It has become well known in recent years that the NBA is falling behind in the treatment of mental illness and disorders. According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 18.5% of adults in the US (approximately one in five) experience mental illness in a given year. The statistic is applied to a widespread demographic, but the implication should be alarming for the NBA community regardless. It’s technically possible that every starting lineup in the league features a player who is struggling with an illness like depression.
The grind of an NBA season weighs on athletes both mentally and physically. Teams employ top notch athletic trainers for sprains and tears, but organizations seem more likely to drop the ball when faced with less visible issues. In speaking about his borderline personality disorder, NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall wants people to understand that mental and physical ailments should be treated the same way. This is the right method to approach disorders. The NFL’s more advanced support, at least in this regard, might explain why athletes like Marshall remain in football while basketball players such as Delonte West and Royce White have retired or fallen out of favor.
Departures like those two athletes have led to a more publicized critique of the NBA’s mental health approach. Many likely engage in a silent struggle, but there are basketball players with struggles that have become public. Keep reading below for 15 of them you may not know about.
15 Shabazz Muhammad: Tourette Syndrome
Shabazz Muhammad began to exhibit odd tics and movements at age six. He would later be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. It initially affected his defensive mobility. There was medicine available, but his family opted for a mind over matter approach. Muhammad’s tics persisted during middle school, which led to occasional teasing from peers or opponents. This only fueled Muhammad’s motivation to control his tics more. Rather than become a victim to Tourette’s, Shabazz pushed the syndrome to the back of his mind. When his mother recorded a television special on adolescents living with Tourette’s, he told her, “That’s not me.” When the Daily Bruin ran a story on the UCLA star, Muhammad declined to comment on his condition. Far removed from the six-year-old plagued by on-court tics, Shabazz Muhammad went 14th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. He’s currently averaging a shade under 10 points a game in his fourth season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
14 Keyon Dooling: PTSD
Keyon Dooling, the 10th overall pick in the 2000 Draft, played guard for seven different teams in 13 seasons. He was never a full time starter, but Dooling found a home in the league as a solid locker room presence. He retired with a 7.0 points per game average in 2013. That is the short story. Dooling also abruptly retired in 2012 after re-signing with the Boston Celtics. The former guard became paranoid. He believed someone was following him. Later that summer, a neighbor called the cops on Dooling, who had been playfully roughhousing with his children outside. The police showed up and realized the misunderstanding, but Dooling suffered a nervous breakdown. He pleaded with authorities to take him to a hospital, and he spent a week receiving treatment for PTSD. Dooling had been repressing a history of sexual abuse that dated back to when he was five. Once he struck a balance with medication, he confided in his wife and properly reflected on his traumatic childhood. Dooling channeled the experience into a post-NBA calling. He now serves as a public speaker and life coach.
13 JaVale McGee: ADHD
The NBA has had its share of odd individuals. JaVale McGee has proudly carried the responsibility of being one of the league’s strangest since 2008. It may come as no surprise to those familiar with the big man that he has been diagnosed with ADHD. His proclivity for impressive plays is matched only by his knack for head-scratching gaffes. McGee might slam a dunk home and shift the momentum of a game. A mere possession later, he could inexplicably run back on defense while his team still has the ball. For his part, McGee considers living with ADHD fun. Doctors suggested putting him on Ritalin as a child, but he refused. He most recently landed in a supporting role with the Golden State Warriors.
12 Ray Allen: OCD
Ray Allen is the first of the players on this list with a Hall of Fame resume. Ray Allen enjoyed a long career that spanned from 1996 to 2014. He retired with 24,505 points, two NBA championships, and 10 All Star appearances. His admission of undocumented Obsessive Compulsive Disorder certainly played a role in the development of his shooting touch. He reduced any issues associated with OCD and used the compulsions to his advantage instead. Ray Allen can’t walk by a scrap of paper on the floor without picking it up. He sometimes felt uncomfortable when teammates followed inconsistent routines or sat in different seats on a flight. It’s the reason why Allen established a meticulous schedule of his own. It’s why he’s the current career leader in three-point field goals (2,973).
11 Mitch McGary: ADHD
Mitch McGary struggled to keep his grades up. His ADHD prevented him from focusing during class. McGary told his AAU coach, Wayne Brumm, that he might quit basketball. Brumm realized McGary was simply tired of being perceived as dumb. A decision was made to enroll in Brewster Academy instead. Smaller, more involved classes reinvigorated McGary. He also worked harder to hone his craft due to greater competition within the basketball team. The transformation led to a scholarship at Michigan. McGary suited up for the Wolverines for two years. He then entered the 2014 Draft after testing positive for marijuana – the NCAA would have suspended him for a year. McGary made an impact as a rookie with Oklahoma City (15.2 minutes and 5.2 rebounds per game). However, he received a five-game suspension for failing a drug test in July 2016 and ten more for violating the terms of the NBA’s Anti-Drug Program. The Thunder waived him before the season.
