Mental Health Rumors

Once the NBA resumes its season in a controlled environment, players will have more to worry about than winning. They will have varying concerns about how the resumed season could affect their mental health. Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward will be away from his pregnant wife, Robyn, and children until she is due to give birth sometime in September. “It’s definitely a stressful time for us,” said Hayward, whose wife and children are moving to Indianapolis to be near family while he is with the Celtics as part of the NBA’s 2019-20 restart at the ESPN Disney Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
The Cavaliers are hosting a new series of virtual forums focusing on issues facing the Black community, and the team’s on-court leader will be taking part. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff will be one of three featured speakers during Wednesday’s first installment of “Time to Talk,” which will air live at 6:30 on Cavs.com as well as the team’s social media platforms. The first installment will focus on Black men and mental health, and all are invited to join the conversation for free.
Others are mildly concerned, trusting of Commissioner Adam Silver and his staff that shared their 113-page “Health and Safety Protocols” memo with teams last week but also wary of the physical risks and mental health challenges that this unnatural environment will present for players and staff members alike. And that was before the positive tests of players such as Denver’s Nikola Jokic started rolling in on Tuesday. “It’s the hindsight of ‘Was it worth it?’ that worries me,” another GM said. “If something happens, it’s (the question of) ‘Was it worth it?’ If everything goes great, it’s historic, and it’ll be remembered throughout history. ‘Remember the Bubble?’ or whatever they’re going to call it. It’ll be a special thing as long as we can make it through.”
Storyline: Coronavirus
The six-time NBA All-Star will have plenty of guests on the airwaves, including actor Michael B. Jordan, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, food expert Antoni Porowski, mindfulness specialist Deepak Chopra, author and activist Chelsea Handler, Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe, model Karlie Kloss, Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey, two-time Paralympic champ Oksana Masters and NASA head of nutrition and biochemistry Scott M. Smith.
“As a professional athlete, I’ve been pushing my physical abilities to the limit for as long as I can remember and have always been incredibly fascinated by what the mind and body can do,” Griffin said in a released statement. “Now, more than ever, wellness of both body and mind is crucial –– my teammates, my friends, family and everyone around the globe need to focus on self-care. I’m proud to collaborate with Audible and OBB Sound on this special interview series, which will make the health and wellness landscape a little less daunting and a lot more fun.”
Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for sparking a national conversation about mental health. Two years ago, he wrote an online essay detailing his struggles with mental health, including having a panic attack during a game. As a result, other athletes and fans began sharing details of their own mental health challenges and sharing resources on how to get help.
Love created the Kevin Love Fund and has continued speaking out. During the COVID-19 crisis, he’s shared tips on how to cope with the stress and isolation caused by the pandemic. At home, Love opened a box with the trophy inside, proclaiming, “It’s nice and shiny.” “In light of all that’s going on in our country today, I accept this award as both an honor and a challenge,” he said, looking into the camera. “A challenge to not only continue on my path, but to push beyond it and stay vocal even when silence feels safer.”
Kevin Love isn’t slowing down his push to raise mental health awareness. The Cleveland Cavaliers forward, who has been outspoken in his own struggles with panic attacks and anxiety, committed $500,000 through his foundation to UCLA’s psychology department on Monday. Love played one season for the Bruins (2007-08) and he’s helping his alma mater’s work in diagnosing, preventing, treating and destigmatizing anxiety and depression.
NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh recently spoke with Parham, who said he and Dooling “have been receiving texts from players directly on a regular basis” expressing concerns about their mental health entering the NBA bubble. “There’s certainly a fair amount of anxiety, depression, uncertainty, confusion, chaos, disbelief at the extremes, resentment and anger,” Parham told Haberstroh. “The pandemic, particularly the global nature of it, is unprecedented. There’s no playbook for this.”
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh recently spoke with Parham, who said he and Dooling “have been receiving texts from players directly on a regular basis” expressing concerns about their mental health entering the NBA bubble. “There’s certainly a fair amount of anxiety, depression, uncertainty, confusion, chaos, disbelief at the extremes, resentment and anger,” Parham told Haberstroh. “The pandemic, particularly the global nature of it, is unprecedented. There’s no playbook for this.”
