Game Change Nation

Kevin Love’s Path to Being a Mental Wellness Advocate

Kevin Love was born to be a basketball player. 

The son of former NBA player Stan Love, Love has been a top performer on the world’s largest basketball stages. He was an All American and Pac 12 Player of the Year as a freshman at UCLA, where he led the Bruins to the Final Four. Love has made the All-Star team five times, was the league rebounding leader in 2011, and won a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. He also won gold medals representing the United States at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey and the 2012 Olympics in London.

Although Love has enjoyed a stellar career, it has also been marred by various injuries, including broken hands, a dislocated shoulder, several concussions, and surgery to remove loose cartilage from the knee. However, he didn’t think he had a heart problem until one crazy night when he was rushed from a game to the hospital.

It was an early season game in November of 2017 when Love’s Cleveland Cavs were hosting the Atlanta Hawks and right from the very start of the game he didn’t feel well. Things got progressively worse and in the second half, he ran off the court and into the locker room where he collapsed on the floor. Lying on the ground and having a hard time breathing, Love thought he was having a heart attack.  A member of the Cavaliers organization accompanied Love to the Cleveland Clinic where they ran a series of tests and he was relieved to learn that his heart was just fine. 

Love had suffered a panic attack. 

Two days later, Love was back in the lineup in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He scored 32 points in a Cavs win, but something still didn’t feel right. Although he felt good about being back in action, he recalled feeling relieved that not many people knew why he left the game against the Hawks. In an essay that Love wrote for The Players Tribune he said, “I’d thought the hardest part was over after I had the panic attack. It was the opposite. Now I was left wondering why it happened — and why I didn’t want to talk about it.”

Love didn’t want to be perceived as soft by his teammates and other players in the league. Ironically, a player who had proven his grit time after time when fighting back from numerous physical injuries was now concerned that admitting a mental health challenge might make people question his toughness.  Love wrote in The Players Tribune, “I didn’t want to look weak.” 

The other thing that made Love reluctant to seek help was the idea that when faced with challenges in your life, you are supposed to just dig in and figure it out for yourself. Men should be strong and not talk about their feelings. Fortunately, Love overcame his reluctance to seek help and he began to see a therapist. He quickly learned that just talking to someone unveiled issues that had been buried for a long time and that understanding those issues made them more manageable to deal with.  

Love has emerged as a leader in the NBA on the issue of mental health. He is rightly proud of his work in eliminating the stigma that the issue carries with it. In an interview with Jason Rosario, on his show “Dear Men,” Love said, “Being vulnerable is very important. I think that’s another word that has a negative connotation to it, especially when it comes to masculinity, you feel like you can’t be vulnerable.” Love added, “I think it’s important we have these conversations.”   

If we define illness as an “unhealthy condition of the body or mind,” then it is probably safe to say every one to some degree has experienced some form of mental illness in their lifetime. It could be as simple as being a little bit off or not feeling like your normal self. Maybe you are clouded with doubts about your life, or you’re anxious about what lies ahead, causing your heart to race a bit or difficulty breathing normally. 

These episodes can be short-lived or chronic. If they are one-off kinds of experiences, there are techniques such as having a sense of gratitude, practicing meditation, or breathing techniques, that can help you move through the stress. However, if the level and frequency of your condition are more problematic, it would serve you well to seek assistance that can help you move through them. 

A major issue with mental illness in our world is how to create a greater culture of transparency and mainstream acceptance to openly discuss the challenges we have. It’s gotten better, but just as Love’s story reveals, the reluctance to acknowledge these challenges can still sometimes prohibit us from talking about it.  

This is where acceptance comes in. The fact that someone is struggling doesn’t mean they are different or weak. It simply means they have a health issue that must be addressed. It is time to start embracing those who have the courage to be vulnerable by coming forward to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. Their courage to speak literally saves lives and so people like Kevin Love are to be saluted and honored for their courage and willingness to reveal their own pain to help others. 

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