DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love will face off on the court this week when their teams battle in the Eastern Conference semifinals, starting on Tuesday night in Toronto.
The pair, though, teamed up before hand to tackle an issue that’s more important to both of them than any playoff series.
DeRozan and Love joined forces for an NBA public service announcement that puts a spotlight on mental health — something both NBA stars have opened up about in recent months.
Their 30-second television spot kicked off on Monday and will run through the end of May, which is mental health month.
“I think everyone walks around with something you can’t see,” Love said in the PSA. “The best thing that I did was to come out and say, ‘Hey look, I need some help.'”
“We all go through it. I don’t care who you are,” DeRozan said in the PSA. “Never be ashamed of wanting to be a better you, period.”
Love opened up about his anxiety and panic attacks in March in an in-depth piece in The Player’s Tribune. He talked about his battle with panic attacks — one of which he had early in the third quarter of a Nov. 5 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
“Mental health affects everybody,” Love said after Cleveland’s Game 7 win on Sunday. “It really doesn’t discriminate. I meant what I said in my piece that everybody’s going through something you can’t see. I thought it was very important for us to speak up and use the platform the NBA has. It’s such a global game and reaches so many people in all demographics.”
DeRozan spoke out about his battles with depression just a week before Love did in an article by Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, detailing similar issues.
“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,” DeRozan said in February. “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.”
Multiple other players in the league have come forward after DeRozan and Love, sparking what the pair hopes to be a new, reignited conversation about mental health across the league.
The issue, though, certainly isn’t a new one in the sport.
Royce White, who played last season with the London Lightning in Canada’s National Basketball League, struggled to find a home in the NBA because, in part, of his widely publicized general anxiety disorder.
He had reported clashes with the Houston Rockets, who drafted him out of Iowa State in the first round in 2012, over the management of his anxiety disorder. The Rockets eventually sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers, and then within a year the former Big 12 Player of the Year was out of the league.
White told Yahoo Sports that in 2012 Rockets personnel said that establishing a comprehensive written plan for managing his anxiety disorder was “impossible.”
“The response that I got was that a policy for myself was impossible. To put something in writing with my anxiety disorder was impossible,” White said in March. “It was said that it would take a long time to get [all 30 NBA] owners to agree to such a move, because in order for the Rockets to do it, the entire league would have to do it or agree, because it would have implications and [set] precedent for the whole league.
“They were citing fears of setting a precedent. There were fears of players faking [having mental illnesses to be able to get paid not to play] that were being communicated to me, as well. And there was a general skepticism toward mental health science, overall.”
Now, though, the trend is changing — and that’s largely because of DeRozen and Love sharing their stories.
The NBA is taking a different approach now, too. Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s executive vice president of social responsibility and player programs, told USA TODAY that the league approached DeRozan and Love about this public service announcement back at the All-Star Game.
“The impact they are having is enormous, and I think they both recognize it’s enormous,” Behrens said. “They have shared it’s beyond anything they expected. Our objective is to reach as many kids and families as we possibly can to support what Kevin and DeMar are doing on their own and just elevate this conversation so that we can reach more people and hopefully more people feel comfortable asking for and getting help.”
The NBA and National Basketball Players Association plans to have a comprehensive mental health program in place for its players by the start of next season, and is currently looking to name an independent director of the program — marking a complete, necessary and long overdue change from when White was trying to find a home in the league.
“Our goal is to make sure our players have access to the best resources possible,” Behrens said. “This campaign, we know that it will be helpful. Speaking out is inspiring others to think about the issues they might be dealing and to ensure they’re getting help.”
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