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Where Is My Mind?

Feb 21 2020
Photo by
Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune
Photo by
Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune
Ben Gordon
Retired NBA
Feb 21 2020

Content Warning: This essay contains strong language about suicide and suicidal thoughts.

There was a point in time when I thought about killing myself every single day for about six weeks.

I would be up on the roof of my apartment building at four o’ clock in the morning, just pacing to the edge of the ledge, looking over — pacing back and forth, back and forth — just thinking, I’m really about to do it, B. I’m about to escape from all this shit.

This was right after my last year in the league, and I was living in a brownstone up in Harlem. I had lost my career, my identity, and my family all pretty much simultaneously. I was manic-depressive. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. And when I say I wasn’t sleeping, it was like a whole different level of insomnia. Every night, I’d wake up at the same time, like clockwork. And that’s when the demons would come out. When you’re up all night and it’s quiet and it’s just you alone with your deepest thoughts — that’s when the darkness really starts to take over your whole psyche. 

That’s when the paranoia and the anxiety is on you. 

They on you, bro.

I started having panic attacks that were so intense they had a weight to them. You know what it felt like? It literally felt like this black cloak got thrown on top of me, and it was suffocating me. But not just physically. It was suffocating my soul. All I could do to relieve the pressure was to sit on the floor and scream at the top of my lungs. 

I’m talking, like, AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!

At the top of my lungs. Like an animal. 

It literally felt like this black cloak got thrown on top of me, and it was suffocating me. But not just physically. It was suffocating my soul.

By that point, I didn’t feel alive anymore. It felt like I was living in the underworld, for real. I remember one night I was out mad late, chilling with my boy Felipe, and we were right by the Williamsburg Bridge, and I said, “Yo, no lie. I think I’m dead.” 

He was looking at me like, Here go BG on his Kanye rants again

I said, “No, for real. This can’t be my real life anymore. This got to be some type of purgatory shit. Like I’m a dead person, but I’m going through these motions still. Like I’m a dead man walking.” 

I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with me. I had never talked to a therapist in my life. The only explanation for the pain I was feeling was — Biblical. Like I had died somehow, and I was stuck somewhere between heaven and hell.

How do you solve that shit by talking to someone? Ain’t no way, right?

So the only thing left to do was to get out of purgatory. I was obsessed with killing myself. It’s all I researched, all I thought about. One night my panic attacks got so bad that all I could think about was escape. Man, I’m telling you….. you become  like an animal. It’s instinctive.

Escape, escape, escape, escape. 

I took one of those heavyweight jump ropes — the thick rubber ones — and I tied it around my neck. Got a chair. And I hung myself, for real.

Escape. That simple. 

I could actually feel the blood vessels in my head about to burst, and that’s when this thought hit me, out of the blue. I had never thought of it before. 

Yo, BG.… 

You’re really about to die. 

You don’t want to die. 

You don’t really want to kill yourself. 

You just want to kill this anxiety. 

You want to live, B. 

You want to LIVE, you dumb motherfucker.

You better save yourself. 

Hold on. Back up.

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

This started way back in the day. I remember being in Sunday school and the pastor explaining that God had created everything in the universe. 

The plants? God created them. 

The people? God created them. 

The universe? God created it. 

And I just remember this thought hitting me, like, Yo, if God created everything, then who created God? 

And that was when the loop started. I got stuck. My mind started racing with these deep thoughts, and it’s kind of like quicksand. You try to get out, but you just sink deeper and deeper. 

If God created everything, then who created God? 

All of a sudden, it’s like there’s no space, no time, no reality. You’re just kind of trapped in these unanswerable thoughts. That’s just my default mode. Even when I’m in my normal zone, I’m never really present. I’m noticing everything. If we’re in a room together, I can hear the buzzing of the fluorescent lights. I can see what people are doing with their hands, with their body language. It’s like my awareness sensitivity is cranked up to 100. 

Even when I’m in my normal zone, I’m never really present. I’m noticing everything.

But when I was a kid, I had an outlet. I just learned to channel all of that energy into basketball. 

In basketball, obsession isn’t a weakness. 

Basketball rewards obsession. 

It’s funny because my reputation as a player was totally different from what was going on inside. 

On the outside, I’d be totally blank. I wouldn’t say anything. You could talk shit to me, you could bump me, you could do anything to me, and I was a blank slate. 

But inside, I had a million and one thoughts going on. 

