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Kevin Love found peace by opening up about panic attacks: ‘Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say’

Kevin Love of the Cavaliers felt the pressure of having to win in Cleveland.Jim Mone/AP/File

It’s a daily journey for Kevin Love staying mentally healthy and refreshed, putting as much effort, work, and enthusiasm into his mind as his body to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Love is in a comfortable enough space to speak about his past pain and his recovery after a pair of anxiety attacks last season forced him to face his mental health struggles. Love has opened up in the past several months about his mental health and was even more revealing during an appearance Thursday at Tufts University.

“Anxiety is something I have dealt with my entire life,” he told students. “When I was younger, I didn’t quite understand it. I had my first real life-changing experience with a panic attack Nov. 5 [a 2017 game against the Atlanta Hawks]. I had been having problems away from the court.


“I [had been] six years in Minneapolis where we didn’t make the playoffs playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, to playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers where we were expected to win a championship. So expectations were absolutely through the roof.”

After the Cavaliers got off to a slow start last season following the trade of Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, Love said the game became more stressful because of the losing and anticipation for a title.

“Basketball was at such a low point, that everything manifested into having this panic attack,” he said. “I was essentially looking for something I couldn’t find. I couldn’t catch my breath.”

Love told then-coach Tyronn Lue he needed a break during a first-quarter timeout, then raced to the locker room and began sticking his hand down his throat to try to gain air. He thought he was having a heart attack. After he caught his breath and recovered, he underwent a full examination at the Cleveland Clinic and doctors told him he was completely healthy.


His attack was caused by mental strain. Love said he was afraid to admit or even acknowledge the attack because he was afraid what his father would think or that those around him would question his toughness, especially being a professional athlete.

“I was afraid people would think less of me,” he said. “Basketball was my only way out, it was a form of escapism for me. I was afraid people in my inner circle away from basketball were going to find out. I have to be able to provide for my family and I don’t know how long my career is going to last, so being vulnerable and taking that step and making that sacrifice to allow themselves to do that was too much for [other professional athletes].”

Love revealed he experienced another panic attack during a Jan. 20 blowout home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and his teammates, including former Celtic Isaiah Thomas, questioned his commitment to the team because they were unaware of the panic attacks.

During a meeting afterward with Love and his teammates, Lue matter-of-factly mentioned the panic attacks and his teammates finally realized the seriousness of his condition. Finally, Love said he felt compelled to tell his story, and wrote a first-person account on March 6 in The Players’ Tribune.

“Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say,” Love told the students at Tufts. “Men have to allow themselves to be vulnerable and express themselves. There have been so many movements, Civil Rights, MeToo, men are so far behind that we need to allow ourselves to even just speak a different language. Being better men, holding ourselves accountable, and also allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and speak our truths.”


Love said he did not talk in-depth about the panic attacks with his father Stan, a former NBA player. But he did speak with his brother Collin, who said he knew for years something wasn’t right.

“Especially when you are in a deep depression, you don’t realize the effect you have on the people around you,” Love said. “He said, ‘Kevin, I remember when we were young there were times where we would lose you [mentally]. You would go away for a while and then eventually Kevin would come back.’

“I was really taken aback by that. I knew I was going through certain things. But seeing it from someone who shared the same home as you growing up; that’s the closest you could be to somebody. I couldn’t really conceptualize or see that when I was going through it.”

Coming clean has been the best thing to happen to Love, he says. He feels free and he said scores of people, regular folk and professional athletes, have approached and thanked him for his courage and openness, despite the risk of criticism and ridicule.

“The most amazing thing to come through all of this, and it’s been therapeutic for me, is the community. The community aspect,” he said. “I truly believe that everybody is going through something, whether it be on a daily basis or at a point in your life. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to do [tell my story] that I realized there was such a big community. The biggest thing I’ve done in my 11-year career is this, because of the community [support].”



Perkins looking for one final shot

Former Celtic Kendrick Perkins, left, seen last season with the Cavaliers, is looking to play one more season in the NBA after being waived in the offseason.Tony Dejak/AP/Associated Press

Kendrick Perkins made a rare appearance in Boston this past week, presenting former Celtics teammate Paul Pierce at The Tradition ceremony at TD Garden. It allowed the two old friends to catch up and talk about old times and retirements.

But maybe no so fast for Perkins, who at age 34 wants to play one final NBA season. Perkins is out of the NBA and spent last season with the Cavaliers, mostly on the inactive list, before he was waived in the offseason.

