So often, athletes use their rehabilitation to focus only on their body, and getting the injured area healed. But for the 21-year-old Collins, he quickly identified that his rehabilitation would be of body and mind. “That’s not to say this whole time has been sunshine and rainbows,” Collins said. “I’ve definitely had pity parties, definitely played the victim, and definitely thought ‘This sucks.’ But then you get to a point where you are tired of being mad, or tired of being negative, and it’s like, ‘let me do something about it.’”
Zach Collins didn’t know it at the time, but that October night in Dallas, when he bowed his head and nearly cried in an empty locker room, his life was beginning to change for the better. The Trail Blazers starting power forward had just learned that his dislocated left shoulder, suffered in the third quarter of the team’s third game, would keep him out weeks, if not months — and if that didn’t take hold of his Adam’s Apple, the next few days would. For the next six days, he would wrestle with MRI results, second opinions, third opinions, and decisions of whether to have surgery or just rehabilitate the shoulder. He ultimately opted for surgery to repair a torn labrum, and he is not expected back on the court until March at the earliest.
Somewhere between the haze of dashed dreams and the post-surgery pity parties, Collins was confronted by what many professional athletes encounter during a major injury: an identity crisis. During most of his 21 years, basketball was the most defining element of his life. It was what he was best at, how he was recognized, how he managed his stress, and how he viewed himself. And now, basketball was gone until the spring, leaving him with a harrowing question: Who was he? “What else do you have?” Collins remembers asking himself. “And I realized, I don’t have much.”
Kevin Ding: LeBron has partnered with @calm to inspire mental fitness. He uses the meditation app for stress relief and to sleep better: “The ability to focus and calibrate everything going on inside your mind is a skill that can be strengthened over time, and Calm helps me do that.”
Lillard has already opened up about being under a microscope as an NBA star. He now shares his thoughts on how the league is doing its part in helping players with their mental health. “I think it’s really important for the NBA to expand the support of mental health because we all go through different things… There’s a lot of things that take place in our lives off the court that can really affect us mentally,” Lillard said. The Trail Blazers All-Star point guard continued, “We’re professionals. We’re prideful. A lot of us are stars, and we don’t want to show weakness because we’ve been raised that any time you need help or if you fall apart, that’s a weakness. People are kind of ashamed of it and have a lot of pride. So, I think the fact that the NBA has got a grip on it and is taking it serious, it makes guys more comfortable knowing that I’m not alone.”
In the latest HeadStrong campaign, Lillard expressed his appreciation for his mental health coach, who he says is someone he often looks to for advice with issues that arise both on and off the court. Lillard said his mental health coach is “constantly challenging me as a basketball player, as a person. Challenging my mind to continue to grow and it’s been super helpful… I think a lot of people could use somebody like that.”
There was a time when Love might have allowed trade talks and the stress that comes with the rumors to get the better of him. That was before he opened up last year about his battles with mental illness and his first panic attack, on Nov. 5, 2017, during a game against the Atlanta Hawks. “I think I just came to a point in my life where so many things had led up to that moment and some people were talking about what I was dealing with and I didn’t want anyone to tell my story but me,” Love said. “I had been dealing with anxiety and depression and I felt I needed to speak my truth and allow myself to be vulnerable to the masses. I didn’t know how it was going to be received and how it was going to be moving forward. I just knew that I was done suffering silently and maybe I could help that one kid out there who was in need.”
But it was more than that for Love, who has spoken often in the past two years about his anxiety and depression. “I used to be a guy who kept to myself and was reluctant to share my life,” Love told USA TODAY Sports. “But that was me having quite a bit of social anxiety and the feeling of constantly having a threat and swimming upstream. So I figured I’m just going to live my life and share it, and by even sharing my story through mental health, it’s allowed me to help a lot of people. “It’s been liberating. You know what, I’m just going to share, play my cards and let the chips fall where they may.”
Solitude was Robert Covington’s best friend and his worst nightmare. He craved it, and he went to extraordinary lengths to get it. He told his family from Chicago not to visit him last winter, and he questioned why they would want to come to Timberwolves games when he was sidelined because of a right knee bone bruise. He would pretend to be asleep in his bed so his girlfriend would do the same, since she never nodded off first if he was still awake. Eventually, he sent his girlfriend and her son from Minnesota back to her home in Nashville so he could just be alone. “I needed space,” Covington said. “I needed nobody around me.”
