Roy Hibbert opens up about mental health struggles, says Ron Artest inspired him

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Roy Hibbert has had one of the more confusing NBA careers of the last decade. He’s been a two-time All-Star and for the first half of the 2013-14 season, looked like a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. But other times, he’s looked lost, especially on offense. His split from the Pacers was ugly — they all but begged him to opt out of his contract and he didn’t, so they traded him to the Lakers. It’s a fresh start for Hibbert, and he’s confident he’ll be able to play with Kobe Bryant.

Hibbert also opened up to ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes about his struggles with mental health, revealing that he’s visited a sports psychologist in the past, inspired by Ron Artest, who famously thanked his psychiatrist after the Lakers’ 2010 title.

“I felt that when [Artest] did that, it kind of opened the doors to make it somewhat OK,” Hibbert says. “I think it was great that he actually did that.”

Mental health is a subject Hibbert doesn’t seem to enjoy discussing. His words come slowly, each carefully chosen. At times, it seems like there’s more he wants to say, but he doesn’t. He has his reasons, which he declines to share. But Hibbert is interested in the field. He says he first visited a psychologist when he boarded at Georgetown Prep, where he was one of the top high-school prospects in the nation.

“I was a black kid in an all-white school, so I had to deal with some of that stress and pressure,” Hibbert told ESPN.com in November 2014. “If I didn’t do that back in high school, I probably wouldn’t be open to it later on.”

He was also an only child, sheltered by two parents who each worked multiple jobs, and admittedly socially awkward, spending much of his time playing video games.

The visits helped Hibbert shed any fear of being labeled as “having a couple of screws loose,” a stubborn perception that persists in the world of sports, in which “mental strength” — however abstract the definition — is fetishized.

In a separate interview with Holmes, Artest (now Metta World Peace) says he’s encouraged by more high-profile NBA players seeking psychological help:

I think it’s cool because when you look at the state of basketball — like how I grew up — basketball was something that helped me relieve some stress. I had a lot of fun, but I brought a lot of my baggage onto the court with me to a place that I loved, which was the basketball court.

And everybody has different issues, good or bad, that they carry with them on the court. It affects you. And for me, it affected me to where sometimes I would be overly aggressive and, in other ways, it would affect people to where they can’t perform on the court. I was always able to perform, but sometimes I would act out and I wanted to see a sports psychologist. Because to me, I didn’t need a psychologist to get my mind right. I needed a psychologist to help me perfect what I love, and I can’t perfect it when I’m on the bench or when I’m getting suspended because I’m playing upset.

That’s why I really had to thank my psychologist, because without her, I would not have been as locked in. Because you’ve got to think about it — I was coming from Houston, where I was averaging 20 a night, and in Indiana. I was also going through depression because I wasn’t in the spotlight as much, because I had Kobe [Bryant], Pau [Gasol] and [Andrew] Bynum, then Lamar [Odom] and [Derek] Fisher and everything. So I wasn’t getting the touches that I was used to, also, so that was very frustrating to me.

However Hibbert fares in Los Angeles, it’s good to see professional athletes be more open about the mental side of the game, and how they can sometimes struggle to get out of their own heads. There has been tremendous progress made in the national conversation around mental health in the past decade, but the stigma of seeing a psychologist still isn’t completely gone, and the more Hibbert and World Peace speak out about it, the faster that will change.