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‘I can never say thank you enough’: How Kevin Love’s openness about mental health changed lives

Beyond Kevin Love’s impact on the court, his Cleveland legacy may be more about how he helped people off of it.

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There’s ‘The Stop’. There’s the parading around downtown Cleveland - likely buzzed after cracking two beers in his face a la Steve Austin — sporting a WWE title belt and with a cigar in his mouth. There’s the 34-point quarter against the Trail Blazers.

Those are the basketball moments that define Kevin Love’s Cavs tenure. That nine-year run — longer than anyone, including Love himself, would have thought — made him an all-time Cavalier. His Cleveland tenure, now over after a post-deadline buyout, is why his No. 0 jersey will be retired someday.

“One thing about Kevin Love, man, I grew up watching Kevin Love and I grew up watching him be in this facility, be in this uniform and I’m thankful because he is a guy that allowed me to come in and ask him a thousand questions about his time and helped me be an integral part of this team and helped with this group,” Cavs All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell said recently. “I have no doubt in my mind that he is going to thrive in Miami. But what he’s done for this organization, city and state, I just feel it every game we play and everywhere we go.”

“He helped bring this organization back or to a place that it hadn’t been,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “To be able to win a championship anywhere, to be able to go to what was it four straight finals I believe it was, like, I mean, that’s something that should definitely be praised and be recognized and appreciated.

But there’s another side to Love’s story — a side he didn’t have to show Cleveland, but decided to. Beginning with a Player’s Tribune essay in 2018 where he disclosed having a panic attack during a game, Love went on his own public journey with mental health. He became a symbol for people by meeting them on their level, by simply acknowledging that an All-Star and NBA champion was also working with his mental health and wasn’t always OK.

Love’s support has been both public and private. At UCLA, his alma mater, he provided 850 student-athletes and coaches with access the mediation app Headspace. In 2019, he provided a Headspace membership to 136 Cavs employees and arena staffers. He started the Kevin Love Fund, an organization that provides mental and physical health resources for students and teachers. He sported a ‘Keep Showing Up’ t-shirt in support of a campaign for suicide prevention started.

That’s just a small sample of what he’s done. Love did, and is still doing, the work.

Kevin Love wearing Jenny Fischer’s ‘Keep Showing Up’ t-shirt
Jimmy Longo

Perhaps most importantly, Love inspired people — some he’s met, some he never will — to go on their own mental health journey. Because they too are going through something.

Bradley Pasqulalone

Bradley Pasqulalone’s Kevin Love story is about his daughter more than it’s about him.

His youngest daughter, Madelyn Madeline, began having panic attacks around five years ago that hindered her ability to live a normal life.

“She started having panic attacks out of nowhere, for no reason,” Pasqulalone says. “I went on this journey with the kid, man, starting when she was 10 where she had 10, 12 panic attacks a day.

One of the attacks, Pasqulalone says, occurred when Madelyn was eating and it made her scared. Her diet consisted of only three things: PediaSure, peanut butter, and chocolate ice cream. Bradley, a single father, quit his job to take care of her full time. At this time, he says it felt like he and his family (he has two older daughters, Isabella and Julia) were out in the ocean all by themselves.

Then Love, without knowing it directly, stepped in. Around when he wrote his essay, he appeared on SportsCenter. Madelyn came into the living room as Pasqulalone was watching Love discuss his panic attack.

“He was talking about having a panic attack on [the] court and how he felt like it was a heart attack,” he says. “And she looked at me and she goes ‘he has what I have’. … Something clicked.”

That same day, Pasqulalone tweeted at Love, hoping to arrange a meeting between his daughter and the Cavs All-Star who made her feel seen in her struggle. It took several months, but the two ultimately connected and Love got them tickets to a Cavs game, gifted her a pair of shoes and, as Bradley describes it, giving her “the best hug in the f****** world.”

Madelyn is doing better now. Through a program at Akron Children’s Hospital, she’s learned how to eat again. She runs track and cross country. And instead of 10-12 attacks a day, she only has one or two a year.

“I cried like a baby when they won the championship,” Pasqulalone says. “At the time, I thought that would be the best moment I’d ever have with Kevin Love. But now, that’s nothing compared to what he did. He’s much more to the city than a basketball player. It’s the one player that supersedes the championship. He’s a great basketball player, but what he did here is the real legacy. It won’t hang in the rafters, but it’s the kind of thing that lives on.”

Jeremiah Sisler

A Wooster, Ohio, native currently living in Georgia, Jeremiah Sisler says he’s moved forward in his own mental health journey in large part because of his sports fandom.

“My active journey with mental health,” he says, “really has only occurred in the last few years. And a lot it starts with [Kevin Love]’s open letter. ... I’m a sports guy — that letter met me in that place. I didn’t find it because I knew I had mental health issues that needed to be addressed, I found it because it was a Cavs-related article.”

Love’s vulnerability, he says, also made it accessible.

“It felt like an open invitation. It didn’t feel like a condemnation of things I’d done,” Sisler says. “It didn’t feel like a list of things I had to do. It was Kevin saying, “Here’s some experiences I’ve went through and it’s benefited me to do something about it.’ It was him opening up a window to say that, ‘This is what I went through, this is what helped me and maybe it can help you too.’”

At the time of the letter, Sisler says he didn’t have the right words to describe how he felt — that something didn’t feel right, that he wasn’t happy. It didn’t happen immediately, but the letter planted seeds for him to begin seeing a therapist in 2019.

“That’s the first time I had the guts to try it,” he says.

As he began his journey, Sisler says he dealt with depression rooted in past trauma he hadn’t properly dealt with.