It was like a serial killer mentality. I was processing all your tendencies and your weaknesses, and I was thinking about slaughtering you. It was violent. It was over-the-top. But you have to understand, I was 6′ 1″. They were always trying to list me as 6′ 3″ my whole career, but dog, let me let you in on a secret: A motherfucker was 6′ 1″. I’m out there with Kobe and Tony Allen guarding me. You know how tricky you gotta be to get a shot off against those dudes at 6′ 1″? You gotta be so laser focused. So methodical, so calculated, so obsessed. 

The morning before a game, I used to sit in a quiet room, close my eyes and simulate the entire 48 minutes in my head. Every single moment. The tip-off, the TV timeouts, every little thing.

My mind would be racing, but I had a framework. I had something to channel all that creativity and energy into. Then I’d get on the court, and it’s the fourth quarter, and it’s close, and we’re in the huddle during a timeout and I’m just blank.

If you just looked at me, you might be like, “Is this dude dumb, or is he bored, or what?” 

But inside, my mind is on fire. I’m on a loop. I’m thinking about getting the ball in my hands and raising up, release, pure, smooth, boom — straight cash. Every time. Every shot. 

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

Murdering you. 

Gentle Ben. Quiet Ben. 

Murdering you. 

So I’m saying, when you live with that mentality for 30-plus years of your life, and then all of a sudden you’re at the end of your career, and you’re not getting any minutes, and you got all this anger and pain and fear and regret that you’ve been internalizing and compartmenalizing your whole fucking life? 

What do you think is gonna happen? 

“A therapist? The fuck I’m gonn–?”

You know what I mean? Typical black male. My problems are my problems. They’re nobody else’s business. I got this shit. 

My whole career, I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But now that I don’t have basketball anymore, the wolf is coming out. Now I don’t care about cutting my hair anymore. Now I don’t care about shaving. Now I don’t care about anything except the thoughts inside my head. 

Part of the problem was that I didn’t even know that what I was experiencing had a name. I didn’t know I was having episodes. Something would trigger me — usually I’d be reading about religion or spirituality of conspiracy theories — and then I’d get stuck. I would have this kind of childlike curiosity about the unexplainable. The metaphysical. The spiritual. The mystical. And then I’d be on a loop. 

No time. No space. Just a million and one thoughts. 

So now I’m coming at everybody on my Kanye West shit. I’m hitting my boys with these long stream-of-consciousness rants because that’s my therapy. I’m on a loop, and I don’t know no therapists, so my boys are my therapists, right?

Then the loops turned into insomnia. 

The insomnia turned into paranoia. 

The paranoia turned into delusions of grandeur. 

Now I’m getting banned from hotels for demanding to be on the top floor. God-complex shit. 

Now the delusions are turning into full-on panic attacks. 

For example, I’d be walking by the thermostat in my house. I had one of those little Nest joints where it flashes the number as you walk by. 

72 degrees.

72.

72.

72.

I can’t unsee it.

72.

Now I’m in the prison of my thoughts.

72.

BG, you gonna die at age 72. 

I couldn’t unsee it. Days would go by.

72.

72.

72.

Now I’m bipolar. I’m not sleeping, but I got spikes of energy. I’m in my bag. I’m spontaneous. I’m doing whatever I want. It’s turnup time. 

So now I’m not sleeping and my mind is racing and my body and my brain starts breaking down. I’m hallucinating. I’m seeing shit that isn’t there. I’m hearing voices. I’m feeling like maybe God is talking to me, trying to tell me something. 

That’s when I start pulling fire alarms and shit. 

That’s when I start getting arrested.

Sam Maller/The Players' TribuneIt got so bad that they had me committed to a mental hospital, and the problem was that I didn’t even understand why it was happening. It was like in the movies. I’m in some white room, and I got doctors and nurses strapping me down on a bed. They got the scrubs on and the gloves on, and they’re sticking needles in my arms, and cutting my pants off at the waist. 

It was terrifying. 

I just remember begging them not to hurt me, and really believing that this was all happening for no reason. Really believing that this was all some misunderstanding, and they had the wrong person. 

Something about that experience kind of broke me. 

Now I’m looking in the mirror and it’s like, Damn, why don’t these people recognize me? Who is this dude in the mirror? 

Where is Gentle Ben? 