He spent those dark days going to rehab — often late — for his knee. Then he’d come home, nap and be alone, his only company the television. This isn’t where Covington wanted to be, and he knew it, but he needed the loneliness. “My mind was all over the place,” Covington said.
It’s one Covington said he shared and one that can pervade the machismo of athletics. “I felt like, honestly, seeing a therapist was kind of weak,” Covington said. “But it helps. It helps a whole lot, because it allows you to decompress and restart.” Covington needed the reset. To use his analogy, he was a burning pot boiling over. “Imagine two years worth of stuff that you’ve been holding on to and everything just keeps piling up to the point where the pot just overflows,” Covington said. “You know what happens when a pot overflows? It hits the side of the pan and it hits the fire and the fire just explodes.”
Covington said he feels no hard feelings toward the 76ers and maintains good relationships there, but when asked if he felt betrayed, he said: “In a sense, yes. Just because I asked. It was a big thing because … my girlfriend and the baby were going to move up with me. … So there was a lot of stuff going on and that was on my mind.”
Covington was showing up late to rehab. What was the point? He wasn’t getting any better. “I would literally just sit up in the bed thinking,” Covington said. “That’s what made me more and more restless. … Everybody just kept asking me, ‘Are you OK?’ It got to the point where that bothered me. Stop asking me am I OK? Obviously I’m not.” It all led to one day in March, the day Covington said he snapped at the Wolves facility. “I had a moment where I said something that I don’t normally say,” he said. “It was like, ‘Hold on.’ … There was a lot of stuff going on. [Coach] Ryan [Saunders] and them started to see a trend in my habits. I would come late. I wouldn’t say anything.”
But the Heat’s do-it-all swingman now feels comfortable enough to discuss those struggles as part of a one-hour documentary titled “HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports,” which will air across NBC Sports Regional Networks and other NBC local and national platforms in November to coincide with Men’s Health Awareness Month. Winslow, 23, was never clinically diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but he revealed in January that focusing on the negative aspects of his life had become a habit for him. Known as a thinker and a person who overanalyzes things, he would allow himself to get lost in his own thoughts after disappointing performances and tough days.
It wasn’t easy for Justise Winslow to first reveal his struggles with mental health last season. But the Heat’s do-it-all swingman now feels comfortable enough to discuss those struggles as part of a one-hour documentary titled “HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports,” which will air across NBC Sports Regional Networks and other NBC local and national platforms in November to coincide with Men’s Health Awareness Month.
“When I started coming out and talking about it, there was a part of me that felt weak or felt vulnerable or didn’t feel that manly by doing that,” Winslow said in advance of Monday’s home preseason game against the Hawks. “But at this point, I’m comfortable with it because I know everyone deals with it. They might not be comfortable talking about it, and that’s OK. But I know a lot of people are dealing with the same emotional things.” The documentary explores different mental health topics, and how athletes admitting their struggles is helping others cope with their issues.
What are the keys to navigating bad weeks? Brian Grant: I exercise. I definitely take medication that helps with the tremor but also alternative medicine. I just started with this healer and it was a great session. I’m really excited to see where it’s going to go because at that one appointment there was no anxiety. My tremor actually stopped.
Kevin Love: Very Proud of our league. 📈📈📈 A major win for players, coaches, and organizations moving forward—also want to note the potential it has to help our players in life after basketball.
Sources say the NBA issued a memo to all 30 teams on Wednesday detailing changes that will be required before the start of the 2019-20 season. According to the memo, which was obtained by The Athletic, teams are now expected to: • Retain and make available to players on a voluntary basis one to two mental health professionals who are licensed in their field and locality, and with experience in assessing and treating clinical mental health issues. • Identify a licensed psychiatrist (M.D. or D.O.) to be available to assist in managing player mental health issues.
• Enact a written action plan for mental health emergencies. • Put in place procedures for communicating to players and team staff the team’s practices with respect to privacy and confidentiality. • Attend a Sept. 12 “health and wellness meeting” in Chicago where these matters will be discussed and analyzed even further.
The National Basketball Players Association was integral in this process of creating a stronger support system, coordinating and communicating with the NBA at every step along the way (Dooling, it should be noted, is the director of the NBPA’s mental health and wellness program that was launched last summer). The goal, according to sources, was to provide a wide range of resources for all sorts of scenarios – from the players who simply needed to talk to the ones who might be experiencing something far more serious and challenging. The league’s move to require a certain type of mental health infrastructure as opposed to simply suggesting it, both sides agreed, would create a level of consistency that was seen as important.
