NBA Rumor: Mental Health

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Kevin Love to receive Humanitarian Award

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, a champion of mental health causes since he revealed his own issues three years ago, will receive the Humanitarian Award at the 21st Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. The Greater Cleveland Sports Commission announced the honor Wednesday, ahead of Thursday night’s virtual event to be aired in a one-hour special on WKYC Channel 3, wkyc.com and SportsTime Ohio at 7 p.m.

Damian Lillard playing through wave of family tragedies

In 2020, he was the first to discover the dead body of his cousin and personal chef. An aunt died from cancer. A family friend died of COVID-19. And in the early months of 2021, a cousin was killed in West Oakland. And then last Thursday, the day before the Lakers game, Lillard learned of the shooting deaths of two people in his inner circle. One was a cousin close enough to Lillard to be at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner in Portland in November. The other was like family — the best friend of perhaps his closest cousin, who was among the first family members to move to Portland when Lillard was drafted by the Trail Blazers in 2012. “I could be 45,” said the 30-year-old Lillard. “I’ve done seen and been around so much.”

“I’ll say this — it’s been bittersweet for me the last year and a half,” Lillard said. “A lot of people don’t know, because I don’t seek sympathy, I don’t make excuses. I just show up. It’s like, you get on Twitter and people have so much to say. And when I post on Instagram, people have soooo much to say. ‘You didn’t do this’ … ‘Your team is never going to win a championship’ … you know, everybody just got so much negative shit to say. And I’m just looking at it like, I’m coming out here to practice every day, I show up for my team every damn game. I don’t make excuses. I just do stuff the right way. And I perform. I show up. If shit goes bad, I don’t shy away from it. I say, ‘My bad. I wasn’t good enough.’ When shit goes well, I don’t say it was all me. And that’s not just me trying to do the right thing. I say how I feel about stuff and how I see these situations.

This might be a personal question, but how did you get to this space where you’ve been through a lot, and now you’ve been able to overcome not holding these grudges? Or not holding these things against these certain people? Jeremy Lin: It’s super simple and I’m going to hit you with the most default churchy answer. But it’s truly why. Like I said, like in recent interviews, I went to therapy, and I got a mental coach, and I’ve talked through a lot of my past traumas. A lot of it was down to just Jesus’s sacrifice and the cross. Anything that someone could have done to me, I’ve done so much worse to Jesus. For him to die on the cross and give his life up for me. That’s like being given $1 million and then somebody wronged you and owes you $5 and you’re like, “You better give me those $5.” Even though somebody just walked down the street and gave you $1 million or $1 billion. It’s like, dude, that’s why.

As Ezeli spent six months post-surgery confined to a wheelchair and relying on help to use the bathroom, he sank into a deep depression. Basketball had become fundamental to his identity. Without it, he felt lost. “Depression is an understatement,” Ezeli said of that dark period. “Until that point, I never understood the importance of mental health. … But not being able to walk on your own for half a year, you definitely become close friends with depression.”

“I stopped taking my meds, and I thought I was doing great,” he said. “That led to my worst day ever, May 29, 2018. I don’t know what triggered it, but I was in the bed, crying, and I got to the point where I wanted to kill myself. I thought about how I’d do it, and how to make sure my wife got the insurance, and how to do it so my kids wouldn’t find me. And even though thinking those things terrified me, I didn’t stop thinking about how to end my life.” Fischer texted his radio partner, Brett Norsworthy, to tell him he couldn’t do the show that day. “He asked if I had eaten something bad,” Fischer said. “I told him it was mental. He texted back and said, ‘Don’t do anything stupid, OK?’

Which brings us once again to what Fischer hopes will come of this. He hopes it will make it easier to talk about mental illness, easier to seek and offer help. NBA players Kevin Love, Paul George and DeMar DeRozan have all been open about their mental health challenges. The sunlight can feel good. “The worst thing for mental illness is loneliness,” Fischer said. “People who have it think they’re all alone. But they need to express it, they need to talk about it and they need to get help, because it’s the only way they’re going to feel better and survive.