This guy with the wild hair, this guy who’s bugging out, this guy they’re strapping to the bed and injecting with needles? I mean, yo — the police don’t even recognize him. They don’t know who he is anymore. That’s not Ben Gordon. 

So I must be two different people, right?

Who was Gentle Ben? 

Who am I? 

And that’s when I started disassociating myself completely from Ben Gordon. I was convinced that I was a clone. That this body I’m in is not my real body. It can’t be. My spirit is trapped inside this clone body that’s bugging right now. 

I created a whole different name for this person. I had a different email address and phone number for him. I was emailing people telling them that I had a different name, like, “Yo — it’s really me. Don’t tell nobody!” 

I was compartmentalizing all my trauma and fear and pain like I was doing when I was in the NBA, but the difference is that now there’s no game. There’s no boundaries. There’s no goal. It’s like I took it so far that my body and my soul literally split off and doubled for real.

And I know some people reading this are probably laughing. They think it’s almost funny. 

It could never happen to you, right? 

You’re normal, right?

You see these people on the street who need help, who are clearly suffering, and you just walk right past them. It’s like they came out the womb that way, right? They’re not like you. You’re different. You’d never end up like that. 

Right? 

Nah.

Nah.

Mental illness touches everybody. Every community, every person. Either you or somebody you love is going to be touched by it at some point. It’s not like I woke up one morning and I was this quiet, humble NBA dude that nobody thought twice about, and the next morning I woke up and I was bugging the fuck out in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria on some God-complex shit. 

You see these people on the street who need help, who are clearly suffering, and you just walk right past them. It’s like they came out the womb that way, right?

It was a slow, gradual thing that just got out of control because I didn’t know how to get help. I always had the seed of this thing inside me, from the first time I got stuck on this loop of, Well, damn, who created God, then?

But I didn’t know what I was experiencing. I didn’t know that there was a name for it. I didn’t know that there were people who could actually help me. 

I just thought I was trapped in this purgatory forever. I was looking for any escape from it, and that’s how I ended up in such a dark place that I was thinking about killing myself every single day.

That’s how I ended up with a jump rope around my neck, really really about to die.

And it’s like I said — I don’t think I wanted to die. But I just couldn’t stand the pain anymore. 

The only thing that saved me was getting arrested, as weird as that sounds. I got arrested four times in five months. I was out of my mind. So the judge hit me with court-mandated therapy — 18 months. 

Therapy, motherfucker.

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

At first, I thought it was useless. What’s some older white lady gonna know about what I’m going through? How’s she going to tell me anything? She can’t tell me NOTHING! 

Well … she didn’t. 

She barely said a word as a matter of fact.

But I got to sit in my chair and just talk my shit. 

And you know what? It felt pretty good. I ended up doing an extra six months of therapy, all on my own. Not because I had to. But just because I thought, “You know what? I’m actually fucking with this!” 

It helped me work some things out. But more than anything, I think it helped me embrace the fact that — it’s like, Yo, B, you’re different. And that’s alright. You don’t have to be perfect. Those habits that got you to the league? They don’t translate to real life. 

The goal doesn’t have to be perfection. It can just be peace and acceptance with yourself. 

I know for athletes especially, that might sound like some bullshit. That might sound soft. We’re trained to think that way. It’s almost like we’re brainwashed. But the whole reason I’m telling you my story is because I know — I know — there’s players out there who need help. 

And to those players? I would just say, Don’t worry. 

Those habits that got you to the league? They don’t translate to real life.

No, man, for real. Don’t even worry. Go seek some help. Find a therapist and sit in a chair and just talk your shit, brother. 

Don’t worry about what anybody says. Don’t worry about how your boys react to it, or about what people got to say about it on social media. 

Bro….. I heard it all. 

“Did you hear about Ben Gordon? Dude done went crazy.”

Yeah, motherfucker. Maybe I did go crazy. 

But I’m not perpetually crazy. I had a moment. I got help for that moment. I got to know myself from that moment. And I’m still working through some things, no doubt. There’s still some trauma I dealt with that I’m not ready to tell to the world about yet. 

But for me, this is a start.

I hope it helps somebody out there. If you’re fucking with this story, don’t do what I did. Get some help. 

Because you’re not crazy, dog. 

You’re not damaged. 

You’re just human like the rest of us. 


The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 support for people in distress.

If you or anyone you know is ever in need, their number is 1-800-273-8255.

Ben Gordon
Retired NBA