Hours after the NBA suspended Larry Sanders for five games after he failed multiple drug tests, the Bucks center told reporters that he believes in marijuana's medicinal capabilities.
The Journal-Sentinel reports that Sanders addressed the drug in detail prior to Milwaukee's road game against Chicago.
"It's something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me," Sanders said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel and nba.com. "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.
"The stigma is that it's illegal. 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."
Earlier Friday, Sanders issued an apology for his suspension -- which occurred after he failed three separate tests -- through the Bucks' public relations department.
"I apologize to the entire Bucks organization and our fans for being suspended five games for using marijuana in violation of the NBA Anti-Drug Program," the statement read. "I take full responsibility for my actions."
The Bucks took the additional step of issuing a statement expressing disappointment in Sanders, who signed a four-year, $44 million rookie extension last summer.
"Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans," the organization's statement read. "We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension."
Last year, Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins profiled Sanders, revealing that 25-year-old big man was often homeless as a youth, that he has anger management problems, and that his mother was the victim of domestic violence.
It goes without saying that Sanders' comments are unusual by NBA standards, given that marijuana remains illegal in most states and it is outlawed by the league's drug testing program. Putting aside the debate about marijuana's future legality, perhaps the most pertinent question is whether Milwaukee will discipline Sanders for these comments. While he is stating a personal opinion, taking responsibility for his actions and apologizing, Sanders' advocacy of a drug that is illegal -- officially speaking -- is unlikely to sit well with some portion of Milwaukee's fan base.
What do you do if you're the Bucks? Hope that the whole thing goes away? Encourage your player to stand up for what he believes in? Distance yourself from a message that many surely believe isn't appropriate for children? Give Sanders a gag order? Fine him?
Considering their 14-62 record and their small market status, the Bucks aren't exactly in a position to be alienating anyone, but this situation is complicated enough that there are no easy answers. For now, the Journal-Sentinel reports that the Bucks are simply refusing to comment.
Sanders' timing for any sort of headline-causing statements couldn't be worse, as his 2013-14 season has been a disaster from start to finish. So far this season, Sanders has complained publicly about his lack of playing time, missed six weeks after sustaining an injury in a bar fight, seen previous animal cruelty charges come to light, struggled on the court for the league's worst team, earned an ejection for a flagrant elbow to Thunder center Steven Adams, argued with former teammate Gary Neal in front of onlooking media members, and suffered a season-ending eye socket injury. He is averaging just 7.7 points and 7.2 rebounds in 23 appearances this season, and Milwaukee was 3-20 with him in the lineup.
After signing his new contract, which is set to make him Milwaukee's highest-paid player next season, Sanders acknowledged that he was being entrusted with a leadership role on a rebuilt Bucks team. He also said that he looked forward to “represent[ing] Milwaukee” for the duration of his new deal.
“Can’t believe I’ve been granted this opportunity to represent Milwaukee for the next five years and hopefully the rest of my career,” Sanders wrote on Instagram. “Words cannot explain my gratitude for the Bucks organization and the faith in me as a leader and a worker. I won’t let you down Mil-town.”
Back in early December, Sanders was named to The Point Forward’s Eastern Conference All-Letdown Team. Sanders will begin serving his five-game marijuana suspension once he's been medically cleared to play, which isn't expected to take place until after the conclusion of the 2013-14 regular season.