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Kelly Oubre, Jr. on depression, anxiety and his own battles with mental health

Kelly Oubre, Jr. on depression, anxiety and his own battles with mental health

Kelly Oubre, Jr.'s life has been defined by overcoming profound obstacles to do amazing things. At just nine years old while growing up in New Orleans, LA his family was uprooted due to Hurricane Katrina. The historic natural disaster produced dramatic changes in his life from where he lived - they moved to Houston, TX - to the very structure of his family.

Through it all, Oubre developed into one of the top basketball recruits in the country, a hyped freshman at the University of Kansas and then a first round pick for the Washington Wizards.

As Oubre's basketball career has steadily trended upward, the acclaim has followed. He has money, fame and by all accounts a bright future. But underneath it all are demons he battles periodically.


NBA stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love recently shared their struggles with depression and anxiety. Oubre has his own story of mental health to tell.

The Washington Wizards forward pulled the curtain back in an interview on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, describing issues he has dealt with that even those who are around him daily may not be aware of. 

Oubre has a lot on his mind. At just 22 years old, he is a rotation piece on one of the best teams in basketball and his role is expanding. With that comes increased responsibilities and accountability for mistakes.

All while growing into himself as a man and a person, he is trying his best to succeed in a lucrative, high-pressure industry while millions are watching. It's not easy.

"A lot of people are coming out with things about mental health. I feel as if, yeah man I've suffered through a lot of things in my life. I've been through a lot of things," he said.

"I can definitely relate to it all... I'm really good at keeping a poker face because when I was growing up my dad always told me 'don't let anybody see you weak.' Nobody sees that I'm weak, but deep down inside I am going through a lot. Hell is turning over."


DeRozan and Love telling their stories has made Oubre think more about his own. DeRozan spoke of his battles with depression in an interview last month with the Toronto Star and Love followed up with his own story of anxiety and panic attacks in the Players' Tribune.

Oubre says both of their accounts hit close to home.

"That s--- is serious," he said. "I just go into a quiet place and breathe, man. Just being mindful is the only way I know how to get through any anxiety, any depression or anything like that."

Oubre says his issues are partly rooted in his quest to be great. He sets high expectations for himself and has difficulties dealing with falling short.

He is a young player prone to mental mistakes due to inexperience and admits he's harder on himself than he should be. The internal struggle "can get overwhelming," he says.

Oubre thinks there are many out there who don't see the true grind of professional sports and what athletes are actually up against, both physical and mental. Through social media and from the stands, Oubre hears things from fans all the time that suggest many miss what is really going on.

Everyday problems are compounded when put under the microscope of bright stadium lights and the relentless news cycle.

"We're normal human beings. We face a lot more adversity, a lot more problems... It's a little bit more amped up, we just can't show it," he said. "I feel like people who are on the outside looking in don't really understand because they see us as superheroes, but we're normal people, man. We go through the issues that normal people go through times 10."


Things are changing quickly in Oubre's life. He is three years into his NBA career and one year away from the end of his rookie contract with the Wizards. Two summers from now, he could make enough money to set his family up for generations.

To remember where he came from, all Oubre has to do is look into the stands at Capital One Arena, just a dozen or so rows to the right of the Wizards' locker room tunnel, where his father Kelly Oubre, Sr. sits for every game. Oubre, Sr. keeps a close eye and gives advice and discipline where needed.

Last spring, when Oubre, Jr. was suspended for Game 4 of the Wizards' playoff series against the Boston Celtics, he stayed at home to watch the game with his father. Each time Oubre, Jr. celebrated big plays by his teammates, his father reminded him that he should be there and not at home on the couch watching on TV.

After a recent game where Oubre had a poor shooting night, his father pulled him aside near the locker room for a chat before Oubre had even changed out of his jersey.

Oubre, Sr. helped his son get through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and he continues to be a guiding light in his life.

"It's just that peace of mind, that mental stability he gives me just by seeing him. He doesn't even have to say anything. I just see him," Oubre, Jr. said. "I feel like we've been through it all. This little piece of adversity, it's not going to hurt me. I will be able to get through it. He's definitely like a crutch that I use to stand on in this life, man."

"Mental health is definitely something that he always preaches. He worries about me keeping my head. Obviously, you know, I'm crazy as hell. I just love him because he's there and he wants to see me be great."

You can hear the full interview with Kelly Oubre, Jr. on our Wizards Tipoff podcast right here:

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ESPN's Jackie MacMullan wonders if NBA players will use the tip line for competitive advantage

ESPN's Jackie MacMullan wonders if NBA players will use the tip line for competitive advantage

With the NBA season restart officially underway inside the Orlando bubble, the league has implemented a tip line to take anonymous reports on players and officials who might be disobeying the bubble protocol. 

The bubble is reserved for authorized personnel only in order to decrease the chances of coronavirus spreading within the quarantined community.

While the line is active for immediate use, Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported Monday that the line has yet to be utilized.


Wednesday, on ESPN's "Around The Horn," Jackie MacMullan pondered the idea that players would offer tips to the anonymous line in order to gain a competitive advantage.

"Here's what I worry about -- what about using this tip line as a competitive advantage?" MacMullan said. "What if I plant a seed that may or may not be true about Player X because I'm Player Y?"

"I will say this: The bubble will be penetrated because money talks and these players have more money than most of the world," MacMullan said.


