She once was considered the greatest women’s basketball player on the planet. With the speed of a point guard, skills of a small forward, and brilliant scoring prowess, Chamique Holdsclaw was ordained to change the perception of the women’s game.
After leading the University of Tennessee to three consecutive national championships, Holdsclaw was expected to bring the WNBA to a new set of viewers, those who may have considered women’s basketball nothing more than bounce passes and set shots.
Holdsclaw was set to revolutionize the game as the millennium approached. But there was one problem: She loved the game more than herself.
Gifted athletes aren’t supposed to have issues. They are blessed with such ability that it’s somehow supposed to erase any outside factors. Holdsclaw wasn’t fortunate enough to avoid those pitfalls. She has dealt with mental health issues for more than 20 years, issues that derailed her career, nearly sent her to prison, and nearly cost her her life.
Holdsclaw, 38 and long retired from the WNBA, is now telling her story in a documentary on the LOGO network titled “Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw.”
The six-time WNBA All-Star has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is seeking to tell athletes, as well as other mental health patients, about the journey that affected her career.
“As I started to think more of the hard times that I went through, the suicide attempt, just how this has derailed my career, I just knew this story would help a lot of people,” she said. “We’ve all been affected by this illness. One day I sat there and was like this whole mentality of being tough and being strong and not letting anyone know my weakness because I was competing, it was killing me because I was keeping all of this inside. I’m suffering in silence. I’m starting to have these thoughts in my head that everybody knows my little secret because I really had to understand it was something chemical that I was dealing with.”
Holdsclaw said her mental struggles date to high school. At Tennessee, she was referred to a therapist. After a few sessions, she stopped and again focused solely on basketball.
Once in the WNBA, she missed time to deal with depression. The pressure of trying to help the Washington Mystics contend for a title and the stigma attached to having mental issues resulted in further turmoil.
Finally, Holdsclaw was arrested in 2013 after taking a baseball bat to the car of former teammate and girlfriend Jennifer Lacy, and then shooting at the car. Lacy didn’t press charges and Holdsclaw received community service and probation under a plea agreement.
It was then that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the past several months, a rejuvenated Holdsclaw has toured college campuses to deliver her message that even elite athletes can have bouts of depression, insecurity, and doubt.
“I share my journey with them and I know it empowers them,” she said. “I even had a person that fought for our country and tell [me] they came back and things weren’t right and they put a .45 to their head and thought about pulling the trigger and I inspired them.
“Or when young kids I mentor call me late at night and they’re afraid. That’s what gives me strength because I felt like I was alone for so long and I really wasn’t. That gives me the strength to move forward.”
NBA players such as Metta World Peace and Delonte West and NFL receiver Brandon Marshall have acknowledged dealing with mental health issues. But millionaire athletes don’t necessarily elicit sympathy from working-class fans.
Holdsclaw admitted she hid her struggles until basketball wasn’t enough.
“There were points where [before] practice I didn’t want to get out of bed,” she said. “The way I was still able to go out and compete with all that on my shoulders is because I was like a robot almost. I was like a machine. When I turned it on, I turned it on. When I went home it was always in a quiet space. I would cry, I would have these extreme lows. It was almost like a split personality.”
Holdsclaw’s goal is for people to address their mental issues instead of hiding the pain as a means of pride. Holdsclaw was unable to change the face of women’s basketball, that was perhaps too heavy a responsibility. But she said her next mission is to guide those who may be reluctant to address their mental health issues.
“What happened if I was diagnosed earlier and didn’t have all of that burden on my shoulders? How would my career have been?” she said. “I look back and say I had a pretty awesome career and great experience. It could have been more. It could have been better.”
Holdsclaw’s father has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and once threatened family members.
“When I went to go visit him [a few years ago], I looked at my dad and said, ‘He can’t help this, just like I couldn’t help this,’ ” Holdsclaw said. “I have to be a voice for people like him.”