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
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.
Parham thinks there will be some fear of the unknown and stress from the restrictions, but he expects the actual basketball to provide a rush of positive force upon arrival. “I think there’s going to be an emotional release from these guys, in a healthy way,” Parham says. “This notion that they’re going to be doing that which they love to be doing since they’ve been little boys at the playground.”
When Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love decided to go public with his mental health and wellness experiences in 2018, he admitted he was concerned about putting himself out there, telling the world about panic attacks and anxiety in a first-person essay titled, “Everyone is Going Through Something” on The Players’ Tribune.
Storyline: Mental Health
“While I thought that through pretty thoroughly, I had spoken to my agent (Jeff Schwartz), and he knows how these things go when people live their life in the open,” Love told USA TODAY Sports. “He totally got it and said, ‘You’re going to open up yourself to a lot of people. A lot of people will be talking about this, and people are going to recognize you for more than basketball. Are you sure you want this?’
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.”
Storyline: Mental Health
“I just feel like I have so much more work to do. Those are people who put in a lifetime of work. With my name next to theirs, I have an obligation and opportunity to make a lot of change in the world of mental health. I know what Arthur Ashe stood for and what he was about, especially being around UCLA. It’s just tough for me even now to put it into words what this means because it’s so much bigger than the realm of sports.”
Teams are encouraged to bring a mental health professional (it can be the team clinician) with their travel party. If they choose not to, teams must make telehealth appointments available, particularly if “any player experiences increased feelings of anxiety and stress upon transitioning to the campus and being away from household family members.” As teams advance in the playoffs, they will be allowed to add and swap out members of the travel party. Teams can add two staffers after advancing past the first round of the playoffs and two more after the conference semifinals. That is something multiple coaches pushed the league to adopt, sources told ESPN.
Storyline: Coronavirus
Caron Butler: Now, imagine this: Mental Health Awareness Month just passed in May and there’s depression and social anxiety and all these things that the world has been dealing with [plus everything] from an economic standpoint – unemployment is 40-million-plus – and still people are putting that aside to sacrifice and say, “You know what? It is so important that we get out here and march together and rally around each other for justice and equality for all people, especially black people in America.” Black history has always been swept under the rug. And what happens when you continue to sweep history under the rug? Trauma occurs. And when trauma continues to go unaddressed, that’s a huge issue.
Protests against racism and police brutality that have followed the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white police officer knelt on his neck, have been personal for many athletes. Some have joined protests, and some have shared their own experiences with racism. “I’m definitely seeing players responding to the time,” said Keyon Dooling, a former NBA player and mental health advocate with the players union. “I’m definitely seeing players you know being vulnerable, being impacted by the uncertainty, but also I’m seeing players being, having triggers from their life existence before basketball or even some during basketball, about some of the social injustices.”
Van Gundy is also concerned about maintaining the sanity of players who are restricted to a bubble for up to three months. He mentioned that it will be much longer than a normal NBA road trip, which are often draining enough on players who are eager to get home after less than two weeks. “I think also we can’t try to mitigate the length of time and staying power that teams playing all the way through in the bubble are going to have to have,” Van Gundy said. “For them being in one spot and not at home ever for that amount of time, and how draining road trips can be mentally.”
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.
Storyline: Coronavirus
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.
In his wellness room, the NBA star has a hyperbaric chamber, an infrared sauna, a red light therapy device, a bed for vibration therapy, a Power Plate, a large inflatable circle called a Waff, which he uses for meditation, and, of course, some candles to set the mood for yoga and pine-scented incense to remind him of his native Oregon. He uses the various equipment depending on what his body needs to recover from strenuous training sessions on any given day, and while navigating the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental aspect of his self-care routine has been especially vital.