There haven’t been any panic attacks in over a year, and that makes Guy smile. His sophomore year at Virginia feels far away now, but he still remembers the chills and the cold sweats, how his throat would tighten and his body would sometimes ache. It happened at practice. It happened on dates. It happened when he would least expect it. “You just feel like you just want to shut down,” Guy says. “Even if you’re in the most comfortable position, or situation, or environment, if it happens, I have to remove myself from the environment.”
The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) are now co-branding a new category in a meditation and mindfulness smartphone or computer app produced by a company called Headspace. This new category is called “Performance Mindset” and includes content organized around four pillars of things needed to perform well: Focus, Confidence, Resilience, and Managing Pressure.
The category contains 16 curated meditation courses and video interviews of NBA and WNBA players sharing their experiences with meditation and how it's helped them. One of these players is eight-year veteran NBA point guard Ricky Rubio, who just made headlines for signing a three-year, $51 million contract with the Phoenix Suns.
"In 2016, I was going through tough times," he related. "Whenever that happens, I go to a bookstore to help clear my mind and think about the problems. That's when I came across a book by Andy Puddicombe (the co-founder of Headspace)." Rubio continued, "During the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil, I downloaded the Headspace app to learn more about meditation and started the practice for the first time. Meditation helped put everything in perspective.”
Brett Dawson: Alex Abrines posted this to his Instagram today. Not a lot of details, but certainly makes clear he went through a difficult time with basketball. instagram.com/p/Bzc5EE7Dmkg/…
"One of the things I’ve been talking more about in the last year is mental wellness of our players. And look, some guys are smoking pot just in the same way a guy would take a drink. And it’s like whatever. “Smoking pot, I’m just using it to come down a little bit or I just want to relax.” No big deal. No issue. And I think it’s the reason why it has been legalized in a lot of states. And from that standpoint, if that were the only issue, maybe we’re behind the times in our program. On the other hand, there’s also guys in the league who are smoking a lot of pot. And then the question is, why are you smoking a lot of pot? And that’s where mental wellness comes in. Because I’ve also talked directly to players who say, “I’m smoking a lot of pot, because I have a lot of anxiety. And I’m struggling.”
There's a moment in the documentary where you talk about how, when you made it to the NBA, it magnified your own inner turmoil. Why? Metta World Peace: Anything I was thinking or any characteristic I had, good or bad, it magnified it. It was spiraling out of control. Back in those days, you think alcohol or marijuana can help. Instead of having an occasional drink, you're doing it as a therapeutic thing. If you're drinking, thinking that's going to solve a problem, you're making it 20 times worse. For me, getting my first check, it highlighted how I was really feeling. It was spent on things to suppress certain feelings. Going out, clubbing, drinking.
“Back then it was like, if I say, ‘I need help,’ what is the media going to say?” World Peace said. Today he serves as a resource for N.B.A. players of all levels, who call him, essentially, so he can provide therapy. One player — he won’t say who — will call as late as 2 a.m. to meet at Staples Center in Los Angeles to work out. Sometimes, they won’t shoot hoops. They’ll just talk. “At the core of a slump is the mental state,” World Peace said. “And the more you open up, the more you can address it and get rid of it quick.”
“When I’d lose a game, I would be stressed,” World Peace said. “I’d take that stress and take it home. I’m not present, mentally, for my kids. I’m thinking about the game. I’m thinking about practice. I’m not playing catch. And then I’m not present for my time with my children. I’m not present with my wife. And when you’re not present, that causes controversy, conflict.” Nothing, it seemed, could abate his anger. “I was self-destructive,” World Peace said, adding later: “I couldn’t just chill because I’m so stubborn, a little bit. Really stubborn, and self-destructive.”
Hayward may have returned to the court for the first time in September but his support system began far before then. Amid months of rehabilitation, which had to be done away from the team for long stretches, Hayward first enlisted the help of a mental health counselor shortly after his gruesome ankle injury last October in Cleveland. “It was definitely probably a little bit into the injury,” Hayward explained. “Just a lot of time on my hands last year, so just wanted to make sure I was not losing myself mentally. I think that's been the toughest hurdle.” The decision to see someone was reached thanks to encouragement from the Celtics, friends and family. “I've never been the type of person to go and necessarily do that on my own, but I think with the nature of everything that happened, it was good,” Hayward said. “I kind of had to be steered towards it a little bit, but I was open to it.”