The NBA was very specific in how violators of bubble protocol will be disciplined, however they haven't stated how false tips, or those deemed used for a competitive advantage, will be treated. 

"Violations, of course, are a big no-no, which could lead to disciplinary action," the NBA's bubble protocol reads. "No one will be stopped from leaving the campus, but players and staff should not do so unless there are extenuating circumstances.”

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See the social justice statements Wizards players will wear on their jerseys

See the social justice statements Wizards players will wear on their jerseys

Nine Wizards will use their platform to promote change by wearing social justice messages on their jerseys when the NBA resumes on July 30.

As a part of the league’s efforts to address racism and issues of social justice in America, the NBA permitted players to replace the names on the back of their jerseys with a social justice statement during the league’s return to play at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla.

The NBA and NBPA agreed to a list of 29 approved statements that players could wear instead of their names: Black Lives Matter, Say Their Names, Vote, I Can't Breathe, Justice, Peace, Equality, Freedom, Enough, Power to the People, Justice Now, Say Her Name, Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can), Liberation, See Us, Hear Us, Respect Us, Love Us, Listen, Listen to Us, Stand Up, Ally, Anti-Racist, I Am A Man, Speak Up, How Many More, Group Economics, Education Reform and Mentor.

On Wednesday, the Wizards announced the players who will be wearing these messages, which word or phrase they chose and why. Isaac Bonga, Troy Brown Jr., Ian Mahinmi, Shabazz Napier, Anzejs Pasecniks, Jerome Robinson, Admiral Schofield, Mortiz Wagner and Johnathan Williams will all take part in the league’s unique effort.


Isaac Bonga –– “Freedom”

“I chose ‘FREEDOM’ on the back of my jersey because I think it is time for us to be free,” Bonga said. “We should leave the past in the past and learn from our mistakes, because I think if you do that, you’re going to grow as a collective, but also grow as human beings. I think if you do that, we should start teaching the next generation, teaching our kids about being free and how to love each other. I think that’s why I chose ‘FREEDOM.’

Troy Brown Jr. –– “Black Lives Matter”

“I put ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ on the back of my jersey just to reiterate the social injustices that have been going on in our country and just to remind people that just because we’re in the bubble doesn’t mean we forgot about everything that’s going on,” Brown Jr. said.

Ian Mahinmi –– “Vote”

“I picked ‘VOTE’ to be the message on the back of my jersey,” Mahinmi said. “Initially, I wanted to put ‘vote locally,’ because I am a believer in voting locally. I almost think that it has more of an impact on your life than the presidential elections. That was my message. I believe that in the system that we live in, it is the most accurate way to demand change, so I wanted to put that message and I appreciate the opportunity.”

Voting rights and awareness have become an especially important issue for Mahinmi who spent the last week raising awareness on his social media for the elections in Texas. He also has played a major role in the discussion about using Capital One Arena as a polling center for the election this November.

Shabazz Napier –– “Equality”

“In this world, at the moment right now, we’re fighting amongst each other,” Napier said. “Whether it’s black or white or women or men. I think for us to understand that everybody should be held at an equal standard, not matter the race, no matter the gender. I think that speaks loudly to me. I was raised by my mother only, so I understand the trials and tribulations that women go through on a daily basis to a certain extent – obviously I’m not a female. I think that is very important, as much as the black and white…same for (the LGBTQ) community and their equal rights. That means a lot. I think if you can handle that down, sooner or later, things will come to fruition where we live in a positive world.”


Anzejs Pasecniks –– “Equality”

“I chose to have ‘EQUALITY’ on my back just as a simple reminder to treat every single person the same way,” Pasecniks said. “It doesn’t matter what color you are, what language you speak or where you’re from.”

Jerome Robinson –– “Black Lives Matter”

“I put ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ on the back of my jersey because I think that is the biggest symbol of representation of what we have going on right now,” Robinson said. “Through the whole quarantine, with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, etc. and the amount of people that were murdered for no reason at all or for terrible reasoning. I think it’s the biggest symbol on one of the biggest platforms, so ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ will be on the back of my jersey.”

Admiral Schofield –– “Enough”

“I chose ‘ENOUGH’ on the back of my jersey because it’s time for people to be more aware,” Schofield said. “It’s time for people to stop making excuses. It’s time for people to stop being uncomfortable with uncomfortable situations. Enough is enough. I think it’s time for us to sit at the table and create change. Change is only going to be created by us who are willing to do so, who are willing to sit and have the hard conversations. Black lives matter to me because I am a black man in America. I am a British American. One of the things that I’ve experienced in this country is pure racism, systematic racism – and it has to stop. So enough is enough.”

Moritz Wagner –– “Vote”

“I chose ‘VOTE’ to put on the back of my jersey because I think it is very important that everybody expresses their opinion,” Wagner said. “Even if you don’t go vote, you’re basically submitting a vote. I feel like, coming from Europe, not a lot of people participate in politics over here in the United States. I feel like now, more than ever, the urgency is a high as it’s ever been. I encourage everybody to go vote. I would vote if I could here in the states.”


Johnathan Williams –– “Say Her Name”

“I chose ‘SAY HER NAME,” Williams said. “The reason behind it was because of the Breonna Taylor incident where she lost her life while she was sleeping in bed. I just want to say her name because I think that’s really important. We need to continue to praise our women in and show them love. That’s what I believe.”

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