Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss has always made it clear she wants her team to be on the cutting edge in every way possible, and that includes in the way the Lakers care for their players with mental health issues.
In Jackie MacMullan of ESPN’s incredibly important and groundbreaking five-part report on the state of mental health care in the NBA, Buss was one of the only owners willing to go on the record and discuss her thoughts on players who struggle with mental health issues, and she said the Lakers are willing to welcome them with open arms.
”We [the Lakers] don’t shy away from players with mental health issues because our team has already drafted players with those issues, and they have been very successful for us,’’ Buss says. “What you have to look at is, are they coping with it? How are they coping with it? Does it lead them to make impulsive decisions that are detrimental to their health and well-being? Sometimes medication is the answer, sometimes it isn’t.’’
Whatever a player thinks the answer is, whether it’s counseling, meditation, medication or another option, Buss said she wants the Lakers to be as understanding as possible of any mental wellness needs a player might have so that they don’t feel the need to turn to something that could get them in trouble with the law, or the NBA, or even put their health at risk:
”Mixed messages aren’t going to help our players,’’ Buss says. “We need to create a nonjudgmental space where there is no place for the opinion that your way of thinking is better than everyone else’s. If a player is self-medicating [with alcohol or drugs] because that’s what makes them feel better, or at least that’s what they think, we have to find a way to provide them alternatives that are collaborative and confidential.’’
Buss’ thoughts on this are incredibly progressive for an NBA owner, especially in an industry where McMullan quoted an anonymous Western Conference general manager as saying this:
He admits if two players are equal in ability and one has ADHD, he’s taking the other one because, he reasons, “it lessens the likelihood of off-the-court issues as well as disruptions in practice.
”These guys you read about who tear up their hotel rooms?’’ the GM says. “That’s often guys who are off their meds. So now, in addition to everything else we’ve got to worry about, we have to make sure our power forward is filling his prescription every week.’’
So Buss welcoming players with mental health issues is a real sign of progressiveness for an owner.
As anyone with mental health issues knows, these issues are still incredibly stigmatized by society, and it’s not always easy to feel comfortable discussing them with one’s boss for fear of being judged as “crazy” or “weak” or any other such negative connotation. Buss welcoming players with those types of issues to join her team, as well as offering to help them as much as possible has to be seen as a real plus for them upon joining the Lakers, because rather than going to, say, another Western Conference team where they’ll be judged for their issues, Buss is saying that the Lakers welcome them with open arms and are here to make them as comfortable as possible.
As mental health continues to be more openly talked about by NBA players, Buss will be seen as a trendsetter among owners in this regard, which can only help the Lakers’ perception among players around the league and — arguably more importantly — these comments also help destigmatize mental health issues among a wider population when shared on massive platforms like ESPN from someone as widely beloved by fans as Buss.
I try not to be one to break news voice and editorialize too often, but this is an exception: Jeanie Buss should be applauded for being at the forefront of accepting players who are dealing with something more and more of the population is being forced to come to terms with and seek treatment for. The NBA still has a lot to figure out in this regard, but at least comments like this show that the Lakers are making progress in the right direction.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.