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NBA star James Donaldson stands tall and bares all in run for Seattle mayor | NBA

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The tallest mayoral candidate in Seattle historical past, 7ft 2in James Donaldson, backs a beat-up Saturn SUV into an angled parking spot within the cacophonous neighborhood of Georgetown, the place modest houses and a row of eating places share house with a large airstrip, a number of units of railroad tracks and a freeway entrance ramp. Planes, trains and cars – the city symphony.

“Georgetown is the noisiest neighborhood,” says the 63-year-old Donaldson after sitting down at an out of doors desk at All Metropolis Espresso, clad in sport sandals, khaki shorts and a grey Washington State College sweatshirt.

Donaldson, a army brat who was born in England, performed basketball at WSU, and began his 14-year NBA profession in 1980 on the opposite facet of the state with the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics. (After a doubtful hijacking by a shifty crew of Mud Bowl oilmen, they’re now referred to as the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder.) For Donaldson, who holds the NBA document for many video games performed (957) with out ever making an attempt a three-point shot, squeezing right into a normal-sized human’s chair is sort of a normal-sized human squeezing right into a kindergartener’s chair. His demeanor is cerebral and soothing; if he may receives a commission to learn individuals to sleep, Donaldson would make prime greenback. As for the Saturn, he needed to have the seat moved again, which is par for the course for any car he’s ever pushed.

That is Donaldson’s second run for mayor of Seattle, a metropolis which appears to lurch additional leftward with each passing yr. The primary time he ran, in 2009, he completed a disappointing fourth and did not emerge from the first election. However nonetheless, life was good. He was a well-respected businessman, with six bodily remedy clinics and a facet enterprise that noticed him touring to China, the place he met his spouse and her son. He owned a house in a pleasant neighborhood and served on the board of administrators for the Nationwide Basketball Retired Gamers Affiliation.

James Donaldson
James Donaldson has gone from athlete to politician. {Photograph}: James Donaldson

“I had lived a really charmed life,” he says. “I had no issues, no points.”


However then, sooner or later in 2015, “the entire desk went the wrong way up”.

That was when Donaldson – a vegetarian and non-drinker who was, to that time, the portrait of well being – suffered an aortic dissection, a coronary heart drawback that’s frequent amongst tall individuals. Donaldson underwent open-heart surgical procedure, the primary of 4 main coronary heart procedures over the subsequent few years. Unable to handle his companies, he trusted others to do it for him – and so they failed. His mom died and his spouse left him, taking her son along with her. Donaldson declared chapter and had his home foreclosed upon. He now lives in a one-bedroom house.

“I’d misplaced my goal: I used to be now not a enterprise proprietor, I used to be now not a husband, I now not had a wholesome nest egg ready for me in retirement,” says Donaldson, who grew so depressed that he contemplated suicide, going so far as to plan the tactic.

“I had every part all labored out. It was only a matter of when,” he recollects. “I began getting these impulsive voices and I’ve by no means actually been an impulsive form of man. I’d at all times been very considerate and methodical. That was the scariest half, when these impulsive voices instructed me to go forward and do it.”

Relatively than take his personal life, Donaldson referred to as his physician, who acquired him to see a psychotherapist. Donaldson additionally leaned closely on longtime associates like Tim Johnson, a business realtor who helped him open one in all his bodily remedy areas, and Chuck Wright, a mental-health skilled who would repeatedly present counseling at one in all Donaldson’s different clinics.

“I visited him within the hospital fairly just a few occasions and watched him struggle that, however it appeared to me that that basically took a toll on his feelings and his psychological well being,” recollects Johnson. “I watched him simply appear tortured by that melancholy. I’ve had just a few associates through the years battle with that and a pair who’ve dedicated suicide, and thought to myself, if I may ever be concerned with a buddy who was fighting that, there was nothing I wouldn’t do to assist. Then I watched him lose his spouse, lose his enterprise, lose every part, actually. So, I’d name him perhaps at a time I usually wouldn’t name him simply to see how he was doing. Fairly just a few of these occasions, he’d say, ‘Not doing good.’ He’s sincere; he says it the way in which it’s.”