10 Luther Wright: Bipolar
Luther Wright played only 15 games in his NBA career. He scored 19 points for the 1993-1994 Utah Jazz. The demons that plagued the 7’2” center derailed his career on January 24, 1994. He spent hours carrying a gun through the streets of Salt Lake City. He smashed a car windshield and started banging on garbage cans outside a rest stop. The police arrested him for disorderly contact, but they took him to the Western Institute of Neuropsychiatry instead of prison. Doctors diagnosed Wright with bipolar disorder. He never played in the NBA again. Wright spent several years living on the streets. He coped with his molestation as a child by abusing crack. Rock bottom finally hit in 2004 when Luther had two frostbitten toes amputated. He eventually achieved sobriety, got married and reunited with his alma mater, Seton Hall. The school hired him as their house DJ for home basketball games. Wright has admitted that music, not basketball, was always his first love.
9 Lance Allred: OCD and PTSD
Lance Allred’s professional basketball career spanned from 2005 to 2016. Allred is a two-time NBA D-League All Star. He logged time in numerous countries on several different teams, most recently with Leones de Ponce of Puerto Rico. He also has 75-80% hearing loss, spent time growing up in a polygamous cult and suffers from OCD and PTSD. He appeared in three games for the 2008 Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring one point. In doing so, Allred became the first legally deaf player in NBA history. Allred picked up the sport at age 14. He attended the University of Utah but never mixed with head coach Rick Majerus. Allred transferred to Weber State and accused Majerus of bullying tactics, such as calling Allred a “disgrace to cripples.” Teammates backed up the claims, which helped eject Majerus from his head coaching position. Allred’s career took off after the transfer. His new coach, Joe Cravens, told him, “If you want to obsess over something, why don’t you obsess about rebounding.” Allred did just that, and it allowed him to achieve his long shot NBA dream.
8 Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf: Tourette Syndrome
Before Colin Kaepernick, there was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Adbul-Rauf was diagnosed with a moderate case of Tourette’s in his teenage years. Despite his occasional convulsions, Abdul-Rauf rose to national prominence on LSU’s basketball team. He averaged 30.2 points per game during his freshman season. He joined the Nuggets as the third pick in the 1990 draft. His best year coincided with the beginning of the end for Abdul-Rauf. The point guard average 6.8 assists and 19.2 points a game during the 1995-1996 season. He also began protesting the national anthem by stretching or remaining in the locker room. When a reporter brought it to national attention in March, the NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for one game. The league eventually struck a compromise, allowing Abdul-Rauf to stand and pray with his head down during the anthem. The Nuggets traded their electric point guard to Sacremento during the offseason. The Kings eventually dropped his playtime time down from 35.6 minutes per game (’95-’96) to 17.1 (’97-’98). Abdul-Rauf had to play in Turkey the following year. He joined the Vancouver Grizzlies for the 2000 season, his last in the NBA. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s fall was swift, and it wasn’t because of Tourette’s.
7 Stephon Marbury: Depression
Stephon Marbury forged a diva reputation during his 13-year NBA career. He played for five different teams. The only time he was signed as an NBA free agent instead of being traded came in 2009. Even then, Marbury was only available because the Knicks bought out his contract. In 2015, six years removed from his final season in the NBA, Marbury acknowledged that he faced depression and suicidal thoughts at the end of his NBA career. The public had largely vilified him for his feuds with New York’s coaches. His father passed away in 2007. Marbury’s sneaker company, Starbury, was failing. The two-time NBA All Star fortunately found refuge in China. Since moving overseas, Marbury has been named to six CBA All-Star Games and won three championships with the Beijing Dragons.
6 Metta World Peace
Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, has pieced together an intriguing NBA career. Now in his 17th season, Metta’s career appeared to be on life support in 2004. The lockdown defender violently charged into the stands after a fan threw a drink on him. He was at the center of “The Malice at the Palace” and received a 73-game suspension. Years later, a court in Sacramento ordered him to seek anger management counseling after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor domestic abuse. He continued to seek therapy even after being traded to Houston. Metta also openly thanked his psychiatrist in an interview after winning the 2010 NBA Title with Los Angeles. Although Metta has never been labeled with a disorder, his activism in the NBA’s acknowledgment of mental health concerns is important to note. He’s been prescribed anti-depressants in the past but has decided not to take them. World Peace also estimates he’s seen eight different psychologists in the past 20 years.
