O.J. Mayo is the lottery pick who took the hard road. It’s not the NBA’s fault they banned Mayo; he owns 100% of his fall from grace, particularly since there were resources Mayo ignored. He preferred to go it alone. That decision put his career in jeopardy. When he was banned from the NBA, O.J. Mayo was forced to leave what he loved. He was separated from his obsession. But here’s the thing about love. You have to nurture it and take care of it and make sure all the details are taken care of, that you are doing the right thing.
The year O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA was the same year he broke his ankle and put on weight and the memes were ruthless calling him Mayonaisse. He was far removed from the arrogant West Virginia phenom and the USC shining light who played 82 games for the Memphis Grizzlies in his rookie year, averaging 18.5 ppg.
In 2016, the year of the ban, Mayo was a veteran who had been suspended for 10 games five years earlier, busted for taking DHEA, and so he should have known better. A positive test violated the anti-drug policy and Mayo’s removal was both swift and mundane.
A lottery pick drafted 3rd by Minnesota and then traded to Memphis for Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo was not as dynamic in the NBA as he was in high school and college. His athleticism was on display and he had skill that made you think his rookie year was just the beginning. But his rookie year was his best scoring year and perhaps that says something about Mayo the basketball player. Or maybe not the basketball player but the person.
Mayo loved his NBA life and his entourage and his fame and his clubbing lifestyle more than he loved to hoop. In other words, he was a NBA player who thought he was still in college. He didn’t have boundaries. He didn’t say no. He nurtured his anxieties with marijuana and prescription meds. For the record, his ban isn’t what people think. He says it is not cocaine that got him bounced out but a prescription med. That Mayo felt he had to clarify that particular detail with Sports Illustrated is testimony to how far Mayo veered from his life. The drug of choice doesn’t matter. That he took drugs when he knew about the policy and with a previous suspension in his past, that was the problem. Entitlement.
Caring about the wrong things and making the wrong decisions led Mayo to what he called “rock bottom.” Traumatized by a difficult childhood, a drug dealer father, friends in jail and/or killed, O.J. Mayo expected to be everyone’s savior. But he couldn’t save himself.
“Taking the game away is probably the closest thing to jail that I’ll get to. Since I was like 6 or 7, I’ve always had a basketball season. That was the lowest point in my entire life. All my peers are playing and I’m not because of boneheaded mistakes.”
For the most part, O.J. Mayo the NBA-er was a mid-teens scorer, the third option on a team. Comparatively in his career, he was closer to Andrew Wiggins than Klay Thompson. So much was expected from Mayo who translated his college success into a lottery pick. But Russell Westbrook was drafted after O.J. Mayo. That seems ridiculous now.
What Mayo did wrong that has kept him in exile was to think he wouldn’t get busted. It had been a long time since someone of his talent level got trapped in the drug net, not since Roy Tarpley in the ‘80’s had to flee to Europe because he had burned his NBA bridges had such a talent been outlawed.
When the ban came down, there wasn’t much of an outcry of poor O.J. Just the opposite. There were a few raised eyebrows but most occupied themselves with guessing what the drug was. His reputation had devolved and to many he was the prototypical shooting guard: selfish, clueless, the disease of me.
After Mayo left the NBA, he traveled because he didn’t have much else to do. It was in Africa that he discovered himself. When he returned to the states he begged strength and fitness coach Trevelle Gaines to take him on. It was a hard sell but Mayo begged he wouldn’t be any problems. He confessed to Gaines that he cheated the game. Gaines made it clear. No drinking. No clubbing. Go vegan. Mayo could be cut any moment he didn’t show up, or take the training seriously.
He took it seriously and his first stop on the way to reinstatement was Puerto Rico, after a two-year layoff. But he was rusty. He couldn’t put the ball in the hole anymore. In Taiwan, that changed. He shot 47% and averaged 22 ppg. It gave him the confidence that he could still play and last week he was on his way to China to sign with the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the CBA.
But China, who had postponed their CBA season because of coronavirus and had called players back last week, backed off again, worried about those who tested positive but were asymptomatic. Once again, Mayo’s basketball career is in limbo. China has no idea when or if professional basketball will be played again. Mayo has to endure a 14-day quarantine and then he will have to wait. If he does get to play, his teammates will be Lance Stevenson and Brandon Bass.
But China is not the end goal. The NBA is the carrot that Mayo is chasing. Four years ago, when he found out about the ban he cried. Four years later, he admits he wasn’t professional. He’s matured. He’s different. Mayo was close with Jason Kidd so is there an opening for him on the Lakers roster in 2020-21?
“I’m far from crazy. I’ve made some crazy a** decisions, but I’m not crazy. I’m good with myself. I’m comfortable with my body. I dug myself a hole, but it’s not a coffin. I can still get out.”