Photography: James Donaldson “I had lived a very charming life,” he says. “I had no problem, no problem.” But then, one day in 2015, “the whole table was overturned”. It was around this time that Donaldson – a vegetarian, non-drinker who was, at that time, the portrait of health – suffered an aortic dissection, a heart problem common in tall people. Donaldson underwent open heart surgery, the first of four major heart procedures in the next few years. Unable to run his affairs, he trusted others to do it for him – and they failed. His mother died and his wife left him, taking her son with her. Donaldson declared bankruptcy and had his house seized. He now lives in a one bedroom apartment. “I had lost my goal: I was no longer a business owner, I was no longer a husband, I no longer had a healthy nest egg waiting for me at retirement,” says Donaldson, who has become so depressed. that he considered committing suicide. go so far as to plan the method. “I had everything arranged. It was just a question of when, ”he recalls. “I started to have these impulsive voices and I was never really an impulsive type. I had always been very thoughtful and methodical. That was the scariest part, when those impulsive voices told me to go ahead and do it. Rather than kill himself, Donaldson called his doctor, who brought him to see a psychotherapist. Donaldson also relied heavily on longtime friends like Tim Johnson, a commercial real estate agent who helped him open one of his physiotherapy centers, and Chuck Wright, a mental health professional who regularly provided counseling at one of Donaldson’s other clinics. “I visited him in the hospital a few times and saw him struggle with it, but it seemed to me that it really took a toll on his emotions and his mental health,” Johnson recalls. “I saw him appear tortured by this depression. Over the years I have had a few friends who struggle with it and a couple who took their own life and thought that if I could ever get involved with a friend who struggled with it, he wouldn’t. there was nothing I wouldn’t do to help. Then I saw him lose his wife, lose his business, lose everything, really. So maybe I would call him at a time when I wouldn’t normally call him just to see how he was doing. A lot of those times he would say, “I’m not doing good.” He is honest; he says it as it is. Adds Wright, who often advises first responders, “James knew I was dealing with suicidal people. He contacted three or four of us and used us as a resource. I give him the credit for reaching out; we can’t help people who don’t contact us. Police officers, when they need help, call for reinforcements. We were James’ backup. He was calling me and I might call him at 2 or 3 in the morning. It’s dark and the curtains are figuratively and realistically closed and the only person you’re talking to is yourself, and you’re not giving yourself good advice. Donaldson is a longtime Democrat who by his own admission does not necessarily “follow the party line.” Namely, unlike many of his rivals for mayor in a crowded area, he is staunchly pro-police, believing that they should be fully funded and have quarterly breaks for improved training and mental health counseling. And his campaign consultant, Alex Hays, is a Republican, who betrays a strategy to attract moderate and center-right voters who feel City Hall is completely out of step with ordinary people on issues such as the homelessness, transportation and public safety. We need mental health professionals of color who identify with people culturally, ideologically and traditionally. But if he respects Hays, longtime Seattle writer and historian Knute “Skip” Berger believes the consultant could be a potential liability for Donaldson. “I think it might hurt him – and it’s not rap for Alex,” Berger said. “Alex is a smart guy so I can see why that would be appealing. But it’s a political problem in Seattle for anyone who consorts with Republicans. Donaldson hasn’t attended therapy for two years, but he still speaks regularly to Wright and other friends in the mental health field. Although he thinks the formal counseling helped make a difference, Donaldson, who is black, laments that the therapists he connected with were young white people who “had absolutely nothing in common. with me”. That’s why Donaldson, who runs a charitable foundation, made it his mission to encourage more people of color to pursue careers in mental health, a business – which would include a scholarship fund. collegial – which Wright recognizes is very necessary. “We need mental health professionals of color who identify with people culturally, ideologically and traditionally,” says Donaldson. Donaldson says there’s also a stigma surrounding mental health that has long inhibited communities of color – and men in general. “Traditionally, culturally and historically, communities of color have not readily accepted that mental health is an issue. We have given so much to God, ”observes Donaldson, an active practitioner. “African American culture – we are so locked into this ever caring symbol of God that it will take care of us and we don’t need to reach out to other people. It goes to a point, but God also gives us the wisdom to make good decisions for ourselves. I contacted my doctor. Not my pastor, not my preacher – my doctor. My doctor has put me on the right track with the drugs, which is another thing we fear, and with counseling, which is another thing we are afraid of. “I want people to see a larger than life African American man talking about these things, crying about these things,” Donaldson adds, his eyes filled with tears. “Usually it’s hard for guys to open up. We all grow up with the little boy mindset, don’t cry, don’t suck, stop whining, stop crying, stop complaining. Competitive athletes are even a level above it all because you dare not show anyone that you have weaknesses or vulnerabilities. And this reverberates in our real life after sports. In real life Donaldson says, “I feel like I am better than ever before in many ways, even though I have fewer material things. When i ran [for mayor] in 2009, I was a successful businessman, former Sonic, cool guy, community guy – and that was about it. I don’t think people can really relate to me. I never really understood what mental health issues were until I went through them. Now I feel like I have the capacity to put myself in everyone’s shoes and be able to relate to that. And if they know my story, they can feel it. In the United States, the national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the Lifeline Crisis Support Service is on 13 11 14.

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