Q&A: Why Metta World Peace needed a sports psychologist



During a recent hourlong interview with ESPN.com that at times touched on mental health, new Los Angeles Lakers center Roy Hibbert was asked about former Lakers wing Ron Artest publicly thanking his sports psychologist after Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, when Artest and the Lakers beat the rival Boston Celtics at Staples Center.

"I felt that when he did that, it kind of opened the doors to make it somewhat OK," said Hibbert, who first visited a psychologist when he boarded at Georgetown Prep and has seen sports psychologists since. "I think it was great that he actually did that."

ESPN.com reached out to Artest, who now goes by Metta World Peace, for his reaction to Hibbert's comment and his thoughts on mental health in the NBA. What follows is a transcript of that interview, conducted via phone.

ESPN.com: What does it mean when you hear Roy Hibbert say he thought it was great that you publicly thanked your sports psychologist after Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals?

Metta World Peace: I think it's cool because when you look at the state of basketball -- like how I grew up -- basketball was something that helped me relieve some stress. I had a lot of fun, but I brought a lot of my baggage onto the court with me to a place that I loved, which was the basketball court.

And everybody has different issues, good or bad, that they carry with them on the court. It affects you. And for me, it affected me to where sometimes I would be overly aggressive and, in other ways, it would affect people to where they can't perform on the court. I was always able to perform, but sometimes I would act out and I wanted to see a sports psychologist. Because to me, I didn't need a psychologist to get my mind right. I needed a psychologist to help me perfect what I love, and I can't perfect it when I'm on the bench or when I'm getting suspended because I'm playing upset.

That's why I really had to thank my psychologist, because without her, I would not have been as locked in. Because you've got to think about it -- I was coming from Houston, where I was averaging 20 a night, and in Indiana. I was also going through depression because I wasn't in the spotlight as much, because I had Kobe [Bryant], Pau [Gasol] and [Andrew] Bynum, then Lamar [Odom] and [Derek] Fisher and everything. So I wasn't getting the touches that I was used to, also, so that was very frustrating to me.

I told my psychologist, "Listen, I understand the guys I'm playing with and I want to win a championship, and, right now, I'm having selfish thoughts." That's what I told my psychologist. I said, "I want to do whatever it takes."

She connected me with my team and gave me a way to understand who I was with and the personalities and to be understanding with who I was with.

ESPN.com: Have you heard from other players who were thankful for what you thanked her about publicly?

World Peace: Yeah, I've heard that privately, but some people think it's weird to be kind of crazy or it's weird to be depressed or it's weird to have anxiety or it's weird, like Allen Iverson, he went through a lot of financial problems. That's not weird. That's only reality.

I'm not afraid to improve myself spiritually, emotionally, economically. I'm not afraid to take on that challenge. And I'm not afraid to share with anybody else, because we're not the only ones going through it. I still have things to improve on. I have a street mind. My whole mindset when I first got to the NBA was "I'm bringing that street to the game" and "I'm going to be the hardest guy on the court, I'm going to be the hardest guy on the planet."

That took a long time to say, "OK, this is a basketball game. This game is fun. Yeah, you play with passion, but this is not the streets. I don't have to worry about somebody selling drugs, or I don't have to worry about guns on the court."

Mentally, that messed with me, because I was only two years removed from the street. So for me, I saw a psychologist because I wanted to connect more with people, with the earth, my environment. I want to connect more to my family. So my psychologist helped me with all of that, and now I'm able to give my experiences to other people.

And the reason I did that publicly was because I said, I can't reach anybody privately. There's people that need help and I can't reach them privately. So I thought the best way to do it is publicly and they can take it for what they want and hopefully it could help people. Because I needed that help, and I got the help.

ESPN.com: Is it fair to say that people still consider mental health to be a taboo issue, especially in sports?

World Peace: People laugh at that guy that you see on the street that is on the bench at a bus stop that is struggling with depression and is homeless. People think that it's weird and they don't reach out to that type of people. Nobody wants to be that person. Nobody wants to help that person. But sometimes you just talk to that person and you touch that person and you could change his life. You could change a life.