“I play this game more because I just love watching my family members seeing me play a game I was very good and successful at,” he said. “It always brought a smile for me when I saw my mom at the baseline and in the stands and stuff and having a good time watching me play. It’s going to be hard to play. It’s going to be difficult to say that this is therapy. I don’t think this will ever be therapy again for me. “But it gives me a chance to relive good memories I had. I guess that’s the only therapy I’m going to get from it. It’s not going to really help me emotionally or anything.”

Rubio was 25 when his mother passed, and he was racked with guilt and depression in the months leading up to her death while he was still suiting up in his first tour with the Wolves. Rubio knew then, and he knows now, that basketball is anything but a refuge when dealing with a loss as gutting as what he went through in 2016 and what Towns is going through now. “Sometimes at night during the season I was going through hell,” Rubio told me at the Rio Olympics less than three months after Tona’s death. “Waking up in, who knows, Sacramento, in L.A., in the middle of the night alone in a hotel and thinking, ‘Why am I here? Is it really worth it?’”

An injury in 2012 sent Kevin Love into a downward spiral, suffering from depression and anxiety to such a degree that he would not leave his room. He started to research ways to take his life. KEVIN LOVE: “I had a number of ways…the good thing that happens is when you do search that it comes up with the national suicide prevention line. There was a couple ways that I toyed with, but it was just scary to get down that route and think about the idea of, you know, taking my own life.” Love said it was a thought that frequently crossed his mind. And although he has made great strides in his mental health, he still sometimes has those thoughts.

Now Love is one of the investors backing a new venture called Coa that bills itself as the world’s first gym for mental health. Conceived of by company co-founder and CEO Alexa Meyer when she was walking around San Francisco and realized there were gyms catering to physical health on every corner but no visible options to work on emotional health, Coa offers both group classes and one-on-one mental fitness sessions with licensed therapists that have been specially matched with their client.

“Keldon is a sponge,” Castillo said. “He is very curious and asks a lot of questions. He is focused on improving all aspects of his game to include his mental game.” With Johnson’s balanced approach to both the physical and mental side of his game, next season could be a special one for him and the Spurs. “It’s fun to work with a high performer who is just looking to be better and build on his already strong cognitive abilities,” said Castillo.

Kevin Love: That’s been on my mind a lot lately, considering the millions and millions of people around the world who have lost their jobs, or lost their loved ones, or who are just dealing with the unprecedented anxieties of being a human in 2020. I know so many people out there are suffering right now. I’m no different. I’m still going through it. Even after all the work I’ve tried to do on myself over the last two-and-a-half years, some days are just brutal. Let’s just call it what it is. Some days are total s—, right? It feels good just to say it.

“Paul George had said something about depression, about stress in the bubble, and it’s real,” Murray said. “It’s really real, and it’s hard to deal with — being away from the fam. … But for me, (basketball) is an addiction. I go by the pool, get my mind off basketball, come back, and get ready to go. When I put my addiction to basketball, it shows on the court. I go in for an extra lift. I lift twice (on game-days) — before shoot-around and before the game. I prepare myself mentally.

Beyond talking with Clippers coach Doc Rivers, teammates and family, George said he spoke with a team psychiatrist about his undisclosed issues. After shooting a combined 10-of-47 in Games 2-4 against Dallas, George then rebounded with a 35-point performance on 12-of-18 shooting in Game 5. “I know exactly what Paul is going through,” Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green said. “You have nothing to do but look at your phone and social media all day. All they are doing is bullying you. They are trying to get you to play well. So he was going through a rough stretch. I’m sure doors were closing in on him, and it was getting dark for him.”

It all sounded so breezy when the Los Angeles Clippers’ Patrick Beverley arrived at Walt Disney World and promptly scoffed at the idea that working and living at one of the foremost playgrounds on Earth could somehow be complicated. The bubble, Beverley unforgettably declared that day, is what you make it. Nearly two months later, no one on the N.B.A.’s Disney campus can be that cavalier when talking about the surroundings. The league has managed to keep the coronavirus out, which undeniably is a significant achievement, but not without levying an emotional tax by severely restricting access.

