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Gill Mindful Of What He Needs To Do

Sat., April 29, 1995

We won’t mine the mental health field for humor - an old and insensitive practice - but is irony out of line?

Just asking. Something Kendall Gill said Friday after practice at Seattle SuperSonics headquarters left us wondering.

Just 14 hours earlier, he had been the catalyst for Seattle’s 96-71 romp over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of their best-of-five National Basketball Association playoff series. Seventeen points, four assists in 25 of the most splendid minutes he’s ever spent in a Sonics uniform. A breakthrough game, really, in that since he withdrew from the club to seek treatment for clinical depression and then returned for the final six games of the regular season his contributions had been, well, marginal.

So naturally a TV goof had to ask if Gill’s performance ought to get him back into the starting lineup.

Gill chuckled softly.

“I’m not even thinking about that right now,” he said.

Two, three, eight months ago that seemed to be all Kendall Gill was thinking about.

“Well, the difference is, there comes a time I have to put everything behind me,” he said. “Forget the B.S. and go out there and play.”

Odd, but wasn’t that the suggestion of even the most casual Sonics fan all along? Kendall! Fugeddabouddit!

Never mind the minutes, the stats, the coach. Play.

Could it really be that uncomplicated now?

It could. It can. But for the longest time, the emotional maelstrom inside Kendall Gill made it the most complicated concept in the world.

We don’t know from clinical depression in the press box. We’re familiar with anterior cruciates and pulled hamstrings, and in a pinch we can take a stab at plantar fasciaitis. But that other thing - well, that’s outside our purview. So when Gill checked out earlier this month, the diagnosis explained nothing - and quite possibly explained everything.

“It turned my life around,” Gill said of his decision to leave the team and seek help. “The condition I had, I didn’t even know I had. I’d suffered for a number of years and didn’t even know.”

All of his problems - a stormy 1993 with the Charlotte Hornets, his Cold War with Sonics coach George Karl, the hurt he felt when the club first tried to trade him and then traded for Sarunas Marciulionis, the absurd demand for guaranteed minutes - we had chalked up to insecurity and immaturity. Does not play well with others.

Not that his coach is the easiest man to play for. Indeed, even before the diagnosis, three of Gill’s teammates pleaded with Karl for a more reasonable handling of their troubled friend.

And Karl’s trying - without ceding his right to decide the lineup.

“Before the game, he looked as relaxed as I’ve seen him all year,” Karl said of Gill.

“We chatted about what a long year it’s been and I told him this was the time to have some fun.

“I’m very happy for him. He and Vinnie (Askew) can give us an offensive lift up there. I think Nate (McMillan) and Gary (Payton) are going to give us the defensive momentum. Kendall and Vinnie are good defenders, too, but last night we were looking for some offensive lift.”

This had not exactly been Gill’s department since returning to the team; his shooting percentage those last six games was just 34.9. But now his mood no longer seems tied to his jump shot.

“I just had a quiet confidence last night that I haven’t felt for a long time,” he said.

“Actually, I felt it the first night back - even against Portland and Sacramento (two disheartening Sonics losses). I was feeling the same way, but my shot wasn’t going in.”

Twenty-five minutes of playoff bliss does not a recovery make. Gill’s treatment, he allowed, is ongoing. The mere recognition that something was wrong does not vanquish all the demons.

The explanations aren’t pat, but the subject is happy.

“Before, I would barricade myself in my apartment and not go out and try and figure out what the hell was wrong,” Gill said. “Now it’s like it’s all gone. I’ll be calling my boys back in Chicago and all my old friends and they’re calling me. It was a godsend. I’m just glad the problem was finally diagnosed and I was able to go on with my life.”

And the Sonics with theirs, which without a productive Gill in the playoffs figured to be brief. With him, their depth and versatility is the match of any team in the West - better, certainly, than what the struggling Lakers could muster Thursday night.

“Hold on,” said Gill. “We did the same thing last year, won the first two against Denver. So we’re not over the hump yet.”

Nor is he. He does understand, though, just what the hump is and why it’s there.

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