Hayward underwent a season full of repetitive rehabilitation with the potential backdrop of a late-season return, a scenario that was constantly speculated about in the media up until the final months of the regular season. The 28-year-old was removed from the limelight but faced an uphill climb back to full health under the microscope of the NBA world and social media. “The whole thing was just a lot,” he admitted. “Everything that I was dealing with. It's good to be able to talk somebody and have it not necessarily be friends or family — be kind of like a third party person and unbiased, just to hash things out. It was all a lot.”
Two of the strongest advocates for mental health awareness will take the court Thursday night in San Antonio, using their platform as basketball stars to make a significant difference in the world. More than a year ago, Spurs swingman DeMar DeRozan, who was playing for the Toronto Raptors at the time, opened up about his struggle with depression. About a week later, Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star Kevin Love penned his own letter on Player’s Tribune titled, “Everyone Is Going Through Something.” “He was the guy that opened the door for me,” Love said of DeRozan’s impact. “I think I’ll always be not only connected to him, but thankful to him in a big way.”
Love’s basketball resume glistens. He’s a five-time All-Star, NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist. With 17 more points Thursday night, he will join an eight-player fraternity with at least 12,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 1,000 3-pointers. That all pales in comparison to the countless lives he’s changed after his decision to open up about his mental health struggles. “It’s bigger than basketball,” Love said. “I think stuff like this is super important. The narrative of sticking to sports and more than an athlete, we just have such a big reach, it’s important for us if we’re able to share these stories and do these things and know that it is bigger than basketball. Although this is what we do, the main thing is the main thing, it’s opened a lot of doors for us to do important things and cool things like this.”
Last week, Rockets guard Chris Paul was a guest on The JJ Redick Podcast and the former teammates discussed the Commissioner's comments (you should seriously listen to the whole episode). Redick revealed the following: Bob Myers -- Golden State GM -- he was my agent when I first came out (of college). I remember my second year when I wasn't playing a lot, we had a bunch of late night conversations -- me venting to him. And I remember something that stuck with me ever since. "He said to me, he's like, 'We represent 50-something clients -- I would say five are happy.'
He's like, 'Even the guys who are making a ton of money and taking 20 shots a game...' He had a client at the time who takes 20 shots a game and he just signed a huge deal -- like four (years) for $50 (million) extension and he's unhappy. "He's like, 'I have maybe three or four clients that are legit happy.' I kind of agree with that assessment. Think about how many guys in the league on a day-to-day basis are really, really enjoying it."
Andy Larsen: Donovan Mitchell on Adam Silver's comments that some players are unhappy: "I'm having the time of my life, this is incredible to me. I know there are people in this league who have different feelings... but for me personally, I'm the happiest kid in the world. I love my job."
Charles Barkley, though, didn’t agree with that statement. In an appearance on ESPN’s Get Up, Barkley called the commissioner’s candid remarks about mental health “the stupidest thing (he’s) ever heard Adam say.” He then went on to equate the money NBA players make to happiness. Upon hearing Barkley’s comments, Jay Williams didn’t hold back Thursday. He explained how Barkley was being ignorant to mental-health issues facing NBA players.
For NBA commissioner Adam Silver, supporting players and their mental health is an ongoing initiative. “When I meet with them, what surprises me is that they’re truly unhappy,’’ Silver told The Ringer’s Bill Simmons during an hour-long panel discussion at the 13th annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday afternoon. “A lot of these young men are generally unhappy.’’
Since Love last played a game, his promotional web series for Schick Hydro, in which he talks mental health with teammate Channing Frye, former NBA great Paul Pierce and Olympic legend Michael Phelps, has aired in its entirety. And now this. “There’s been so many movements — whether it be LGBT, civil rights, #MeToo,” Love said Thursday. “I feel like men are so far behind that we need to allow ourselves … to speak a different language in a way. And that’s being better men, holding ourselves accountable, but also to be vulnerable and to speak our truths. Because nothing haunts, nothing haunts like the things we don’t say.”
Love said his anxiety and depression traces back to his childhood. He said “I had these rage fits and (would) cry and go into my room and not leave for a while.” He said his father, former NBA player Stan Love, was born in 1949 (Kevin was born in 1988), and in the house emotions were suppressed rather than discussed.
