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Delonte West's Via Dolorosa and Mental Illness in the NBA
June 6, 2014 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Why Isn't Delonte West in the NBA? David Haglund takes a detailed look at the treatment and perception of mental illness and "crazy" behavior in the NBA and in the sports world at large.

"There is no shortage of professional athletes who hate losing and will practice obsessively to avoid failing the next time. What’s striking is the suggestion, made again and again, that the same traits that can be destructive on a personal level can fuel greatness on the court.

The sports psychologists and psychiatrists I’ve spoken to say that having healthy mental habits and attitudes outside of competition will help an athlete perform better on the field of play. But most also acknowledged that athletes can channel otherwise harmful tendencies—obsessiveness, aggression, anxiety—in ways that benefit them as competitors. Dr. Thomas Eppright, a psychiatrist who worked with West in Cleveland and has stayed in touch with him since, makes the point bluntly: 'Some of the greatest athletes who have played any sport were not healthy human beings, mentally.'"
posted by sallybrown (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wasn't there a recent draft pick whose stock was really hurt by his public acknowledgement of an anxiety disorder? I want to say he ended up on the Rockets and it was a bumpy ride.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:34 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Royce White, and it went really poorly, partially because the media jumped all over him.
posted by selfnoise at 8:37 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


In a similar vein, Ray Allen's "borderline OCD" has been considered a positive throughout his successful career.
posted by billyfleetwood at 8:38 AM on June 6


One of the most interesting parts of the article, to me, was contrasting how the NBA and MLB treat mental illness:

In a 2010 Sports Illustrated story, Pablo S. Torre traces MLB’s relative success to the establishment of its Employee Assistance Program in 1981. EAPs became more common in the American workplace starting in the 1970s, first addressing substance abuse and later widening in scope. Dr. David McDuff, a team psychiatrist for the Baltimore Orioles for nearly 20 years and part of its EAP, told me that nearly half of the Orioles’ players partake in the program during any given season. The players’ families, too, are welcome to see McDuff and his colleagues, with all charges covered by the team. To get that level of buy-in, he says, team psychologists and psychiatrists need to become familiar faces and spend time with the players on the field and in the trainers’ rooms. Players do come to his office, but McDuff says that conversations also take place “standing in a hallway, standing on a practice field,” or “next to a training table.” He says they eventually come to see him as just another doctor, not unlike the physicians they consult with when they suffer physical injuries. . . .

In April 2009, MLB sent a memo to all 30 teams detailing the process for putting a player on the disabled list due to mental health concerns. Teams are required to disclose the reason that a player goes on the DL, so privacy in such cases is not really an option. Nevertheless, in the subsequent season, five players went on the DL for emotional reasons, including the next season’s MVP, Joey Votto. Only four players, total, had done so in the previous decade.
(emphasis mine)

(Also note that West takes care to distinguish himself from Royce White--a sign of how poorly White was treated.)
posted by sallybrown at 8:41 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that the rumor about him having an affair with LeBron's mom while they were teammates seems to be a bigger sticking point for people around the league than the fact that he was driving around on a motorcycle armed like Mad Max.


And Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf played while suffering Tourette's which expressed itself in a repetitive desire that he used to become an amazing jump shooter.
posted by thecjm at 8:45 AM on June 6


is this the same NBA that gave us dennis rodman, metta world peace and so many other well-adjusted people?
posted by bruce at 8:52 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Rodman and Peace at peak level were All Stars. West was never really a big star and White has played a total of 9 minutes and still hasn't made his first NBA basket.
posted by bukvich at 9:00 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


I find it interesting that the rumor about him having an affair with LeBron's mom while they were teammates seems to be a bigger sticking point for people around the league than the fact that he was driving around on a motorcycle armed like Mad Max.

I feel like it would be in most workplaces, no? I mean, I have colleagues who I assume are riding around with serious weaponry on a regular basis and it doesn't prevent me from working with them.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:12 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I have two coworkers who are cheating on their spouses with each other and another who pulled a knife on a guy on the subway, and we definitely gossip about the affair more. This is only one slightly related data point, however.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:14 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there a recent draft pick whose stock was really hurt by his public acknowledgement of an anxiety disorder? I want to say he ended up on the Rockets and it was a bumpy ride.

Royce White (wikipedia):
At one point, White was expected to transfer to Kentucky.[24] White explained that John Calipari had called him to transfer to Kentucky the next day, but White's fear of flying and an anxiety disorder triggered a panic attack, which caused him to cancel his trip to sign with the team.[2]
...
After sessions with his own long-time doctor, White requested permission to purchase a bus in order to diminish his flight schedule and the impact his fear of flying has on his own mental health.[64] The Rockets and White came to an agreement regarding eliminating as many triggers as possible for his anxiety disorder, including allowing White extensive travel by personal bus rather than flying (which is a trigger). White missed the first week of training camp before this agreement was put in place.[65][66]
...

In a January 2013 interview, White stated "chances are very high" he would never play an NBA game, blaming what he believed to be a league-wide "lack of protocol" on mental health issues.[79] He further stated he did not hold blame against the Rockets' organization and that he still wanted to play for Houston.[79] On January 6, 2013, the Rockets suspended White without pay for failing to perform his contract.[80]
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:59 AM on June 6


To say Royce White was hurt primarily by his public acknowledgment is pretty disingenuous. The Rockets were very supportive in taking a chance on him. He's also a pretty terrible basketball playe and seemingly unwilling to accept any of the blame for his actions, including refusing to go to the D-League when it was clear he was outmatched on an NBA floor. The Rockets bent over backwards for that guy.
posted by xmutex at 11:37 AM on June 7


Well, I wasn't being disingenuous, I just have a shitty memory.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:14 AM on June 9


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