Beverley’s first-glance view suggested that bubble inhabitants, with the right mind-set, could make this all seem as magical as a typical Disney trip. Now consider the review that the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James offered up Saturday night — after the league emerged from a three-day walkout during which numerous players gave serious thought to closing down the bubble completely. The near shutdown wasn’t motivated solely by the players’ social justice pursuits; also factoring in was the simple desire to return to the outside world. “I’ve had numerous nights and days of thinking about leaving,” James said. “I think everyone has, including you guys.”

James was referring to members of the news media and, without question, he was right. The word I have used to describe this assignment, over and over, is “unmissable.” That sentiment remains true, because I’m not sure I’ll ever have the chance again to cover N.B.A. playoff games in August and September in arenas without fans. But “interminable” also applies. I can’t deny that there have been times during my 52 days here that I tried to picture the finish line and couldn’t.

It’s not because of the workload. My role at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, leading ESPN’s coverage of the U.S. men’s basketball team for “SportsCenter” and ESPN.com, made for even longer days in some ways. What gets to you in the bubble is your lack of control, combined with the long-term isolation, all exacerbated by copious regulations and restrictions. So many rules to follow. So much time alone with your thoughts. An Olympic excursion, typically bucket list territory for most sportswriters, also lasts only three or four weeks.

Barkley went on The Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday and essentially said PG13 had no right to speak about his bubble anxiety … given the hardships other Americans are currently going through. “I don’t think guys making millions of dollars should be worried just because they’re stuck in a place where they can go fishing and play golf and play basketball and make millions of dollars,” Barkley said. “That’s not a dark place. The thing that just happened in Wisconsin, the things happening with this pandemic, all these people losing their jobs, those people are in a dark place.”

The Los Angeles Clippers secured a 154-111 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series largely because George scored 35 points while shooting efficiently from the field (12-of-18), 3-point range (4-of-8) and the free-throw line (7-of-7). That marked drastic improvement from what he showed from the field in Game 2 (4-of-17), Game 3 (3-of-16) and Game 4 (3-of-14). “I just wasn’t there,” George said. “I checked out. Games 2, 3, 4, I felt like I wasn’t there.”

George wilting under playoff pressure? George experiencing issues with his surgically repaired shoulders? Clippers coach Doc Rivers failing to draw enough plays for him? The Mavericks defending George too tightly. No, no, no and no. Instead, George said his issues had nothing to do with X’s and O’s. “It was just a little bit of everything. I underestimated mental health, honestly,” George said. “I had anxiety, a little bit of depression. Just being locked in here.”

So, George said he spoke with a team psychiatrist, and leaned on his parents, girlfriend and children for support. Following the Clippers’ Game 4 loss to Dallas on Sunday that ended with Luka Doncic’s game-winning 3-pointer, Rivers said he had “a long talk” with George in his room that he said had little to do with basketball. Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell played video games with George to cheer him up. Other teammates advised George to ignore social media. “Shout out to the people that was in my corner, people that gave me the words,” George said. “They helped big time about getting me right back in great spirits. Can’t thank them enough.”

As Shareef O’Neal’s high school basketball star rose, he saw trolls flood his comments with hate after an off night. “It was like if I didn’t have 30-15-10, everyone would compare me and say that I’m not as good as my dad,” O’Neal says. “For other players, the kids who aren’t getting the attention and they should be, they are telling themselves they need to get highlights in order to be seen and be famous.” This can all take a toll on a player’s mental health. Graham Betchart trains basketball players on the mental skills needed to overcome the stresses and anxieties of pro-athlete life, with clients including Aaron Gordon (since age 11), Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Jaylen Brown. His main message: Don’t stress over what you can’t control.

DeMar DeRozan: It’s been times where I struggle, being in a room full of people and feel like I’m in there all alone, you know, and that always been something that affected me when I was when I had my dark days, my dark moments, you know, and it comes out of nowhere. When you least expect it. You could be smiling one second. And before you know it, you want a place of wondering how you got there, why I got there, and you asked so many questions. You know, and it’s kind of frustrating, you know?