Love’s life has been transformed. He has assumed the mantle as the face of mental health awareness, not just for the NBA but across numerous sports, educational and cultural platforms. He created the Kevin Love Fund, an organization committed to normalizing the conversation about mental health. And, with May designated as Mental Health Awareness Month, he’s continuing to spread his message in these uncertain times that people should “pursue mental wellness with the same vigor they do physical health.”
“My life is dramatically different,” Love told ESPN. “I have a lot more clarity about where I’m headed, and where we’re headed as a society in terms of removing the stigma from mental health issues. We still treat mental illness so differently from a physical illness. If you had a heart condition, you’d see a doctor and you’d take the necessary steps to fix the problem. Why should it be any different with mental health?”
“I know some guys don’t want to go there, but taking medication has changed my life in a big way,” Love said. “It has helped me manage this ongoing feeling of irritability, this feeling in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t shake before. The medication helps me relax without sapping my energy levels. I have been battling depression my whole life. And when my mind starts to spiral, the meds help me to decompress, and make it easier for me to escape going to that dark place. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that my struggles with mental health aren’t ever going away. That’s just not a reality. The medication helps me feel a little better in my own skin and my own brain. Whatever imbalance I have, this has helped me find more relief.”
Tomjanovich struggled physically and mentally as a result of Washington’s right hand but refused to allow himself to be consumed by bitterness, guilt or frustration. He returned to make the All-Star team when he returned the following season and even teamed with Washington for a book with author John Feinstein called, “The Punch.” “We dealt with that,” Tomjanovich said. “I learned a very, very valuable principle that being angry with somebody else does nothing good for the angry person. It’s like drinking poison and expecting somebody else to get the effects. What happens is you get the effects. That made sense to me, so I got rid of that right away. I didn’t think it was something the guy really thought about. Yeah, I wish he didn’t do it but those things happen. And if I wanted to have a good mental health later, I had to let it go and move on with my life. That was good for me to be grateful for the stuff that was coming my way.”
Pelicans director of mental health and wellness Jenna Rosen has been working with players twice a day with a Zoom of mental exercises and stress-relieving exercises according to Griffin. “We’re trying to be as creative as we can to have constant contact with people and make them understand that we’re still part of the same family, and family matters vitally to this group,” Griffin said. “I think our players are very close individually. I think organizationally, I think if you talk to most of the people in it, they would tell you that ‘family’ is a big focus of what we’ve brought to this, so we’re trying as best we can to connect with as many people on as many different levels as possible.”
Storyline: Coronavirus
A communication from the league office was sent to all teams during the week of the NBA suspension about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic might have on mental and emotional well-being. The memo included customized documents with tips, resources and information from mental health and wellness partners, providers and consultants, to help players, team staff and their families maintain mental wellness. That’s why the Timberwolves took on the initiative to collaborate with Thomas. “We pride ourselves in being player-centric, and as we face this incredibly difficult time, we are looking for ways to thoroughly support our players,” Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas told ESPN. “Eric Thomas has a powerful voice with a strong message and we believe his perspective will encourage our players to stay connected and to motivate them to get through the current challenges we are all facing.”
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.)
He recently sat with Dr. Kensa Gunter a Clinical Sport Psychologist on handling life at home during the quarantine on an NBA Instagram chat. DeRozan opened up the session by asking what is something people can do to keep a positive mindset while in quarantine and dealing with the crisis. “There’s so much we’re being exposed to. There’s information overload. One of the first things we have to do is to be mindful about how much information we’re taking in,” Gunter told DeRozan. ” Not listening to news 24 hours certainly helps.”
“I was very unhappy about that. I told our staff, ‘This is unprofessional. This can’t happen again.’ It was so unfair to our player.” Casey said Pistons owner Tom Gores and vice chairman Arn Tellem were proactive in making arrangements for the teamwide quarantine, setting up daily phone calls with a physician so players could have their questions answered, providing the option for players to have meals delivered to their doors, and making mental health experts available to anyone who was feeling anxious about the virus and its ramifications. They also recorded temperatures twice daily from each player.