One day after posting to his social media accounts that he would be deleting those accounts because it’s “time to focus on my mental health,” Andre Drummond missed Wednesday’s Chicago Bulls-Los Angeles Lakers game for personal reasons.
Coach Billy Donovan said he texted Drummond to make clear “we’re all here to try to help him” and said there’s optimism within the organization that Drummond will travel to Charlotte when the Bulls leave Thursday afternoon for a Friday game against the Hornets.
“Your heart goes out for anybody. I think a lot of times as we come here and play games, there’s also a human side and personal side to all these guys. And you feel bad when anybody is going through something like that,” Donovan said. “I think you try to give as much support as you can. We have the resources inside the organization to help.”
Donovan shared an anecdote from earlier this season in which he was exercising on a treadmill inside a Toronto hotel when he noticed a stranger waiting for him to finish.
“He introduced himself and he says, ‘Coach, is there any way you could introduce me to DeMar DeRozan?’ That guy has meant so much just with the things he has come out and talked about throughout his career," Donovan said. "And it’s so much help to me.”
DeRozan was one of the first NBA players to bring mental health into the limelight when he gave a 2018 interview to Doug Smith, the longtime Toronto Star Raptors’ beat writer, about his struggles with depression.
Donovan arranged for the stranger to meet DeRozan later in the hotel lobby.
“Moments like that for me just brings everything back to reality,” DeRozan said. “It’s so easy to get caught up in the sports, everyday life things we do to forget about a lot of the stuff that we go through. You don’t see much vulnerability coming from people these days. We live in such a cruel, nasty, insensitive world.
“So when you come across anybody---shoot, even somebody looking at me as an inspiration---it’s so enlightening for me. Moments like that to me are bigger than playing basketball, a paycheck. There’s something about it that speaks volumes when someone’s story can help someone else. When I actually see it, it touched me in a different type of light. It’s nothing but appreciation and just shows a different type of empathy that I wish we all had.”
DeRozan said he receives messages “every day” from people who have drawn inspiration from him making his mental health issues public.
“I’ve had the craziest walks of life come up to me and mention something,” DeRozan said.
In fact, DeRozan said a fan approached him at Monday’s game in Los Angeles against the Clippers to tell him that his daughter plays college basketball and suffers from depression.
“She looked towards me for her motivation,” DeRozan said the man recounted to him. “Just something like that just goes so far.
“I’ve had older people come up to me and tell me how my story helped them. I’m always appreciative of it and it gives me a different type of strength to keep pushing even when I have tough days.”
His approach with Drummond is simple. Give him his space but let his teammate know he’s there for him if Drummond needs him.
“We love this game. We play this game. This game has been good to us all. But you gotta worry about and care for yourself first and foremost,” DeRozan said. “Because if you’re not right, everything you take care of and love and appreciate isn’t going to be right either.
“Give him my positive words and let him know we’re all there for him. That’s the most we can do. Allow him to open up on his terms.”
Mental health has become a much more prevalent topic across professional sports. But DeRozan was one of the first to bring it into the limelight back in 2018 with his Toronto Star interview.
Asked if that was an easy or hard decision, DeRozan paused.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know to be honest. It just was a buildup of whatever I was feeling just coming out,” he said. “And with that, it was easier for me to speak and live in my truth from there. You find inspiration that comes from that.
“Then you start to look at it like, ‘Oh, (expletive). This is helpful, not just for me but others as well.’ Just being human and giving other people light. That gave me a different type confidence and made it easier from then on out.”
Donovan is among many who are glad that DeRozan and Drummond are doing what they’re doing to address the issue.
“I think these guys have platforms. Sometimes when people look at these guys and see them play and see these NBA players stars and all this stuff that comes with it, they think, ‘Gosh, their lives must be absolutely perfect.’ And they’re not. We’re all flawed. We all have challenges and issues to deal with,” Donovan said. “Sometimes there’s maybe a level of inspiration or hope that he can give somebody.”