Provides Wright, who usually counsels first responders, “James knew I handled individuals who had been suicidal. He reached out to a few to 4 of us and used us as his useful resource. I credit score him with reaching out; we are able to’t assist individuals who don’t attain out. Cops, after they need assistance, they name for backup. We had been James’ backup. He’d name me and I’d name him at perhaps 2 or 3 o’clock within the morning. It’s darkish and the curtains are figuratively and realistically closed and the one particular person you’re speaking to is your self, and also you’re not giving your self good recommendation.”

Donaldson is a lifelong Democrat who, by his personal admission, doesn’t “essentially toe the get together line”. To wit, in contrast to a lot of his mayoral rivals in a crowded subject, he’s stridently pro-police, feeling that they need to be absolutely funded and given quarterly breaks from their beats to endure enhanced coaching and mental-health counseling. And his marketing campaign guide, Alex Hays, is a Republican, which betrays a method to draw reasonable and center-right voters who really feel that Metropolis Corridor is wildly out of step with on a regular basis individuals on points like homelessness, transportation and public security.

However whereas he respects Hays, longtime Seattle author and historian Knute ‘Skip’ Berger thinks the guide might be a possible legal responsibility for Donaldson.

“I believe it may harm him –and that’s no rap on Alex,” Berger says. “Alex is a brilliant man, so I can see why that might be interesting. Nevertheless it’s a political destructive in Seattle for anybody who’s consorted with Republicans.”

Donaldson hasn’t attended a remedy session for 2 years, however he nonetheless talks to Wright and different associates within the psychological well being subject repeatedly. Whereas he believes formal counseling helped him flip issues round, Donaldson, who’s Black, laments that the therapists he acquired linked with had been youthful white people who “had completely nothing in frequent with me”.

Because of this Donaldson, who runs a charitable basis, has made it his mission to encourage extra individuals of coloration to pursue careers in psychological well being, an endeavor – which would come with a university scholarship fund – that Wright agrees is much-needed.

“We’d like mental-health professionals of coloration who determine with individuals culturally and ideologically and historically,” Donaldson says.

Donaldson says there’s additionally a stigma surrounding psychological well being that’s lengthy inhibited communities of coloration – and males basically.

“Historically, culturally and traditionally, communities of coloration haven’t readily accepted that psychological well being is a matter. We’ve handed a lot of this over to God,” Donaldson, an lively churchgoer, observes. “African American tradition – we’re so locked into this ever-caring God image, that he’ll maintain us and we don’t want to succeed in out to different individuals. That’s OK to a sure level, however God additionally offers us the knowledge to make good selections for ourselves. I reached out to my physician. Not my pastor, not my preacher – my physician. My physician acquired me on monitor with treatment, which is one other factor we’re afraid of, and with counseling, which is one other factor we’re afraid of.”

“I need individuals to see a taller-than-life African American man talking about these items, crying about these items,” provides Donaldson, his eyes welling up with tears. “Basically, it’s robust for guys to open up. All of us develop up with the mindset of little boys don’t cry, suck it up, stop whining, stop crying, stop complaining. Aggressive athletes are even a degree above all that since you don’t dare present anyone that you’ve a weak spot or some vulnerabilities. And that carries over into our actual life after sports activities.”

In actual life, Donaldson says, “I really feel like I’m higher than ever earlier than in so many regards although I’ve fewer materials issues. After I ran [for mayor] in 2009, I used to be a profitable enterprise man, former Sonic, good man, group man – and that was about it. I don’t suppose individuals may actually relate to me. I by no means actually understood what mental-health points had been about till I went by it. Now, I really feel like I’ve the flexibility to place myself in everyone’s footwear and conditions and be capable of relate to that. And in the event that they know my story, they’ll sense that.”

  • Within the US, the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Within the UK, the Samaritans may be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the disaster help service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.

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