DeMar DeRozan: Everybody don’t understand the dedication you put into something you love and that you want so much. And sometimes you do it out of your own pain internally, you know, it’s like I worked so hard to escape this feeling. But everybody wanted to enjoy the good stuff that came with me working so hard when I really was working hard to suppress my pain, my dark days, my dark nights when I felt so alone, you know, so I wish I would have understood that and not let it affect me so bad when other people probably didn’t get it in the moment. And always scared to communicate and tell people like, you know why you work so hard and why don’t like going out or why you don’t like doing this? It’s like, ‘Yo, I work hard because when this is the only time I get to escape, and you don’t see that I’m really screaming for help at times when I become tunnel vision and working so hard’. Sometimes you just want that hug.

While Gobert acknowledged that it’s “hard for me to be vulnerable” in discussing his mental health, he was “going through some stuff that people don’t know.” The period was so challenging that he didn’t feel ready to play when the bubble concept gained traction in April. “I was still not in the right state of mind to play basketball,” Gobert said. “I didn’t think it could happen at that point. As things went by, we had meetings and learned more about the virus, I started feeling better mentally and physically.

JR Smith: I was in state of depression

What was some of the things that you were going through mentally and emotionally knowing that you had the skill to be in league? JR Smith: Just mentally, I was in a state of just straight depression. I can’t play the game that I love at the highest level that I’m accustomed to playing, like being on the outside looking. Like I’ve never been without the game of basketball, especially when it comes to a point where you’re not hurt or you’re not suspended or anything like that. And the fact that nobody wants you, to know the fact that you’re not talented enough and nobody wants to because of the quote unquote type of person you are.

Michael Carter-Williams reveals he dealt with depression

You go through all the injuries, and then what what was it? I mean, was it were about a year plus ago? You’re out of the league, right? Michael Carter-Williams: That was a really, really hard time for me. I went through a lot, I’ve overcome so much. I went through mental health issues, you know, depression. My mind was telling me to do something when my body couldn’t do. I remember there was times where I didn’t want to leave my bed, didn’t want to do anything. And then it took a lot of work to feel good about myself to be confident again and to appreciate the game.

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal said players are concerned about being isolated on a campus where their leaving is discouraged. If a person on campus leaves, the person is subject to more testing and additional quarantine time. “We can’t just leave,” Beal said. “We can’t just order whatever food we want. We can’t just do activities which we want to do. We can’t go to our teammate’s room. There’s a lot of (expletive) we can’t do. It’s tough. I get it from a mental wellness standpoint.”

Dr. Stephen Gonzalez, executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, told The Post the experience may feel like “house arrest,’’ noting the bubble rulebook of 113 pages. Violators are subject to banishment. “It’s unchartered waters,’’ Gonzalez told The Post. “The Olympics, you need to have all their movements tracked with security details and it hampers your freedom. It’s a small amount of what’s to happen with basketball. They’re restricted to where they can eat. They’re giving up a lot of freedom to do this.”

This is what Parham does for a living. His job is to reach people, often professional athletes. Parham is a licensed psychologist and the counseling professor in the School of Education at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. Before he took the position with the NBPA, he was a consulting psychologist for the Los Angeles Lakers and worked with the NBA, NFL and several U.S. Olympic teams for years. Parham is also Black. This detail provides important context in an NBA community filled with white leaders and the surrounding racial crisis in America. The NBPA represents a player pool that is approximately 81 percent Black, but that ratio dips precipitously the higher you climb on the NBA’s ladder of power.

For his efforts, especially with young people dealing with mental health and wellness, Love will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at Sunday’s 28th ESPY Awards show (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). The award, named after the tennis great, is given each year to a person whose contributions transcend sports. “I’m incredibly humbled by it,” Love said. “It’s really a profound honor if you look back at that group of men and women who I admire. Billie Jean King, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, to name a few. It’s very, very humbling to see my name next to those.”

In mid-May, after the NBA suspended its season, officials at the NBPA organized a Zoom call with players. They sought to focus on mental health — to listen to concerns and provide resources — and wanted to interact with a specific group that they found was experiencing the pandemic in a different way. The session was led by Dr. William D. Parham, the NBPA’s director of mental health and wellness, and former NBA guard and NBPA Player Wellness Counselor, Keyon Dooling, “[Letting them know] that they have support of the brotherhood is very important,” Dooling said.