“I think perfection, like happiness, is a moving target,” he said. “I think it’s almost like … a quiet joy. People expect it to be so great all the time. It’s supposed to be elation and euphoric experience the entire time. I think in a lot of ways that’s unrealistic. Just taking your time to have gratitude and look around you and think OK, this is a great life.”
Gary Washburn: Kevin Love: "Nothing haunts us like the things we don't say." #MentalHealthAwareness #Cavaliers
Love, who won an N.B.A. championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, will be interviewed by Juliet Macur, a Sports of The Times columnist, at Tufts University. The event, which is the latest edition of a conversation series called Get With The Times, will be shown live and broadcast to watch parties held on college campuses across the country.
But Love came to realize that saying the words "panic attack" and describing his episode publicly were part of the recovery process, and could benefit others suffering in silence. "Beating that stigma has been something that has been great in my life," Love tells CNN Sport about the process that began with an open letter in The Players Tribune in March. "It's been therapeutic, and it's been good to share my experience and try to help." The pressure on male athletes to suppress mental health issues only made his condition worse, Love wrote in the essay. He said he hoped to break down that wall for other pros facing anxiety or depression. "The biggest lesson for me since (the panic attack) in November wasn't about a therapist, it was about confronting the fact that I needed help," he wrote.
Okafor, who now is in a backup role with the Pelicans, at first ignored the advice of Nets psychologist Dr. Paul Groenewal to seek counseling. “I deal with anxiety,” Okafor said before the Pelicans played the Nets Friday night at Smoothie King Center. “When I first heard about it, I pushed it to the side because I had never heard about it and my family never talks about it. When they first brought it to me, I thought it was b.s. I finally read about it, and I heard [Cavs star] Kevin Love talk about it in an article [and] I thought, ‘Wow, that’s something I deal with.’ I’m happy that I did it. I wish I would have done it sooner. But I’m 22 and still learning.”
As the depression continued to worsen, Davis eventually mentioned his issues to someone at the National Basketball Players Association, who suggested that he see a therapist. “He got me to understand that what I was feeling was normal,” says Davis. ”I’d been playing this game for a long time and then all of a sudden you take that away from me. That’s like ripping out my heart. What am I going to fill it with? So there is this sense of loss.”
The stories that Davis heard were wide-ranging but familiar. He heard from players preparing to retire only to realize that they were broke and as a result forced to keep playing. He also heard from players struggling to the adjustment of being at home with their families 24/7. These instances aren’t exactly new, or unique to basketball players, but the fact that they had been going through similar issues for years and not saying a word was disturbing.
“My ultimate goal is to make sure that each and every player, whether you played one year, or 20 years feels supported, guided and included when they stop playing,” says Davis. “If I do that, it will increase the chances that a guy can transition into a man that he and his family can be proud of.”
However, the well-respected power forward could not have foreseen what happened when he hung up his sneakers after the ’06-’07 season. “When I finished playing, I started feeling some bouts of depression, and I didn’t even know it was depression,” he says. “Just waking up, feeling bad, feeling sad, feeling lost. “Some days I’d be in the shower and just crying for no reason, and I never thought to tell somebody.”
“I think these guys are really embracing the fact that they don’t have to save the world, they don’t have to be superman or what you want me to be. They are literally going and talking about that now,” says Davis. For Davis, the program—or process as he calls it—is more of a mission than a job. Currently, he’s running Off the Court with an assistant and consultant in tow, but he’s working on hiring more former players to fill out the staff.
When Jeanie posted an Instagram video of her debut stand-up comedy act on Sept. 6, you never would have known the true meaning of it all. At first glance, the 57-year-old was simply sharing a personal moment in which she took great pride. It was, it seemed, a charming and admirable attempt to broaden her horizons. In truth, it was more than that. It was an unofficial part of a therapy session that has been helping her for decades. “This is the first time I’ve talked (about it),” Jeanie explained. “I knew that once I did the comedy, and I posted it, and people knew that was something I was doing, I’d be asked about it. And I thought it was a good way for me to bring up how comedy is a way for you to talk about the things that are bothering you. And that’s what therapy is.
On World Mental Health Day, after Kevin Love announced an important donation to UCLA, LeBron James praised his ex-teammate's strength and openness when it comes to Love's struggles with panic attacks.
"Kevin Love was one of my favorite guys, one of my brothers" James said, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "When he acknowledged that (he has suffered panic attacks) I just told him how strong he was -- not only for himself, but for other people that are going through the same issues. Not only just athletes, but a lot of kids that look up to him and maybe going through it don't know how to express things, so I think it's a pretty cool thing."