Perkins’s contributions to any NBA team at this point would likely be primarily in a leadership/mentor role. And that’s fine with him. Perkins is a classic NBA big man. He doesn’t shoot 3-pointers. He doesn’t handle the ball in the open court. Perkins sets screens, defends, and rebounds, and those types of players are dinosaurs in today’s game.

Realizing that, Perkins just wants one more chance and is waiting until January, when teams are eligible to sign players to 10-day contracts. And he would love to return to his original team, the Celtics.

“I actually did reach out to [team president] Danny [Ainge],” Perkins said. “I told him, I’m here if you need me, available, and he said, ‘You know what Perkins? I would love for you to end your career here.’ I was like, OK, keep me in mind. I think [I] might have a couple that got interest in bringing me in, but this will be my last year, though. After this year, I’m hanging it up.”


Honestly, imagine the type of positive influence just half a year of Perkins would have on Celtics rookie Robert Williams, who is also from the Louisiana/Texas area.

“Hopefully I can work out and press a team and fill that spot of a 14th, 15th man and help a contending team make a run,” Perkins said. “Any time you get a chance to be a player in the NBA, I enjoy it. So many guys take it for granted just being in the NBA and not being appreciative.”

After being drafted in 2003 out of high school and developing into one of the league’s better defensive centers and enforcers, Perkins was dealt to the Thunder on Feb. 24, 2011, in a still-controversial trade for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, and a first-round pick that eventually became Fab Melo.

Green never quite fit into the Celtics’ culture and was eventually dealt to Memphis during the Brad Stevens rebuilding plan. Krstic returned overseas, leaving Celtics fans wondering what if the team had kept Perkins for one final run with the Big Three. Perkins cherished his time in Boston.

Kendrick Perkins, right, seen in 2012 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, is embraced by Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. Perkins played with them on the 2008 championship team.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“It meant everything; you’re playing for one of the great sports towns, period,” he said. “Playing for one of the best basketball organizations in the NBA and at the moment I was in my 20s and I was just playing basketball and not really soaking it in and embracing the moment. But now as I got older I was like, ‘Man, I really was on the Celtics.’ When I watch the games on TV or even when I was on the Cavs and we came into play the playoffs, I was like, ‘Man, this really was home. This is how it used to be.’ You don’t find this nowhere else.”

Related: The time Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins couldn’t get into an NYC club, and other stories from ‘The Tradition’

Perkins, who was on the Cavaliers team that beat the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season, said the current Celtics will be fine despite a slow start.

“I see a bunch of hungry guys,” he said. “They remind me of us back in ’08, only the thing is we had a lot of older, veteran guys. Right now, it’s just stacked with talent so it’s going to be who’s going to be willing to sacrifice. But I actually got Boston coming out of the East.

“Everything will simmer down and everybody will come into their own and sacrifice more once the All-Star Weekend is over with, because there’s nothing else to play for after that. So after the All-Star Weekend is over, you’ll see the Celtics get to rolling, they’ll run off 15 to 20 games.”

On his season with the Cavaliers, Perkins said: “I was scared, I didn’t think we were going to make [the Finals]. I thought Boston was going to get us. I think they passed expectations last year and with all the injuries a lot of guys stepped up. Coming back here knowing where it started, this is always home first. I played 8½ seasons here, this is my home, past anywhere I played.”

So he was heartened to come back and introduce Pierce for his special award.

“I just feel great, like sunshine,” he said. “Every time I come back here, man, it’s a great thing. Paul has been my man for a long time, was actually my first vet that taught me everything. Probably without him my career probably wouldn’t have been as long as it was. He told me the ins and outs on what to do and what not to do. I have the upmost respect and much love for him.”


Veteran Carter valuable addition

Vince Carter remains a YouTube sensation, not because of his amazing dunks but because at age 41 he can still dunk, period. He routinely does 360-degree dunks in warm-ups, to the point where videos have circulated for those who don’t believe one of the greatest dunkers of all time can still jam in his 40s.

He is playing his 20th NBA season with the Atlanta Hawks, a rebuilding franchise with no chance for the playoffs. But Carter wanted playing time — he plays 17 minutes per game — and a chance to serve as a mentor for the Hawks’ younger core that includes Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and DeAndre’ Bembry.

The Hawks relish Carter’s presence, but we think it will benefit the franchise long term, long after Carter is gone.