About 30 international players dialed in from cities around the U.S., sharing concerns about loved ones thousands of miles away and about when and how they might be able to see them again. They asked about their ability to leave the country and come back, about their family members’ ability to leave and come back, and whether family members would be able to join a “bubble” environment if the NBA season resumes. The call, originally scheduled for an hour, went for more than 90 minutes. For as many different languages and backgrounds as the players shared and for as much as they’ve been in isolation in recent months, they found common ground. “They discovered that everybody is in the same storm,” Zuretti said.

During and after his speech, Love referenced some of his favorite books — “The Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, “The Hilarious World of Depression” by John Moe, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari and “Range” by David Epstein. All of those books have had a profound impact on Love in some way, allowing him to better understand himself and helping him learn how to cope with obstacles while living a better, more fulfilling life. Love also quoted William Shakespeare and Robin Williams.

“Find your North Star — that thing or things you are passionate about enough that you will reach past even your wildest dreams,” Love said. “Shout it loud to whomever will listen. I always say, ‘Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say.’ Do not let your dreams go unspoken. But dreams need clarity. Without clarity, you might as well be staring into a fogged mirror. You can’t see or do much with any precision staring into that.”

Another crucial activity for Love’s mental health: reaching out to people he’s not quarantining with. At the moment, he’s at home with his girlfriend, Kate Bock, and dog, Vestry. “Get on your Zooms, your Instagram Lives, FaceTimes,” Love suggested. “There’s times throughout the day where myself I’ll just say, I got 10 minutes, I’m just going to pick up and call a teammate I haven’t talked to, or a friend back home or my sister who’s back in Oregon right now. Just finding ways to stay connected through this time, I think, is incredibly important.”

Walker told the mayor he’s been trying to stay consistent by doing body weight exercises, like sit ups and push ups, but he’s also maintaining a healthy diet. Nirenberg says he’s held on to a “bare bones” squat rack that he’s using to boost his mental health three to four times a week. “Things are pretty heavy right now, but we’ll get through all of this,” Nirenberg added. “But I need a little quiet time in addition to gym time.”

Brooklyn Nets center DeAndre Jordan is known for his rim-rattling dunks but the big man credits his on-court production and ability to stay positive during the COVID-19 crisis to an unlikely source — meditation. The 31-year-old All Star now wants to show the world his enlightened side with his show the Mindful Life, which debuted last week on PlayersTV, a new channel on Samsung TV Plus that delves into the lives of athletes.

The Texas native said his eyes were first opened to mindfulness during an NBA trip to China seven years ago. “I got into Buddhism a little bit and I wanted to learn more about it,” he said. “A big first step for me was meditation and focusing on being the best you you can be for not only yourself but for the people around you.” He returned to China with the NBA three years later and decided to fully embrace the lifestyle. “I just kind of went from there.”

Many who don’t quite understand the concept have asked White: Anxiety disorder cut short your NBA career, so how is the prospect of getting smashed in the face not more anxiety-inducing? He has a response at the ready: “Anxiety doesn’t work in a linear, boxed-in fashion. Some people are anxious with spiders. Some people are anxious in dark rooms. Some people don’t like being around other people. Some people need to be around other people. It’s pretty individual.”

Wednesday, he went on the social isolation edition of Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show” and talked about how the isolation and loneliness caused by social distancing can be “devastating” at this time for people battling depression and anxiety. “I think continuing to create community at this time, that’s a huge thing… speaking of social isolation, it has made navigating this time very, very different,” Love said. (See his full comments in the video above.)

Keyon Dooling is the voice on the other end of the phone for NBA players, who, for all their wealth and notoriety, are as human as he was during his moments of reaching for a lifeline. This might not have been what Dooling signed up for as a wellness counselor for the National Basketball Players Association, dealing with the emotional side of this battle with the new coronavirus, but it is where the league has led him, from a career that began as the No. 10 pick out of Missouri by the Orlando Magic in the 2000 NBA draft.
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