“I was struggling with depression, so there were a lot of things that were very difficult,” he says. “I didn’t want to get out of bed. There were days where I would daydream about the relief I might feel if my life was over. I didn’t have active suicidal ideation, but I was asking, ‘What was the point?’ and thinking that this is such a terrible existence.”

In therapy now, Sisler says he’s working through his social anxiety. He’s also now a volunteer crisis counselor for people dealing with mental issues, as well being a present father to his children.

“It’s a big help to have people who are not doctors, not mental health professionals, stand up and say, ‘Hey, this is a thing I’m going through, this is a thing I went through,’” Sisler says. “Similar to Kevin, it’s enormous that John Wall shared his suicidal thoughts. The Ohio State player who retired [Harry Miller] did a courageous thing.”

“As I’ve experienced it, sports are not a place where we talk about mental health. We talk and scream and debate and all of that and it’s fun. But it’s impactful when athletes who already have the spotlight speak and advocate. … The truth is that I can’t tell you how long I would have started on my journey without Kevin’s honesty. Advocating for mental health should be a big part of how he’s remembered.”

Abby Mueller

Last summer, Abby Mueller woke in the middle of the night having a panic attack. She says she hadn’t had one before.

“I was sprinting around my apartment. I called my mom because I didn’t know what was happening. I couldn’t breath,” she says. With her anxiety at an ‘all-time high,’ she was having trouble sleeping and wasn’t feeling her best leading up the attack itself.

“At the end of it my mom said, ‘You just had a panic attack,’” Mueller remembers. “And I was kind of confused that had never happened before. The first thing that came to my mind then was Kevin Love.”

Once she calmed down, Mueller pulled up Love’s Player’s Tribune essay that had read before, but didn’t relate to in the same way.

“I just remember reading it over and over again just feeling like, ‘That was exactly what just happened to me,’” she says. “It was the first sense of relief I had because someone I look up to who is really successful and lives a great, happy life has gone through these things and is OK, so you’re going to be OK too.”

Love’s description of his own panic attack - his heart racing, trouble catching his breath, everything around him spinning - resonated with Mueller. Like Love, she wondered how this could happen to her.

“I think he had a similar reflection moment of saying, ‘Oh, I need to do a better job of taking care of myself,’” she says.

Since that panic attack, Mueller says she’s taken more time for herself. She sees a therapist. And she still goes back and re-read Love’s article again as a reminder that’s going to be OK.

“I think the more people I can hear from — especially notable people in the city that I live in — it helps so much,” she says. “It’s a reminder that everyone is human and dealing with something.”

Joey Kinsley

When Kevin Love (as well as Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan) spoke about their mental health, it unlocked something for Joey Kinsley.

“There’s this stigma about talking about it — especially in men,” Kinsley says. “And I think it took me a little to get to a place where I could [talk about it]. But seeing someone like Kevin and someone like DeMar who we see as very successful still deal with mental health made me realize how impactful it is to talk about it.”

“We look up to these athletes and they also have issues with mental health. Everybody’s going through something,” he adds. “I think it motivates people that people that look up to Kevin or respect Kevin or any of his peers to then go on that journey themselves. It makes you say, ‘f he’s doing it, I should definitely do it.’”

Kinsley (better known in Cleveland as the online personality Sir Yacht) says his journey has involved crippling anxiety and the occasional panic attack. This year, he says it’s hit him hardest in January through March when it’s colder in Cleveland the sun isn’t out as much.

He’s also been seeing a therapist for four years, as well as talking about it with his friends and family so he’s not isolating himself in what he’s going through.

Kinsley says talking about mental health online has helped too.

“It’s something I was incredibly uncomfortable with at first,” he says. “But when I did it, I’ve learned that a lot of people are going through the same type of things. This open dialogue with mental health hasn’t always been around. And I think going forward, it’s super important - mental health isn’t just going to stop. The more athletes and people keep helping to break that stigma the better off people will go going forward.”

Abby Crock

Abby Crock says that she’s been struggling with her mental health for over a decade, dating back to when she started college. So when Love wrote his essay in 2018, it wasn’t something brand new to her. Love’s essay also didn’t immediately make her start going to therapy.

“But it was on the forefront of my mind when I did,” she says. “So that article came out in March [2018] and by the fall I was in therapy, which was so helpful. I think him just not being ashamed about it - this is just how it is, this is what was going on - made me think well, ‘If Kevin can go and tell everyone his story, the least I can do is go deal with it myself.’”

Around when she started going to therapy, Crock was also dealing with serious health issues. In 2019, she says, she had three different issues. The first was an open heart surgery, then a second hospital stay a few months later that resulted in a surgery to install a pacemaker and then an arrhythmia discovered towards the end of the year.

Love, she says, helped through all of that by sharing his story. She paid homage to Love too by re-creating the photo Love posted after he tore his labrum in 2015.

“Looking back on it, knowing that my heart wasn’t doing well helped explain why mentally I was struggling so much,” she says. “Because everything — your physical and mental health - is connected. Being extra irritable or not being able to sleep… all tied to my heart not functioning at its best. And when you don’t feel well, it impacts your mental health.”

“But going through each new health challenge was hard. Because once I got used to a new normal, that normal shifted. And that happened three times… and then COVID happened. But I was very grateful being able to talk through it at therapy and that I was on medication. Because despite all the changes, I never got to a low place. I was able to handle what was thrown my way a lot easier.”

Love’s sharing his journey, she says, helped her with hers.

“He’s an NBA world champion. He’s part of the big three of the best basketball team — and my favorite team — ever,” she says. “For him to do that where he’s putting himself on a lower level, and not a pedestal like we keep our athletes, is really big. It makes him seem a little more normal. We’re all the same.”

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