When Tyronn Lue stepped away from the Cleveland Cavaliers for two weeks in March, he said he was experiencing “chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep,” and that “there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.” Cleveland’s coach now knows he was suffering from anxiety, and he claimed recently that he was feeling much better after changing his diet and being placed on medication.
“I’m glad it wasn’t anything serious,” Lue told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols (via the network’s Brian Windhorst) shortly before Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals, pitting his Cavs against the Golden State Warriors for the fourth year in a row. “Just anxiety, and the medication I’m on is great. No more chest pains, so everything’s been great.”
Lue became the second prominent member of Cleveland’s organization this year to share a struggle with anxiety following forward Kevin Love, who revealed in March that he had suffered an in-game panic attack the previous November. In an essay for the Players Tribune, Love said Lue quickly realized something was amiss, and he subsequently got therapy and continues to meet with a counselor.
For Lue, there wasn’t necessarily one particular episode, but a worsening condition that he left untreated for months as he tried to steer the Cavs through a difficult campaign that featured some alarmingly poor play and a dramatic reshaping of the roster.
“I think when you’re going through a tough season, tough stretch, it’s easy to say you’re going to bow out. And I didn’t want to be that guy. It was tough,” Lue told Nichols, adding that the determination of LeBron James to play in all 82 regular season games made him leery of appearing less willing to make such an effort.
Eventually, though, Lue decided to take a leave of absence, a move supported at the time by James, who said: “We worry about his health, obviously. That’s way more important than this game of basketball.”
The time away was long overdue for the 41-year-old, who told ESPN that he “had a chance to focus on me” for the first time in a 20-year NBA career that began as the 23rd pick in the 1998 draft. Lue, who retired from playing in 2009, was hired by the Cavs as an assistant coach in 2014 and took over the top job in January 2016 after David Blatt was fired, was able to make some helpful changes to his habits.
“Hired a chef. Stopped drinking as many Shirley Temples,” he said. “And stopped with the sweets and got back to taking care of myself. Now I feel great.”
With his comments, Lue joined a list of high-profile sports figures who have recently discussed their experience with anxiety and/or depression, which affect 40 million adults in the United States, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Others include the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan, the Wizards’ Kelly Oubre Jr. and superstar Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. Seahawks wide receiver Brandon Marshall has been an advocate for mental health issues since 2011, when he announced he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
“For 29 years, I thought mental health was someone else’s problem,” Love wrote in his essay. “I’ve realized I need to change that.”
“It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day,” DeRozan said to the Toronto Star in February. “We all got feelings . . . all of that. Sometimes . . . it gets the best of you, where . . . everything in the whole world’s on top of you.”
Lue, who coached the Cavs to the NBA title in 2016, said all the extra “attention” he has gotten as the coach of a perennial contender with James has been uncomfortable at times. However, the fact that he has so much “love [for] coaching” makes it all “worth it,” even if it can be difficult to keep his personal well-being in mind.
“When you’re in this position, you’re in the NBA, and you have your family and your friends and everybody you want to take care of and make sure they’re comfortable, you kind of lose sight of yourself and what it takes for you,” Lue told ESPN. “So being able to do that and get sleep now regularly is great.”
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