Earlier this year, in a widely read piece for The Players’ Tribune, Kevin Love went public with the depression and anxiety issues that have affected his life. In the personal and moving essay, Love detailed how a panic attack during a game forced him to finally seek help. According to Love, sharing his own story was the biggest moment of his basketball career. “It’s been liberating, and it was therapeutic to be able to share my story,” Love told For The Win. “Different athletes and different people from all walks of life have come up to me, to not only talk about how my story has helped them, but also share their stories with me. ”
“I’ve been dealing with anxiety and with depression for as long as I can remember,” he said. “When I was young, I thought, ‘OK I can get through this.’ I didn’t really understand it and I always just buried it. I had my first real panic attack and I realized, wow, something is really wrong.
“I feel like I’ve found my life’s work, and that helps my mental well being, to know that I can help people,” Love said. “I turned 30 and was like, ‘wow, I feel like I know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.’ I know that after basketball, at the end of the day, I have this.”
When did you realize you were comfortable talking about issues concerning mental health? What kind of changes or shifts did you realize after you opened up? Kevin Love: I think it was last year around this time. It took something that was, at least to me, was catastrophic in my life to open up and talk to one person, and then basically share it with anyone who was willing to read my Players’ Tribune article. After that, seeing the community that came forward, and the community that started because of it, beating down that stigma, having people that were willing to share their stories and talk, allowed me to be more comfortable in my own skin. It was therapeutic for me, it was very liberating.
After being traded to the Nets, the 6-foot-11 center was met with a revelation worth far more to his mind, spirit and body than any additional playing time could. Within days of the trade, he sat down with a Nets staff member whom Okafor says helped him realize he might have been dealing with two issues he had never even considered: depression and anxiety. “I didn’t know I was dealing with depression and anxiety myself,” Okafor told The Athletic. “When I was in Brooklyn after the Philly trade, I started to talk to somebody there. That was the first I heard about it. Then, during the season, I didn’t act on it. “I was in a dark place, man. I didn’t act on what was told to me, and I ignored it and shut it down.”
No one had known about his internal struggle except those around him and the staffer who helped reveal them to him. His moment of truth — not only in the NBA but in life — had presented itself. Finally, Okafor took a stand. “A week before the season ended, I looked at myself in the mirror and knew I not only had to get my body right but my mind right,” Okafor said. “I went straight to Miami and changed my diet and worked out. But most importantly, I started talking to a therapist to help me get through the depression and anxiety that I was going through, and it’s something I’m still dealing with. But I’m coping with it a lot better, and I’m learning ways to continue to feel good.
“I thanked Kevin Love because when I was reading his piece, I realized that this is normal and some of the stuff he was talking about … damn, I deal with some of the same things. Kevin Love, we know how successful he’s been in the NBA, but to hear somebody of his stature come out and talk about this is super inspiring to me. “I lost my mom when I was 9, and it goes way deeper than me playing the game of basketball. It’s my life. It’s my trials. I wouldn’t blame Philly, wouldn’t blame the media or anybody.”
Jared Weiss: Brad Stevens at mental health forum hosted by @joekennedy: “Being around the elite of the elite, there’s a lot of pressure to put the cape on every night...the pressure to compare instead of just compete. For the best of the best, that’s difficult...That can trigger hard times.”
The league and the union see its biggest stars facing these battles and have since looked to not only help those players but also assist the most vulnerable group of NBA players – the rookies – for the major life change that awaits them. “I think that over the years we’ve realized just from a mental perspective, more needed to be done with our players,” NBPA Chief of Programs and former NBA player Purvis Short said. “Through our health program last year, we talked a lot about mindfulness, about meditation. All the players seemed to embrace that concept.”
The usual topics of finance, relationships, off-the-court pitfalls and social media were all covered at the Rookie Transition Program. Players were broken up into small groups and given a hands-on, interactive experience as the league had looked to do away with the classroom-lecture environment. But for the first time, these soon-to-be rookies were given tangible tools to cope with the stressors of a professional basketball career.
Back in March, the league announced a partnership with the meditation app Headspace. The partnership was designed to give NBA players — along with all league and team employees — an extra resource to traverse the stress and anxiety of pro basketball through meditation. The company’s co-founder and meditation expert Andy Puddicombe spoke to the players at the Rookie Transition Program and made the commitment to provide NBA players with extra assistance beyond the 1,000-plus hours of meditation content already on the app.