5 Delonte West: Bipolar
Delonte West made his initial mark in the NBA as a scrappy guard on the Boston Celtics, but he rose to prominence with the Cavaliers during LeBron James’ first stint. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a few incidents damaged West’s standing in the league. In September 2009, Delonte West was pulled over for making an unsafe lane change on a motorcycle. He informed the officer that he was carrying several weapons, including a shotgun in a guitar case. The arrest made headlines. Many exaggerated the late night ride and drew a connection to the bipolar diagnosis. When LeBron James took his talents to South Beach following the same season, a rumor spread that Delonte West had slept with James’ mother. Both of these instances appear widely blown out of proportion due to a stigma against West’s disorder. A police spokesman stated West was very cooperative the entire time of the arrest. He was transporting the guns due to his cousins’ children being in his other residence. All parties involved in the LeBron rumor vehemently denied such an asinine suggestion. Nevertheless, The NBA wiped its hands of West by 2012. He was 28. During his last season with Dallas, West achieved a career high in points per 36 minutes (14.3) and was directly on par with his career assist average per 36 minutes (4.7). You can’t exactly blame it on his performance.
4 Chamique Holdsclaw: Depression
Chamique Holdsclaw, the only woman featured on this list, had one of the more public bouts with mental illness. Holdsclaw won three consecutive NCAA Championships at the University of Tennessee and was a no-brainer first overall selection by the Washington Mystics in 1999. She reached six All Star Games and was a two-time WNBA Rebounding Champion, but Holdsclaw never felt right off the court. Her grandmother’s passing in 2002 triggered heightened feelings of depression, which she publicly admitted in 2004. Holdsclaw attempted suicide in 2006 and required hospitalization. She initially hid the ordeal from teammates. In 2012, two years since her retirement, Holdsclaw nearly killed herself again. Instead, she claims to have blacked out before shooting at her ex-girlfriend’s car and smashing the window with a baseball bat. Doctors diagnosed her with bipolar disorder shortly after. She eventually pled guilty to aggravated assault, criminal damage and possession of a firearm. Holdsclaw ultimately used the mental health scare as motivation to regain control of her life. A 2016 documentary, Mind/Game, featured Holdsclaw and her battle with depression.
3 Eddie Griffin: Depression
The tragic story of Eddie Griffin is mired in depression and alcoholism. The 7th overall pick in the 2001 Draft played power forward and center for the Rockets and Timberwolves. He made his dynamic skill set immediately known during his rookie season in Houston. The 6’10” Griffin had range. He connected on 90 three pointers. He also accumulated 134 blocks. Then, the wheels fell off. He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in November 2003. The Rockets released him. He spent the year at an alcohol treatment center. Minnesota gave Griffin a second chance by signing him for the 2004 season. His troubles continued. Griffin drove into a parked car in 2006 and violated the NBA’s antidrug program. Minnesota released him. On August 17, 2007, Griffin fatally crashed his SUV into a moving train. His autopsy revealed a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit.
2 Larry Sanders: Depression
The final two cases are possibly known. If not, they should be. The two most recent developments in the NBA’s fight against mental illness have helped spur a call to action. Larry Sanders, a VCU product and 15th overall pick, played center for the Bucks from 2010-2015. He then walked away from $27 million by agreeing to a buyout with Milwaukee. In a video explaining his retirement, Sanders cited anxiety and depression. He acknowledged a love for the game, but he could not let it consume his life at that particular moment. Sanders fortunately looks mentally ready for a comeback attempt after a two-year layoff. The 28-year-old center made his Cavaliers’ D-League debut on March 18th of this year. He had two points and one rebound in 12 minutes. Hopefully Sanders will have a reliable support system both within the organization and outside the game.
1 Royce White: OCD
At a surface level, Royce White is essentially just a blip on the NBA radar. He’s appeared in three NBA games for nine minutes. He recorded two personal fouls and one shot attempt during that time. White posted no other career statistics. Initially drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2012, the power forward had several disputes with the organization over missed practices, refused assignments, and contractual plans for White’s OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, and fear of flying. The team traded him to Philadelphia during the following offseason. The 76ers waived him before the start of the season. Sacramento gave White two ten-day contracts and his only NBA-level playing time, but the team also moved on. He currently plays for the London Lightning in the National Basketball League of Canada. White’s advocacy for bringing a comprehensive mental health policy to the NBA has currently had a far more expansive effect than his playing career. He believes the league must find a balance between valuing employees and its profit-first approach. He also states that physicians should receive larger decision-making power over a player’s treatment than teams. This type of thing became an issue when the Rockets told White he had to see a psychiatrist everyday. Although White was unable to break into the league personally, his efforts may open the door for others with similar disorders.
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