“He just gets it. Bottom line. He just gets it,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “Conversations, you understand when he’s speaking to a young guy, you know you’re getting our message through in a different voice. I literally just got off the court speaking with Vince and coach [Melvin] Hunt, just talking about concerns, thoughts, how to help Trae, how to help Taurean Prince, how to help John Collins, what he sees, what he talks to them about. He’s my insider. You’ve got an insider in the locker room.”

It seems like yesterday that Carter was flying through the lane for one-handed, 360-degree dunks for the Toronto Raptors. But it’s been 13 years since Carter was tabbed “Air Canada.” He has transformed himself from a superstar to role player to useful aging veteran.

“I was talking to Dee Brown the other night, who was on that [1998-99] Toronto team when Vince and Tracy [McGrady] were rookies,” Pierce said. “He told he it’s amazing to see my rookie be someone’s veteran. After [20] years and being with a lot of different teams, his role here, his reasoning for coming here is he wanted to be a mentor. It’s invaluable for what he is able to deliver to the locker room full of guys. We’re not just young. We’ve got young vets and we’ve got some in-between guys. But to have him in there and to communicate with all of our guys and they respect the heck out of him.”

Atlanta Hawks forward Vince Carter scored his 25,000th career point on Nov. 21 against the Toronto Raptors.John Amis/AP

Carter scored his 25,000th point last month, via a dunk against the Raptors.

“[His teammates] understand who they have and they respect him,” Pierce said. “They respect him as a person. So we all are benefiting from Vince being in the locker room.

“You guys don’t understand how important he is to this organization,” said Pierce. “There’s always that fine line that if you have a vet and he can’t do anything, you’ve just got a guy who’s in the locker room talking. Vince gets his 25,000th point on a dunk. It shows you he can still do it. He leads our team in 3-point percentage shooting. He can still do it. They do shooting drills after shootaround, he still wins every single one. You’ve got to be able to back it up a little bit.”

Pierce said it’s essential that Carter still can play the game. There are a handful of veterans around the NBA who mentor — Miami’s Udonis Haslem, for example — but whose leadership may tempered by the fact they don’t play much or at all. That’s not the case with Carter.

“They already know his history and know where he’s coming from, but you’ve got to have credibility and he’s got a lot, which is great,” Pierce said.

“But even moving further down you’ve got to have a guy in there that’s credible and that’s strong and is about the right thing, and Vince is about the right thing.”


The biggest question coming locally from the Kyle Korver trade to the Utah Jazz is whether the Celtics would have been interested in the aging sharpshooter. Korver, 37, would have been a strong acquisition for the Celtics, but he is not only owed $7 million this season but an additional $7.5 million next season, and that 2019-20 salary may have scared off the Celtics. With max salary expected for Kyrie Irving, and Jaylen Brown likely due a multiyear extension, the Celtics are being careful about their luxury-tax bill considering the amount of salaries on the payroll next season. The Celtics do need a shooter and can create the roster space if they decide to waive Jabari Bird. A player to watch is former 76er and Buck Jodie Meeks, who was waived by Milwaukee after serving his suspension for using PEDs. Meeks may come cheap and could be that outside shooter the Celtics need off the bench . . . Now that the Celtics have waived two-way player Walter Lemon Jr., they have an open two-way contract for a player that could potentially help this season. The Celtics would not have waived Lemon without a player in mind, so stay tuned for a roster move . . . What’s even more astounding about the Memphis Grizzlies’ strong start is it’s coming without two players expected to contribute: Dillon Brooks and Chandler Parsons. Brooks has been out for three weeks with a knee sprain, while Parsons, who has done nothing to live up to the four-year, $94 million contract he signed before the 2016-17 season, is out at least another two weeks with knee soreness. Parsons has played in just 73 games in his two-plus seasons and averaged 7 points for the Grizzlies. He is owed $24 million this season and $25 million next season for a franchise that generally does not invest so much on free agents. Parsons was supposedly entering this season fully healthy but played in three games before being shut down . . . The Los Angeles Clippers entered the weekend with the best record in the Western Conference with the help of former Celtics guard Avery Bradley, who has started all 15 games he’s played. Former Boston College standout Jerome Robinson, drafted 13th overall, isn’t getting much playing time, averaging five minutes in the eight games he has played. The Clippers are high on Robinson, but the club has too much shooting guard depth with Bradley, Lou Williams, and Tyrone Wallace.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.