Kevin Love

NBA bubble
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.”

Report: Cavaliers signing Jordan Bell

Former Warriors center Jordan Bell vs. Cavaliers
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Two years ago, Jordan Bell was drunkenly celebrating the Warriors’ NBA Finals victory over the Cavaliers.

It has been a tough decline for both Bell and Cleveland.

Now, they’re linking up.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

League sources tell cleveland.com the Cavaliers agreed to a two-year contract with free agent forward Jordan Bell and converted the Two-Way pact of forward Dean Wade into a multi-year deal.

Sources say Wade, who was garnering interest from the Washington Wizards over the last few weeks, will receive a team-friendly four-year contract that pays him $375,000 for the rest of the 2019-20 season. The final three years, starting in 2020-21, are non-guaranteed. According to sources, Bell will get $250,000 for the rest of 2019-20. His second year is non-guaranteed.

This is a head start on next season for the Cavaliers, who didn’t qualify to continue this season at Disney World

Bell signed with the Timberwolves last summer. Just before the trade deadline, he got traded to the Grizzlies (via the Rockets). He got waived by Memphis after just two games, but too late for him to be playoff-eligible elsewhere.

Though Bell is just 25, players like him – mobile centers who play versatile defense and finish well above the rim – can peak early. Bell must retain his athleticism to contribute.

Cleveland already has a few expensive bigs: Andre Drummond (who’s staying), Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. But Bell is a reasonable option – especially at this price.

Adding Bell effectively costs only his real-dollar salary for this season, and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has shown a willingness to spend. If Bell looks promising, the Cavs will keep him cheap next season. If not, they can clear his roster spot with no future cap consequences.

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.”

Cavaliers’ Kevin Love honored with Arthur Ashe Courage Award

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLEVELAND — Cavaliers forward Kevin Love will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for his efforts in raising awareness about mental health.

Love, whose openness about his life-long battles with anxiety triggered nationwide discussion and helped spur the NBA to do more to help players deal with emotional issues, will receive the award at Sunday’s ESPYs in Los Angeles.

“It is an absolute honor to receive this award and I am incredibly humbled by it,” Love said. “In telling my story, if I can help just one child that is suffering to make sense of what they are experiencing, I know my efforts have been worth it. And I hope one day we are able to erase the stigma around mental illness, starting with public conversations around mental health and encouraging people to seek help when they need it, followed by research, action, and change.”

Named in honor of the tennis champion, the Arthur Ashe Award honors “those who find ways through sports to make a difference far beyond the field of play and impact the world in indelible ways.”

Previous winners include Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Nelson Mandela, Pat Summitt and Caitlyn Jenner.

Wes Unseld dies at 74

Leave a comment

Wes Unseld’s most awesome accomplishment: He won MVP in 1969 – as a rookie.

Unseld came ready and remained steady through a 14-year career with the Baltimore/Washington Bullets franchise. He built a legacy of hard work and dependability that will continue, even after his death.

Wizards:

At just 6-foot-7, Unseld battled nightly at center. He was a great rebounder, committed screener and a special passer for his position. Unseld held Washington’s career assist record until point guard John Wall broke it a few years ago. Add steady defensive effort and efficient interior scoring, and Unseld did it all.

He became a Hall of Famer in 1988 and made the NBA’s 50 Greatest list in 1996.

When they drafted Unseld in 1968, the Bullets had never had a winning season. He led them to 57 wins his first season and won MVP. Wilt Chamberlain is the only other player to win MVP as a rookie.

Unseld later teamed with Elvin Hayes (the only player drafted ahead of Unseld in 1968) to lead Washington to the 1978 title. That remains the franchise’s only championship. In fact, the franchise’s only four trips to the NBA Finals (and conference finals*) came with Unseld.

*The Bullets made the 1965 Western Division Finals. But that was back when the NBA has so few teams (nine), Baltimore was in the West.

After retiring in 1981, Unseld had stints as Washington’s general manager and coach. He and his family also ran a school in Baltimore.

Wes Unseld Jr. became a coach, now serving as lead assistant for the Nuggets. Kevin Love, whose middle name is Wesley, was named after Unseld. Kevin’s father, Stan Love, played with Unseld in Baltimore. An obvious inspiration for Love’s outlet passing? Unseld.

Unseld was an NBA legend – a great player in his time with so many traits for future generations to emulate.