Ex-NBA player Keyon Dooling speaks out about his sexual abuse as a child

Keyon Dooling, 32, says he spent much of his life, and all of his 12-season NBA career, in denial. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The acting out started early, the horrific memories torturing the subconscious.

Those lazy afternoons along the New River were supposed to be a youthful escape from the inner-city life in Fort Lauderdale.

They weren't. And only now, after opening up about a tormented childhood that included sexual abuse starting at age 5, does Keyon Dooling appreciate why.

"When we'd go fishing," the former Cardinal Gibbons, Dillard High and Miami Heat basketball standout says from his Boston-area home, "I would try to hurt the fish, tear their heads off.

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"Right in the New River, where would go fishing and crabbing, I'd catch the fish and go to work on them. I never could understand where all that anger and all that pain came from."

He understands now, at 32, after spending much of his life, and all of his 12-season NBA career, in denial.

"You block things out," he says of why he now is addressing his demons, telling his story. "When you block things out at such a young age, you really block it out. I'm learning the science of it now. I'm understanding the different chemical imbalances you have when you have something so traumatic happen to you."

The trauma was profound, incomprehensible, horrendous.

"A gentlemen touched me," he says of the encounter.

He was 5, but trying to act older, as he says so many others at that time in his Sistrunk Boulevard neighborhood were.

There was an invitation to watch pornography from a teenage friend of a relative. He wound up being coaxed into performing oral sex. That was the start.

"When it happened so young," he says, "you could think it was routine."

Eventually he began smoking, drinking, "becoming sexually active at a very young age."

Basketball became the escape. He played skillfully. And angrily, never quite sure why, assuming everything he had gone through was a similar to the torment of others in what he says was termed the City Zone of Fort Lauderdale.

"The area basically from railroad track to railroad," he says, "between Broward and Sunrise, in the heart of Sistrunk Boulevard."

Only when he received a scholarship to Cardinal Gibbons High School, beyond those railroad tracks, did he realize there was another life out there, one that would lead to a scholarship to the University of Missouri, selection in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic, an estate home in Davie, and later a season with the Miami Heat in 2004-05, where Pat Riley became a mentor when it came to the responsibilities of being a man.

So he put his past aside. Never a word about the incidents to childhood sweetheart and now wife Natosha. Not a word to their four kids. The past, after all, was the past. And now he was living the NBA life.

And then he paused. Took stock. Realized that when his contract expired at the end of last season with the Boston Celtics, the very team that extended the Heat to a seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference finals, that the passion for the game was not there.

And some of the passion for life, the passion that had made him a locker-room favorite of so many NBA teammates, including the Heat's Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, well some of that was gone, too.

So he retired, stepping away from the $1 million contract he already had signed for the Celtics for this current season. For the first time in 13 years, he had time to reflect.