ESPN.com: When do you think that subject won't be taboo?

World Peace: I think we have a long ways to go. We try to let people know that this is an issue that should be discussed in the household, in the schools, amongst friends. There's things that they're going through that can make you a better person, that can help you connect better with people and with your environment. And also to just understand yourself. People don't understand themselves. And once you understand yourself, it's like, wow, I can do so many great things.

If you look at Stephen Curry and his father and you look at his mother -- look at that support system. He's not going to go through the same problems that a Larry Sanders went through. That's a part that's necessary. You can't laugh at that, because everybody can't grow up with a father and a mother and a household, but those people are looked at as better.

If you look at the NBA, they often say, "This guy is a good guy. He has a great family." They want more professional guys. I look at the coaches -- I heard the Van Gundys and Coach K [say] "This guy is a good guy." Yeah, but you've got guys that are bad guys because of their environment. That's what I represent. And I'm not afraid to represent and really advocate for a guy like Dennis Rodman, whose mother was out of his life and on drugs; for a guy like Mike Tyson. I'm not afraid to advocate for a guy like Chris Andersen to help these guys improve. I'm not afraid to advocate for myself, no matter how many wrongdoings I've done, to help myself improve.

It's not about, "This guy is a good guy." It's about, "How can you help this guy who's going through all these problems?" How many times do you see in the NBA or in professional sports [that] families are breaking up? That should not be the norm. They've got to help these people. There's so many broken families. So many broken families.

ESPN.com: What advice would you have for an NBA player considering getting mental help?

World Peace: I would say, do it. I would say, any time you have a chance to improve yourself and you're not comfortable being yourself. ... Sometimes you can figure this out. If you're real flash, and if you can't drive a Prius down Hollywood [Boulevard] and you've got to drive a Bentley, you're insecure about yourself. And that's not everybody. I'm just saying, there are certain signs that show that you are not comfortable with being yourself. And when you see those signs, it's good to recognize who you are and recognize yourself and feel comfortable with who you really are. And if you are not, you should try to seek that out.

It's a great feeling to be yourself. It's a great feeling. Now guys are coming out and some guys want to be with other men; they come out as gay. And that's them being themselves and it's a good feeling to be yourself. You see Brittney [Griner], she came out publicly and said, "I'm a lesbian." That's herself.

When I came out, I was telling people, "Yeah, I love the streets and I'm ghetto and I loved it. I'm not a thug, but I'm definitely from the streets." And now I feel better about myself, because that's me. I think people should do that more and feel good about being yourself and feel good about being a person. Don't hide who you are, because then it causes so much other stress.

I respect Dwight Howard because he came out and said when he went to the free throw line, he got a little nervous. I was like, "Wow!" I respect him more. He was actually at a place publicly to tell people his fears, and you've got to respect that, because now you've got a million people questioning your manhood and then you've got to prove them wrong. But I respect Dwight more because he came out publicly and told everybody how he was feeling. It's very important.

ESPN.com: I was told that, hopefully, people will one day look at seeking help in this area in the same way that we look at people seeking help for a sprained ankle or something like that.

World Peace: Absolutely. If you look at the mindset of Stephen Curry, that guy is sharp mentally. And that comes from a great family. If you look at how he's just so focused and so consistent mentally. Then you look at his mom and his pops -- supportive. That's easy. And he did his part by actually working out to be a great basketball player. There's a lot of great minds out there that once you support them, you're going to see great things and it will be parallel to the same things that Stephen Curry does on the court. He's sharp mentally. Definitely, his parents had a lot to do with that.

ESPN.com: Did you realize in that moment, when you said that after Game 7, what that comment would mean to other people?

World Peace: Yeah, it's pretty cool. I was glad I was able to help and was able to inspire people. That's what I wanted to do. I felt great that day and I wanted to give credit and thanks where credit was due and just give it to her.

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