Brett Ledbetter, a renowned author and speaker, has made a living helping people to overcome the fear of failure, separate the athlete from the person, and identify valuable character traits to promote success. Young says Ledbetter was a "lifesaver" during his lone roller-coaster season in Oklahoma. "I'm very aware of the mental health challenges [ahead of me]," Young says. "I understand there will be a lot on my plate, like there has been for DeMar [DeRozan]."
Ainge has spent years learning to detect red flags of mental health concerns, which include players being habitually late or missing practice. Instead of suspending players or fining them large sums of money, Ainge requires they attend mandatory sessions with a mental health professional of their choice. "But to be honest," the Celtics president of basketball operations says, "I haven't had much success sending someone to counseling who doesn't want to do it willingly."
"The joke around the league was teams historically had a team psychologist, but we call him the shooting coach," Silver says. "If a player was having trouble dealing with stress that was impacting his play, they would readily accept help from the shooting coach, but if you called him a team psychologist, the reaction was, 'Hey, not me. I don't need a doctor.'"
Silver applauds players who have found the strength to tell their story, but he emphasizes his focus is getting the players help, not convincing them to come forward. "If a player were to say to me, 'Guarantee me this won't have an impact on my [free-agency] signing,' I'm not in a position to say that it won't," Silver says. "It's not an illusion to say there's a stigma attached to this. There are still very real issues around disclosure."
Jordan Schultz: Here’s Blake Griffin on the benefits of therapy and why there is a misconception attached to it. #PullUpPod @CJ McCollum
When you consider that only 30 percent of coaches and 20 percent of general managers in the NBA are people of color, it's not a stretch to conclude that conflicts will occasionally arise between an African-American player and a front-office member who looks nothing like him and, as far as the player is concerned, can't possibly understand where he is coming from. "There's some truth to that," Marcus says.
DeMar DeRozan, who has talked openly about his depression, says he developed a false persona of "invincibility" to protect himself from the volatility in urban Compton, California, where he grew up. That aura of invincibility paired nicely with his athletic endeavors, as coaches crave confident players. "If you grow up in the inner city, you have to walk a certain way, and you have to talk a certain way," DeRozan says. "If a guy walks past you, you gotta make sure you don't show any type of weakness, so they won't mess with you.”
"People don't understand what these guys in the African-American community go through," longtime agent Aaron Goodwin says. "It's so hard for them to separate themselves from the people they grew up with. It leads to withdrawal, anxiety. There's guilt about turning their backs on people they care about but who aren't good influences in their lives. There's this pressure of, 'I have to succeed because so many people are counting on me.' And then there's all the people with their hands out because everyone wants money."
On April 18, 2007, commissioner David Stern took the unprecedented step of suspending Joey Crawford for the remainder of the season -- and the playoffs -- for tossing San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan because Duncan laughed sarcastically on the bench after a call Crawford made against the Spurs. One minute and 16 seconds earlier, Crawford had tagged Duncan with a technical for arguing an offensive foul.
Joey Crawford: Stern suspended me for the rest of the season. I thought there was a good chance my career might be over. Stern orders me to go see a Park Avenue psychiatrist. He tells me to go twice -- two hours each session. This guy is going to make a determination on whether I'm crazy or not. I go up, and I'm scared to death. I've already been fined $100,000. I'm in a suit, and I've got sweat all the way down to my belt. So, this psychiatrist didn't know a basketball from a volleyball. After two hours, he says, 'OK, we're all done.' I said, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! I'm supposed to come another day for another couple of hours. Have you already decided I'm crazy?' He said, 'You're not nuts.' I said, 'Well, what am I? What's my problem?' He said, 'You're overly passionate about your job.' I thought, 'OK, I can live with that diagnosis!'
Joey Crawford: One of the worst ones I ever had was in Minnesota on the way to the locker room at halftime. [Coach] Flip Saunders, God rest his soul, was screaming at us, and I just lost it. I unloaded on him. I walked into the locker room with [referees] Bennie Adams and Luis Grillo, and I asked them, 'What did I just say?' They looked and me and told me, 'It's not good.'
