It’s Bigger Than Basketball…

Millions of people from around the globe consume basketball content from the NBA. We spend hours scrolling through highlights on YouTube or Instagram. We dream of having our own buzzer-beater moment or for our team to win an NBA championship. We look at players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James as if they are supreme beings. I mean who hasn’t grabbed a piece of paper, scrunched it up, and hit a fadeaway yelling, “KOBE!” Basketball is a way of life and to us, these NBA players are legends rather than real humans. They are figures who we deem untouchable, almost like they are characters in the bedtime stories that our parents told us, which have been passed on for generations.

While we often admire these athletes, the opposite is just as intense. Because they are playing under the brightest lights and on the biggest stage, they are constantly under a microscope from the fans who watch their every move. For every shout of praise they get comes ten more shouts of criticism. Suddenly, the players we revered so highly are under a ridiculous amount of scrutiny from fans. The craziest part about this? It’ll never stop. It’s way too easy for fans to activate their Twitter fingers and send out a hurtful, offensive, or plain disrespectful message aimed right at these players. We have to come to the understanding that at the end of the day, believe it or not, these guys are human and they go through the same things you and I do.

Flash back to the bubble, for instance, the Clippers completed an all-time choke job after blowing a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Of course some of the bashing from the fans was well-deserved, but when Paul spoke up about his struggles with mental health, anxiety, and depression, the internet had a field day causing George to enter a worse state of mind. Sure, you can tell a player to ignore what the fans say because it’s all just background noise, but at a certain point, it just becomes too much.

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“I probably went a good week and a half to two weeks of zero sleep, zero sleep. No lie. I would lay in bed and my mind would just be racing, racing, racing. I tried everything bro, I tried using apps, I tried therapy, sleeping gummies… they don’t know this.”

Paul George on dealing with depression and anxiety during the NBA Bubble

George really opened up about his struggles in the Bubble, a brave gesture after the flack he got for expressing his feelings, something that NBA players “aren’t allowed to do.”

“You put that on top of having a bad game, then you’re not sleeping,” George said. “Then there ain’t nothing else to do there, so you’re surrounded by basketball, there’s no escape, there’s no outlet. We’re stuck in our rooms in the hotel, all we got is our phones, you get on social media, oh it’s a meme here or it’s a joke there. You mix all of that on top of not sleeping, I didn’t know what to do. I was just lost, bro. It was tough.”

Paul George

Reggie Jackson had his fair share of struggles to. In the ’19-’20 season, Jackson signed a vet minimum deal with the Clippers. His retirement was looking closer and closer. However, the Clippers gave him a home where he thrived. Fast forward to now and he’s easily one of the most beloved Clippers ever. Every time he gets to the free throw line, you can hear Crypto.com Arena filled with chants screaming, “REGGIE, REGGIE, REGGIE!” In an interview, Jackson said, ” The first thing I told those guys is ‘thank you for saving me.” That simple statement speaks volumes about the Clippers organization and culture.

Most recently, after the Clippers win against the Rockets, new Clipper Robert Covington opened up about his own struggles with mental health. He said, “At one point, I was ready to walk way from this game. I really did a lot of groundwork with myself to have fun with it.” In response to this vulnerable statement from RoCo, Nico Batum tweeted saying, “I’ve been there brother! Glad you are on the team and you didn’t give up!” This interaction right here is what it’s all about. At the end of the day, guys like Paul George, Reggie, RoCo, and Batum are all normal people. They have their ups and they have their downs. What matters is that we stay with them at the lows, so that we can truly celebrate when they reach their highs.

This is why I’m proud to be a Clipper fan. It’s bigger than basketball. The Clippers have fostered an environment of inclusion, belonging, and most importantly, fun. The locker room energy is contagious and it translates to their games as new players step up to the plate every game when the stars go down with injury. It’s truly remarkable considering the state of the franchise under the previous ownership and the disgraceful things that happened during his tenure. Shoutout to Steve Ballmer, Lawrence Frank, and the rest of the front office for truly establishing the Clippers as one big family where everyone can thrive.

~Michael Bannerman

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