Plenty of talent north of border
Canada fell 2 points short of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics last summer but will have one final chance in July in a tournament in which Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk is expected to participate.
Canadian basketball has grown over the past decade with Team Canada’s roster now filled with NBA and NBA-caliber players such as Andrew Wiggins, Olynyk, Robert Sacre, Andrew Nicholson, Anthony Bennett, Dwight Powell, and Cory Joseph.
Canada has not qualified for the Olympics since the 2000 Sydney Games.
“I’m very excited, very fired up, knowing that we didn’t do what we wanted and expected to do [last summer],” Joseph said. “It would be huge. We haven’t qualified in a long time. It would be huge for the country, huge for Canada. This year has been an epic year for us in Canada with the All-Star Game, and if we qualify it would strengthen it even more.”
Joseph, a Toronto native, played his first four NBA seasons with the Spurs but was a salary purge when the club pursued LaMarcus Aldridge. Joseph signed a four-year, $30 million contract to join the Raptors.
“It’s been amazing for me,” Joseph said. “A lot of family, friends, a lot of love. I’m not even talking about the game of basketball. In terms of basketball, it’s a little bit more pressure but you’ve got to go out there and play hard and live with the results.
“Our fans are diehard fans. Every time we got to Detroit, I haven’t seen anything like it, it’s like a home game for us. They come down in buses, cheer for us. We have amazing fans. It’s been a good fit for me.”
An increased emphasis on basketball in Canada has resulted in an influx players to American colleges.
“We’ve got a lot of young talent,” Joseph said. “Hopefully years down the line we’ll be like a mini USA team where you’ve actually got to go and qualify and everybody won’t make [the team]. That’s how much talent we’re starting to create.”
Griffin believes he’ll fit right in
The end of the news conference was abrupt. Blake Griffin was asked about perhaps sacrificing his game for the sake of teammates who moved on for 45 games without him and flourished. Griffin didn’t appreciate the question last Sunday after his first game back since sustaining a torn quadriceps, as well as a broken hand from an embarrassing altercation with a team employee.
The Clippers need Griffin to truly compete in the Western Conference, and they will play the Grizzlies or Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. Griffin was rusty in his return, and he’s heard for months how well the Clippers have played without him.
So, when he heard the question following his first game back, he grabbed his young son, said, “Come on, let’s go,” and walked out of the room. It was an awkward moment but one that underscored Griffin’s sensitivity regarding his role as team leader.
Regardless of their success without him, the Clippers are a true contender only with Griffin. He has totaled 23 points on 8-for-22 shooting in his first three appearances. He acknowledged he may need quadriceps surgery in the offseason, and the question is whether he can approach 100 percent when the Clippers need him most.
“I think he’ll be fine,” coach Doc Rivers said. “Players are who they are, when they don’t play well or play to their standards they get frustrated, and then they get over it. That’s what makes them great. It’s the average guys that don’t get over it. The great ones get frustrated and then are fine the next day.”
The Clippers have to adjust to Griffin’s return on the fly. There is little time for acclimation this late in the season, and the roles of every player change when the leading scorer comes back.
“I think everyone else will look at individual numbers,” Rivers said. “I usually look at the final score. If somebody scores less points but we score the same amount of points, from a coaching standpoint I couldn’t care less. Our goal is to try to score as many points as we can. We had 114 points [against the Wizards last Sunday] and when you do that you’re happy. I just want to be an efficient offensive team.”
Rivers was no-nonsense when asked whether the Clippers are ready for the playoffs.
“We have no choice,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to delay the playoffs for us, so we’ll be ready because we have to be. I think our guys understand the urgency. They understand we have to do things, watch more film, do a little more work to get there. But we’ll be there.”
Said point guard Chris Paul of Griffin’s return: “It’s not going to be about the numbers, it’s just a comfort level for us defensively. When Blake got a lob [against the Wizards] it’s because we got a defensive stop before. It’s just a confidence with him on the court that it brings to all of us.
