In her latest must-read piece on mental health in the NBA, Jackie MacMullan of ESPN quotes Clippers coach and former president Doc Rivers and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss describing how they welcome players with mental-health issues.
A rival Western Conference GM disagrees. He admits if two players are equal in ability and one has ADHD, he’s taking the other one because, he reasons, “it lessens the likelihood of off-the-court issues as well as disruptions in practice.
“These guys you read about who tear up their hotel rooms?” the GM says. “That’s often guys who are off their meds. So now, in addition to everything else we’ve got to worry about, we have to make sure our power forward is filling his prescription every week.”
In one way, this is reasonable. It’s akin to a team preferring players who didn’t previously tear their ACLs if everything else is equal.
However, I bet this general manager would have a hard time assessing the players’ relative abilities in his example. If they have identical accomplishments and were equal in every other way, that would suggest the player with ADHD has greater ability. He had to overcome more to reach the same point. Perhaps, in an organization that provided the resources to handle his condition, he’d flourish even more.
Teams are willing to pay doctors and trainers to care for players’ physical health. Teams even connect players with personnel to help avoid and handle legal problems. But investing in helping players with their mental health is a bridge too far?
The teams that make the effort to care about their players’ health have an advantage. Those teams can select from a wider pool of players and are therefore more likely to find the best ones.
If simply caring about their employees because it’s the right way to treat people isn’t enough, increasing the odds of winning ought to justify it.