It was apparent from the beginning that Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love was something special on the court — but now, his work off the court is garnering just as much attention.
The former UCLA Bruin has racked up numerous accolades over a decade in the NBA, including five All-Star selections and a championship with the Cavaliers in 2016. Still only 30 years old, Love has accomplished feats most people can only dream about.
Many NBA players relish the fame that accompanies such a decorated career in professional sports — but Kevin Love wasn’t always comfortable in the spotlight.
“People look at you like you’re a star or a celebrity or larger than life, but I always just wanted to be a guy,” he told AOL.com. “I didn’t like to go out in public because in some way, I felt like I was under a microscope or doing something wrong.”
That social anxiety turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. On November 5, 2017, Love was thrust into the national spotlight after abruptly leaving a game against the Atlanta Hawks in the third quarter. Initial reports began to circulate about the “unspecified illness” that briefly landed him in a Cleveland hospital. It wasn’t until four months later that Love revealed the true reason behind his mysterious exit — a panic attack.
“It was like my body was trying to say to me, ‘You’re about to die,'” he explained in an essay for The Players’ Tribune in March. “I ended up on the floor in the training room, lying on my back, trying to get enough air to breathe.”
Unfortunately, that initial diagnosis may have created more questions than it did answers.
“There was the constant worry of who’s gonna know, who’s gonna find out,” he said of the days following his panic attack. “There was speculating from the outside, but also inside [the team], them not understanding.”
See photos from Love’s NBA career:
Things hadn’t gotten any better for Love by the All-Star Game in February. Rumors continued to swirl about his health, his locker room presence, his ability to even play in the league and whether or not his mental health issues were actually real. It was then that Love decided he needed to share his story.
“For 29 years of my life, I very seldom shared anything,” he said. “Even to the media … I’d be completely shut off. I couldn’t share anything about my personal life. Now, I feel fully liberated and empathetic and passionate. I feel more evolved.”
Love has now fully embraced his role as an ambassador for mental health, partnering with Schick Hydro to produce a webisode series called Locker Room Talk as part of Schick Hydro’s Man I Am campaign, which focuses on promoting positive and healthy masculinity. Several other athletes, including decorated Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, have joined Love to discuss their own experiences with mental illness.
Watch Love’s interview with Michael Phelps:
Around the same time Love revealed his battle with anxiety and depression, DeMar DeRozan, formerly of the Toronto Raptors and now with the San Antonio Spurs, opened up about his own struggles.
Since then, a range of athletes have spoken out about their struggles, from Phelps, to NBA legend Paul Pierce, and even Channing Frye, a current teammate and good friend of Love who battled a deep depression after losing both of his parents in the span of one month.
Watch Love’s interview with Channing Frye:
Love said he was shocked by just how many players around the league approached him about their struggles.
“I’m obviously a vault,” he said. “They’ve felt comfortable coming up to me and saying, ‘Man, not only thank you, but this is what I’m dealing with. What have you done? Where can I go?'”
In October, Love launched the Kevin Love Fund in order to help people improve their mental, emotional and physical health. Right now, fans who donate to the Kevin Love Fund and the Movember Foundation are entered to win a meet and greet with Love prior to a game in Cleveland in January.
According to the Movember Foundation, 75% of suicides in the United States are committed by men — and globally, one man dies by suicide every minute.
See more from Locker Room Talk:
Love says he feels “empowered” by his newfound openness and is now able to live his life with more control over his anxiety, fresh off the heels of what he calls the worst year of his life.
“When you have anxiety or depression like I’ve experienced or other people have experienced, getting to the next day can sometimes be a big win,” Love said. “There’s still much work to do, and I don’t understand that much, but enough to realize that I’m not alone and that I can get through this.”
Watch Love’s interview with Paul Pierce:
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