September 16, 2020
by Kimberly Lucey
Already coping with isolation and performing at a high level while in the NBA playoff bubble, players are now also challenged with handling social justice issues, and using their platform for change. Many players are speaking out, saying the racial tensions sweeping the country are more important than the game. "What we're dealing with right now is bigger than basketball", says Portland Trailblazers' Carmelo Anthony. "It's tough to wrap our minds around everything that's going on, and focus on what's affecting our community, and then go out there and play basketball."
In an unprecedented move, the NBA decided to postpone playoff games at the end of August, after the Milwaukee Bucks chose not to take the floor for their matchup against Orlando. The stand was in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Wisconsin, by police. Players say the mental toll from both the bubble, and the racial unrest, has been exhausting.
"A lot of emotions, a lot of feelings, and just kind of tired of it", says Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. "And, just knowing the voice and the platform that myself and a lot of other guys have to speak on things that a lot of other people feel, that aren't in a position to be heard like we are." "We're all supposed to be superheroes, the best at our job, the best in the world", says Anthony. "But, I think people forget that at the end of the day, we're human and we have to deal with these issues and we do deal with these issues."
Therapist Amy Arvary says those emotions are understandable. “The expectation that they would be able to perform as they normally would is ridiculous”, says Arvary. “The stress from the racial unrest coupled with being in this bubble, and coupled with the racial tensions screaming at every person in the United States right now makes it tough for success.”
Arvary says isolation has been one of the biggest causes of anxiety in her clients, and she can imagine how much worse it must be for NBA players, who can't get physical comfort from their families right now. Connecting on the phone or through zoom doesn't provide the same relief as a hug, or even just being in someone's presence to be able to feel their energy.
To cope, Arvary recommends players try turning to meditation for focus. "It's underrated, but the crisis has made it clear the positive effect that meditation can have", says Arvary. "You can control the inside effect, regardless of the situation that you're in, and use your mind in a way to help you, not hurt you."
Players say right now, they're focusing on taking everything in one day at a time. “We’re a long way away from seeing the change and making the change we really want to see", says Anthony. “But, we have to take small victories as they come.”
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of big breaking news events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, lockdown in Watertown, MA following the Boston marathon bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have garnered awards, including a focus on treating mental health issues in children. Currently, she is a reporter at a television station covering the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact-finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.