Shane Larkin opens his eyes, sits up and embarks on his own tortured version of "Groundhog Day." He grabs the remote, clicks on SportsCenter and hops out of bed to wait for his "number.'' He is 8 years old, and every morning presents a new set of unpredictable parameters that are purely arbitrary. As he starts to get dressed for school -- a ritual that can last a few minutes or sometimes hours, depending on the number for the day -- he notices an image of Ray Allen flickering on his television screen. Allen, it seems, hit eight 3-pointers in a game the night before. Suddenly, a sensory message makes a beeline for Shane's brain and informs him of the number for the day: eight. "And then I know,'' Larkin tells ESPN, "that I have to wash my hands eight times.''
Larkin's condition, later diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, afflicts just 2.3 percent of the population and just 1 out of 100 children. For a little boy who didn't understand why he was held captive by his own random regimen, it was exhausting, frustrating -- and incredibly frightening. "You don't know what's going on," Larkin says. "You see your friends wash their hands once, or not wash them at all, and you say, 'What's wrong with me?'''
Players who are battling bipolar disorder, a serious condition that causes extreme mood swings, are often prescribed medication that is critical to their well-being. The suicide rate among bipolar patients is higher than that of the general population, and a greater percentage of people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once in their lifetime. John Lucas believes nearly 10 percent of NBA players are bipolar. "And some of them can't make it without medication,'' Lucas says. "They are a danger to themselves when they are off it.''
A rival Western Conference GM disagrees. He admits if two players are equal in ability and one has ADHD, he’s taking the other one because, he reasons, “it lessens the likelihood of off-the-court issues as well as disruptions in practice. “These guys you read about who tear up their hotel rooms?” the GM says. “That’s often guys who are off their meds. So now, in addition to everything else we’ve got to worry about, we have to make sure our power forward is filling his prescription every week.”
Rod Beard: #Pistons Blake Griffin tells @CJ McCollum on mental health: "I have gone and seen a therapist before – just to sit and talk. What a lot of people don’t realize about therapy is they’re not giving you answers; they’re helping you find those answers."
Perhaps, then, it's not surprising that both Morris brothers revealed to ESPN in unison that they have been living with depression. Both initially agreed to be interviewed, but when it came time to share their story, only Marcus felt comfortable enough to be quoted about his mental health issues. Confidentiality remains a major concern of NBA players who are dealing with mental health issues, and each operates on his own timetable when, if ever, he decides to share. Marcus says his and Markieff's depression stems from demons of a fractured childhood that began with two strikes against them: poor and black. "We grew up where there were no white people," Marcus says. "None. You just didn't see that in our neighborhood.
"At that time, I didn't trust any white people because I didn't know any white people. Honestly, I didn't feel like I could trust anybody -- not even the people in my neighborhood, who I knew my whole life. "We just walked out stressed all the time. I said to my brother once, 'You know, this is no way to live.'"
"One of the biggest problems in the African-American community is none of us have fathers, so we don't have that strong male figure to guide us," Barkley says. "When I was growing up, I thought it was normal not to have a mom and dad around. Nobody I knew had both parents. And everybody I knew was poor. "I thought it was normal for every black girl to be pregnant in high school, because in my small hometown of [Leeds], Alabama, that's how it was. It wasn't until I got to the NBA that I realized, 'Wait, that's really f---ed up.' It's a miracle any African-American player turns out OK based on where we come from."
"My mom was strung out on drugs, and my dad was an alcoholic and a womanizer," Bowen tells ESPN. "That was my reality. Even as a child I could see through all their bulls---, but what was I going to do? I didn't even know how to begin to ask for help." Bowen says that as he grew older, he learned to suppress the fear and the rage that churned inside him.
"In the African-American culture, there's this tendency to believe if we hide our problems, we'll be better off," Bowen says. "We are brought up to believe if you talk to people about those things, that's a sign of weakness. But it's not a sign of weakness. It's actually a sign of courage because you are taking the first step towards conquering your problems. "But the other problem we have is this deep-seated mistrust of the actual people who can help you. We are raised not to trust anybody."
April 18, 2021 | 6:36 pm EDT Update
Mark Berman: Steve Clifford on going against his close friend Stephen Silas:”This is actually a tough week b/c we play these guys tonight & New Orleans on Thursday (Stan Van Gundy). It’s different for sure.Not something u look forward to.Not one of the things that’s pleasant about the league” pic.twitter.com/rXSV7F96qy
Noah Levick: Four Sixers are listed as questionable for tomorrow night’s game vs. Golden State: George Hill (right thumb surgery) Tobias Harris (right knee soreness) Seth Curry (left hip flexor tightness) Dwight Howard (left knee soreness)