“You come off a ball screen, the guy that’s guarding him sometimes may not help as much on me because of what [Griffin’s] capable of. We’re going to work him back him slowly but it’s great to have him back.”
DeAndre Jordan took on more of an offensive role with Griffin out. Jordan is averaging a career-best 12.8 points per game and was the primary center. Griffin can now play center in various smaller lineups, perhaps giving Jordan more time on the bench.
“I’m used to playing with Blake and Chris, we’ve been together five years so it’s nothing that I’m a stranger to,” Jordan said. “We’ve played some of our best ball together, so it’s only going to get better. It’s not going to take us a long time, but Blake’s got to get his legs back under him. That’s why we’ve got four other guys on the floor.”
Griffin acknowledged earlier in the news conference he wasn’t as confident in his body as he’d like to be when soaring for a his first alley-oop. Rivers said the time needed with the broken hand allowed Griffin’s quadriceps injury to heal further but it’s still not 100 percent.
“The time that you feel like you’re back out there is the time you don’t even feel like you’re doing something out there on your own, you’re just part of the offense, it’s just flowing and you’re not having to think too much,” Griffin said. “That was the best part. I get frustrated with myself if I’m 100 percent or not or if I played 30 games in a row. It’s going to be a process. It is going to be trying. There are going to be times where it’s frustrating, but I’m used to it.”
There is no time for further recovery. The future of the Clippers’ core could be determined by this playoff run. Another first- or second-round elimination could mean a roster shakeup, so a lot depends on Griffin’s legs.
“Just play without thinking about it, just play,” he said. “The biggest thing I don’t want to do is overcompensate. But I can’t consciously think about that. I won’t be able to do what I want to do.”
In Griffin’s absence, the Clippers added former Celtic Jeff Green in a trade with the Grizzlies to play both forward positions. Griffin and Green have blended well so far.
“Jeff knows the system and Jeff, he’s been great, I have a good relationship with Jeff so that type of stuff is easy,” Griffin said. “It’s just about personally getting back in that rhythm, a little bit understanding his tendencies. But it’s like riding a bike, except that I’m a little rusty.
“If guys find that rhythm [with me gone] it’s because they’re playing within the offense. So if I find that rhythm, it’s not something I hopefully have to worry about. These guys are great basketball players. I think I’d really have to do a lot to mess up their rhythm.”
And with that, Griffin ended the news conference. It seems he’s heard enough about the Clippers’ success during his absence.
A cinch for the All-Rookie first team is guard Devin Booker, who has been the bright spot of an otherwise dismal season for the Suns. After averaging a solid 10.6 points and 23.3 minutes in the first 48 games, Booker has averaged 19.5 points and 36.1 minutes since the All-Star break. That includes scoring 34 points against the Hawks, 30 against the Timberwolves, and 35 against the Nuggets. Booker doesn’t turn 20 until Oct. 30 and could be the head of a young Suns core. Phoenix has three first-round picks in June’s draft — its own, Washington’s from the Markieff Morris deal, and Cleveland’s, which the Celtics originally acquired in the Tyler Zeller deal and then sent to the Suns for Isaiah Thomas . . . Lakers coach Byron Scott decided to do what he should have done months ago, benching veterans Brandon Bass and Lou Williams in favor of getting more playing time for Larry Nance Jr., D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle. Scott’s playing rotations have been odd all season, most notably the time given to Randle, who flourished last Sunday against the Celtics but sat in critical junctures of the second half and returned with the Lakers trailing and unable to rally. Randle is averaging a double-double in his first season . . . An intriguing prospect Celtics fans should follow over the next few months is Kentucky shooting guard Jamal Murray, who could be available when the club uses the Brooklyn pick. Boston desperately needs a shooter and its choice could be between Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Murray, who averaged 20.1 points and shot 42.1 percent from the 3-point line this season. Murray is expected to hire an agent and not return to school .
Allen Iverson will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2016. The 6-foot guard is just one of nine players in the Hall who averaged at least 25 points per game. Here’s a look at the group he joins:
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.