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

The tallest mayoral candidate in Seattle 歴史, 7ft 2in James Donaldson, backs a beat-up Saturn SUV into an angled parking spot in the cacophonous neighborhood of Georgetown, where modest homes and a row of restaurants share space with a massive airstrip, multiple sets of railroad tracks and a freeway entrance ramp. Planes, trains and automobiles – the urban symphony.

“Georgetown is the noisiest neighborhood,” says the 63-year-old Donaldson after sitting down at an outdoor table at All City Coffee, clad in sport sandals, khaki shorts and a gray Washington State University sweatshirt.

Donaldson, a military brat who was born in England, played basketball at WSU, and started his 14-year NBA career in 1980 on the other side of the state with the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics. (After a dubious hijacking by a shifty crew of Dust Bowl oilmen, they are now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder.) For 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 is like a normal-sized human squeezing into a kindergartener’s chair. His demeanor is cerebral and soothing; if he could get paid to read people to sleep, Donaldson would make top dollar. As for the Saturn, he had to have the seat moved back, which is par for the course for any vehicle he’s ever driven.

This is Donaldson’s second run for mayor of Seattle, a city which seems to lurch further leftward with every passing year. The first time he ran, に 2009, he finished a disappointing fourth and failed to emerge from the primary election. それでも, life was good. He was a well-respected businessman, with six physical therapy clinics and a side venture that saw him traveling to China, where he met his wife and her son. He owned a home in a nice neighborhood and served on the board of directors for the National Basketball Retired Players Association.

“I had lived a very charmed life,」と彼は言います. “I had no problems, no issues.”

しかしその後, one day in 2015, “the whole table went upside down”.

That was when Donaldson – a vegetarian and non-drinker who was, to that point, the portrait of health – suffered an aortic dissection, a heart problem that is common among tall people. Donaldson underwent open-heart surgery, the first of four major heart procedures over the next few years. Unable to manage his businesses, 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 foreclosed upon. He now lives in a one-bedroom apartment.

“I’d lost my purpose: I was no longer a business owner, I was no longer a husband, I no longer had a healthy nest egg waiting for me in retirement,” says Donaldson, who grew so depressed that he contemplated suicide, going as far as to plan the method.

“I had everything all worked out. It was just a matter of when,” he recalls. “I started getting these impulsive voices and I’ve never really been an impulsive kind of guy. I’d 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 take his own life, Donaldson called his doctor, who got him to see a psychotherapist. Donaldson also leaned heavily on longtime friends like Tim Johnson, a commercial realtor who helped him open one of his physical therapy locations, and Chuck Wright, a mental-health professional who would regularly provide counseling at one of Donaldson’s other clinics.

“I visited him in the hospital quite a few times and watched him fight that, but it seemed to me that that really took a toll on his emotions and his mental health,” recalls Johnson. “I watched him just seem tortured by that depression. I’ve had a few friends over the years struggle with that and a couple who have committed suicide, and thought to myself, if I could ever be involved with a friend who was struggling with that, there was nothing I wouldn’t do to help. Then I watched him lose his wife, lose his business, lose everything, 本当に. そう, I would call him maybe at a time I normally wouldn’t call him just to see how he was doing. Quite a few of those times, he’d say, ‘Not doing good.’ He’s honest; he says it the way it is.”

Adds Wright, who often counsels first responders, “James knew I dealt with people who were suicidal. He reached out to three to four of us and used us as his resource. I credit him with reaching out; we can’t help people who don’t reach out. Police officers, when they need help, they call for backup. We were James’ backup. He’d call me and I’d call him at maybe 2 または 3 o’clock 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 lifelong Democrat who, ウェイン・ルーニーはダービーの残骸の中で償還を求めています, doesn’t “necessarily toe the party line”. To wit, unlike many of his mayoral rivals in a crowded field, he is stridently pro-police, feeling that they should be fully funded and given quarterly breaks from their beats to undergo enhanced training and mental-health counseling. And his campaign consultant, Alex Hays, is a Republican, which betrays a strategy to attract moderate and center-right voters who feel that City Hall is wildly out of step with everyday people on issues like homelessness, transportation and public safety.

But while he respects Hays, longtime Seattle writer and historian Knute ‘Skip’ Berger thinks the consultant could be a potential liability for Donaldson.

“I think it could hurt him –and that’s no rap on Alex,” Berger says. “Alex is a smart guy, so I can see why that would be appealing. But it’s a political negative in Seattle for anyone who’s consorted with Republicans.”

Donaldson hasn’t attended a therapy session for two years, but he still talks to Wright and other friends in the mental health field regularly. While he believes formal counseling helped him turn things around, Donaldson, who’s Black, laments that the therapists he got connected with were younger white individuals who “had absolutely nothing in common with me”.

This is why Donaldson, who runs a charitable foundation, has made it his mission to encourage more people of color to pursue careers in mental health, an endeavor – which would include a college scholarship fund – that Wright agrees is much-needed.

“We need mental-health professionals of color who identify with people culturally and ideologically and traditionally,” Donaldson says.

Donaldson says there’s also a stigma surrounding mental health that’s 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’ve handed so much of this over to God,” Donaldson, an active churchgoer, observes. “African American culture – we’re so locked into this ever-caring God symbol, that he’ll take care of us and we don’t need to reach out to other people. That’s OK to a certain point, but God also gives us the wisdom to make good decisions for ourselves. I reached out to my doctor. Not my pastor, not my preacher – my doctor. My doctor got me on track with medication, which is another thing we’re fearful of, and with counseling, which is another thing we’re fearful of.”

“I want people to see a taller-than-life African American man speaking about these things, crying about these things,” adds Donaldson, his eyes welling up with tears. “In general, it’s tough for guys to open up. We all grow up with the mindset of little boys don’t cry, suck it up, quit whining, quit crying, quit complaining. Competitive athletes are even a level above all that because you don’t dare show anybody that you have a weakness or some vulnerabilities. And that carries over into our real life after sports.”

In real life, Donaldson says, “I feel like I’m better than ever before in so many regards even though I have fewer material things. When I ran [for mayor] に 2009, I was a successful business guy, former Sonic, nice guy, community guy – and that was about it. I don’t think people could really relate to me. I never really understood what mental-health issues were about until I went through it. 今, I feel like I have the ability to put myself in everybody’s shoes and situations and be able to relate to that. And if they know my story, they can sense that.”

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