Mental Health in the NBA: Pressures Beyond The Shot Clock

NBA players are real-life superheroes in the eyes of their fans. Their exterior is stoic when they appear among large crowds to shoot, score, and win games.

However, on the sidelines, many NBA players deal with hardships as well. From Kevin Love’s mental health struggle with anxiety, to DeMar DeRozan’s depression, NBA players have to be superheroes on and off the court.

Kevin Love

On March 6, 2018, Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ center and forward player, revealed that he had a panic attack during a game against the Atlanta Hawks.

“It came out of nowhere. I’d never had one before. I didn’t even know if they were real. But it was real — as real as a broken hand or a sprained ankle. Since that day, almost everything about the way I think about my mental health has changed,” Love penned in The Players’ Tribune.

His anxiety attack was so severe, he felt as if his own body was telling him, “You’re about to die.” Two days later, Love showed up ready to play ball against the Milwaukee Bucks, relieved to discover no one noticed his disappearance during the previous game.

Love wrote in the The Players’ Tribune, “Now I was left wondering why it happened — and why I didn’t want to talk about it.”

Opening Up Helps Love

After much hesitation, Love brought to light the struggles he was facing. It was a step forward for Love, as he would describe himself as a private person, never willing to share personal details until then.

Love reached out to the Cav’s team management, and they helped him find support. He was hesitant at first, “No way any of us is gonna talk to someone. I was 20 or 21 years old, and I’d grown up around basketball. And on basketball teams? Nobody talked about what they were struggling with on the inside,” he said.

However, he recognized that his method of coping was to keep silent when tragedy struck, and that it negatively affected his overall mental health.

“I didn’t want people to perceive me as somehow less reliable as a teammate. . . it all went back to the playbook I’d learned growing up.” Although it wasn’t the norm to discuss mental health struggles, Love bravely modeled a new approach for the NBA. 

Love also commends DeMar DeRozan’s efforts for speaking on his battle with depression. “Not everything should be public and it’s every person’s choice. But creating a better environment for talking about mental health … that’s where we need to get to,” Love told The Players’ Tribune.

DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan, NBA shooting guard shared his mental health struggle through a tweet.

“This depression get the best of me…,”tweeted DeRozan after an NBA all-star weekend, usually a festive time for many ball players. Fans were shocked by his openness and wondered if his tweet was lyrics from a song. However, DeRozan’s depression was the intended topic.

DeRozan’s Struggle

Wealth and fame can be insubstantial when underneath the surface lies a bigger issue. “It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day,” DeRozan explained to The Star.

DeRozan tries to cope by focusing all of his attention on things important to him: being a better father, a better partner, and a better basketball player.

Nonetheless, he decided to share with the world instead of shying away from his situation. “I’m so quiet, if you don’t know me. I stay standoffish in a sense, in my own personal space, to be able to cope with whatever it is you’ve got to cope with,” said DeRozan to The Star.

Raised in Compton, CA, DeRozan witnessed others struggle. “I had friends that I thought was perfectly fine, next thing you know they’re a drug addict and can’t remember yesterday . . . I never had a drink in my life because I grew up seeing so many people drinking their life away to suppress the [troubles] they were going through” DeRozan told The Star.

DeRozan does not want to be a mental health advocate but recognizes the importance of breaking the stigma on mental health.

“It’s…nothing I’m against or ashamed of. Now, at my age, I understand how many people go through it. Even if it’s just somebody can look at it like, ‘He goes through it and he’s still out there being successful and doing this,’ I’m OK with that,” he told the The Star.

Kelly Oubre, Jr.

Kelly Oubre, Jr. relates to Love and DeRozan’s recent revelations about anxiety and depression.

He is a promising athlete at only age 22, yet the pressure to ascend has grown. Oubre has faced adversity in his career and with his family. However, Oubre shares that he’s learned to brush off emotional challenges he faces.

Oubre Jr.’s Story

“I’m really good at keeping a poker face because when I was growing up my dad always told me don’t let anybody see you weak,” he told the Wizard’s Tipoff.  His family was forced out of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, causing traumatic stress. He recognizes that he has been conditioned to keep a brave face in tough situations.

Life circumstances can alter a person’s outlook on life but Oubre continued to pursue his passion for basketball.

“That s— is serious,” he said. “I just go into a quiet place and breathe, man. Just being mindful is the only way I know how to get through any anxiety, any depression or anything like that,” told Kelly Oubre, Jr. to the Wizard’s Tipoff.

Love, DeRozan and Oubre share the same notion that it was difficult for them to be open about their emotional and mental struggles. Even so, the tough-guy stereotype is still prominent.

“We’re normal human beings. We face a lot more adversity, a lot more problems… It’s a little bit more amped up, we just can’t show it,” he said.

“I feel like people who are on the outside looking in don’t really understand because they see us as superheroes, but we’re normal people, man. We go through the issues that normal people go through times 10,” he told Wizard’s Tipoff.

If you want to open up to help your struggle, but don’t know where to turn, try Supportiv’s anonymous, online peer support chat. Hit Chat Now, enter what’s on your mind, and get matched to peers who get it.

Written by: Leslie Rivera

prev article next article