There is something happening in the NBA. Something very important and very powerful, and something that has absolutely nothing to do with points or rebounds or steals. It’s a conversation about mental health. DeMar DeRozan started it back during the All-Star break with a tweet that read: “This depression get the best of me”
They’re lyrics to a song and he could’ve passed it off as such and just kept moving. But he didn’t. Instead, he did an interview with the Toronto Star that came out last week where he talked about mental health: “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. We all got feelings … All of that. Sometimes … It gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world’s on top of you.”
Brave as hell. That takes guts. Big time guts. NBA players don’t talk about things like that publicly. Shoot, men don’t really talk about things like that. Because the rap has been that if you talk about things like that you’re soft. But the truth is, you’re not. It takes incredible strength to do that, but even more so to be a player and to do it so publicly.
And that inspired Kevin Love to come forward in a piece for The Player’s Tribune to share his story about the panic attack he suffered during a November game against the Hawks. He described stomach pain, shortness of breath, a racing heartbeat. “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.”
These are two All-Stars, two Olympians, two of the best players in the world. In another part of the show today, I’ll talk about DeMar’s absolutely ridiculous game last night, going coast-to-coast with seconds on the clock to take the lead. When you watch DeMar play, you might think he’s Superman or that Kevin Love is invincible. But they’re not.
And the fact that they’re willing to share that is so powerful and so impressive.
Love told the media yesterday that “Without a guy like DeMar DeRozan coming out and speaking about mental health, I probably wouldn’t have pressed ‘send’ yesterday. He opened the door for me, so I respect him and love him for that.”
The two of them speaking out in turn inspired Kelly Oubre Jr. of the Washington Wizards to talk about his own experiences on the Wizards Tipoff podcast: “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.’ Nobody sees that I’m weak, but deep down inside, I’m going through a lot. Hell is turning over.”
Let’s get something clear: these guys aren’t making excuses or looking for sympathy. They are sharing their experiences and trying to eliminate some of the stigma that surrounds mental health, particularly for men and for athletes.
And it’s the kind of thing that may very well leave a legacy that goes a lot further than the ones DeRozan and Love are creating on the court. And both players are having Hall of Fame careers on the court. They’re creating the space and the opportunity for people to talk about the things that they frequently can’t talk about. Maybe it’s something you’ve dealt with or are dealing with. And if it is, say something. What DeRozan and Love are saying is that you’re not alone. You don’t have to suffer in silence. And when you speak, people will listen.