DeMar DeRozan

NBA mental health
Getty Images

Player mental health the focus of the NBA as league heads to restart bubble

Leave a comment

NEW ORLEANS — Jrue Holiday expects basketball to be the easy part.

The Pelicans guard will be living in the NBA’s “bubble” when 22 teams gather near Orlando, Florida, this month to resume their suspended season.

Holiday’s wife, Lauren, a former U.S. national team soccer player, is pregnant with the couple’s second child at a time when much of society has been shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. The veteran New Orleans player might be away from home for more than a month.

Meanwhile, Memphis rookie Ja Morant expects to miss his daughter’s first birthday next month. Boston’s Gordon Hayward may leave the team when his fourth child is born in September. And players like Washington’s Bradley Beal and Portland’s Damian Lillard wonder how intense NBA restrictions on player movement will be received.

These are but a few examples of why the NBA, its teams and the players’ union are making mental health and wellness resources available to players now and once they arrive at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex.

“It is going to leave the guys with a lot of time on their own, and challenges with families, newborns and whatever else they have going on in their personal lives are going to be magnified because they’re going to be in confined spaces for prolonged periods of time,” said William Parham, a Loyola Marymount psychology professor and director of the National Basketball Players Association’s mental health and wellness program. “There’s no way around it, so I would anticipate some increased anxiety, some increased tension, some increased restlessness.”

There will be no fans at Disney. There also will be restrictions on where players can go, plus rules keeping families away until at least the second round of the playoffs. The hope is to significantly limit exposure to COVID-19 inside the bubble.

Even under normal circumstances, Holiday sees family time as a cherished respite. Life at Disney will clearly complicate that.

“This is one of the mental parts about it that guys have to adjust to, where someone like me, I go home and it’s where I kind of relax,” Holiday said. “I try my best not to bring my work home with me so I can hang out with my wife, my dog, and my daughter and I can do things like that. … I think that’s going to be a little bit of a challenge, especially after like seven to 10 days.”

Likewise, Beal said living in the bubble will hardly be “a walk in the park.”

“We can’t just leave. We can’t just order whatever food we want. We can’t just do activities we want to do. We can’t go to our teammates’ rooms,” Beal said. “You’re restricted, and you can’t do the things that you’re normally used to doing.”

The Pelicans’ mental health and wellness program is led by team psychologist Jenna Rosen, and New Orleans general manager David Griffin calls it “critical.”

“Let’s not kid ourselves. This quarantine situation is going to be very difficult,” Griffin said. “We will work through mindfulness training with Jenna literally every day. … It’s going to be about who can keep themselves in the best frame of mind, quite frankly.”

Mental health has been a priority for the NBA and the NBPA, especially after players like Cleveland’s Kevin Love and San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan opened up about their inner struggles.

DeRozan knows it won’t be easy at Disney.

“It’s tough,” he said. “You’re taking guys who’ve been with their families every single day for the last few months and all of a sudden separating everybody into this one confined space and taking away a lot of joyful things that we do outside of basketball.”

Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has played for Greece’s national team, said being away for three weeks during international tournaments was challenging. This trip to Disney could last three months if the Bucks make the NBA Finals.

“Not being able to see your family, being there for three months, playing games with no fans, it’s going to be mental,” Antetokounmpo said. “You’ve got to push yourself through this.”

Daniel Medina, the Wizards’ chief of athletic care and performance, said some players are concerned that an interrupted season might make them more prone to injury, which could be career-altering to players with expiring contracts. Some have decided not to play, notably Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.

Parham, who helped launch the NBPA’s mental health program in 2018, expects many players to handle the resumption well. He noted that after three months of relative isolation at home, they’ll be eager to satisfy their appetite for competition.

Still, the unprecedented nature of the bubble, born out of a pandemic blamed for about a half-million deaths worldwide, will present challenges. Another issue, Parham said, is how the restart coincides with the political and social upheaval spawned by the death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in police custody.

“Prior to COVID, and prior to these social justice demonstrations, there were sufficient daily distractions for people to not really even think about their stuff. They were just sort of on automatic pilot,” Parham said. “You know what they say: A person will never see their reflection in running water. It is only when the water is still that their reflected image begins to emerge.”

Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan: NBA protocols ‘so frustrating and overwhelming’

Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA produced a 113-page manual on health and safety protocols for the league’s resumption at Disney World. The multi-bullet-pointed section on ping pong includes:

No Doubles

Until directed otherwise by the NBA, players should play singles only so that they can maintain six feet of distance from each other.

Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan, via Royce Young of ESPN:

“The ping pong thing is ridiculous. To be honest,” San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said on Thursday. “Guys can’t do this, but we can do this and battle over each other. That part just don’t make no sense to me. I got through 10 lines of the handbook and just put it down because it became so frustrating and overwhelming at times because you just never thought you’d be in a situation of something like this. So it’s hard to process at times.”

DeRozan’s exasperation is completely understandable. The manual is long and full of scientific jargon in addition to rules that seem trivial.

But the NBA’s plan is logical.

Both basketball games and doubles ping pong are generally unsafe during the coronavirus pandemic. The big difference: NBA basketball games produce a lot of money. So, the league and players are willing to risk playing them.

The goal is to isolate players from the outside world and test them frequently, minimizing the chances of them playing basketball with coronavirus. There’s a risk someone gets infected anyway, so limiting opportunities for someone to spread coronavirus – like doubles ping pong or, more importantly, getting close to someone outside the bubble – are being minimized.

Is that enjoyable for players? Heck no. That’s why Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has doubts about players maintaining a strict bubble.

But hopefully, players abide by the rules designed keep them safe… and highly paid. Whether or not they read all 113 pages, participating players are signing up for this.

NBA releases new social justice video: ‘The Truth Is #BlackLivesMatter’

Leave a comment

Numerous NBA players have taken part in — and in some cases led — Black Lives Matter protests around the nation.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Malcolm Brogdon, Jaylen Brown, Karl-Anthony Towns, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, DeMar DeRozan, Tobias Harris, Mattise Thybulle, Damian Lillard, and many other NBA players took to the streets as part of the protests of police brutality that rose up in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis Police officer. NBA owners — Mark Cuban and Vivek Ranadive — as well as front office people such as Elton Brand were at protests as well.

The NBA weaved footage of a lot of those players together in a new social justice brand video focusing on the social justice movement and the league’s commitment to it.

Cavaliers’ Kevin Love commits $500,000 to UCLA’s mental-health efforts

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love at UCLA
Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLEVELAND — 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.

Love’s gift came one day after he received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs for his efforts in mental health.

“I hope one day we are able to erase the stigma around anxiety and depression, and we can only do that by improving diagnosis and treatment, fostering public conversations about mental health and encouraging people to seek help when they need it,” Love said.

Love first went public with his personal battles during the 2018 season. Since then, he has been active in spreading information nationally on mental health issues. Love credited San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan, who has also fought depression, for giving him the strength to come forward.

“When heroes like Kevin come forward and share their vulnerability, it shines a light on anxiety and depression, and that helps chip away at stigma,” said Michelle Craske, a UCLA professor in psychology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. “I want to thank Kevin for his leadership and his courage to share his personal story with the world. He has inspired and provided hope to many. Through his continued efforts, he is changing people’s lives.”

Spurs: LaMarcus Aldridge underwent surgery 45 days ago, out rest of season

Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Spurs have a chance to extend their 22-year playoff streak.

But they’ll have to do it without LaMarcus Aldridge.

Spurs release:

LaMarcus Aldridge underwent an arthroscopic subacromial decompression and rotator cuff debridement on his right shoulder and will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 season. The successful procedure was performed by Dr. Daniel Cooper in Dallas, Texas on April 24.

Aldridge injured his shoulder at Utah on Feb. 21. After playing at Oklahoma City on Feb. 23, he missed the next six games rehabbing before returning to score 24 points in San Antonio’s win against Dallas on March 10. The next day the NBA suspended game play on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The seven-time All-Star is expected to be fully cleared for all basketball activities prior to Spurs training camp to start the 2020-21 season.

Why is this just getting disclosed now? Aldridge had this surgery 45 days ago. While embracing gambling, the NBA has increased emphasis on transparency. This delayed announcement flies in the face of that.

It also dampers San Antonio’s chances during the NBA’s restart at Disney World.

At 12th in the Western Conference, the Spurs already faced long odds of advancing to the postseason. They’d have to jump three of the Trail Blazers, Pelicans and Kings then win two play-in games against the eighth-place team before dropping one.

Jakob Poeltl should be healthy enough to step in at center. He’s a versatile defender who can rebound and score inside. But neither he nor DeMar DeRozan shoot 3-pointers, which really clogs spacing. San Antonio hit its stride this season once Aldridge began hoisting from deep while Poeltl played less with DeRozan.

Whatever frustrations DeRozan holds with the Spurs, this situation is ripe to exacerbate them.

Both the downside and bright side: It’ll probably be for just eight games.