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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.

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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."

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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."

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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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Scott Brooks on guarding Michael Jordan: 'He probably felt sorry for me'

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Scott Brooks on guarding Michael Jordan: 'He probably felt sorry for me'

With 26 combined NBA seasons, Scott Brooks has both played and coached with and against some of the greatest players in basketball history -- some who have long since been inducted into the Hall of Fame and some who certainly will be. He remembers one opponent in particular, back when he was a player, that made him starstruck during game action.

Brooks was a rookie when a defensive switch put him on an island against Michael Jordan, who, at 25 years old, was already a reigning MVP.

"I remember it almost like it was in slow motion. I said, 'I cannot believe I'm guarding Michael Jordan.' I said that like literally to myself as I'm guarding him," Brooks told NBC Sports Washington.

Jordan, Brooks said, showed mercy on him.

"The greatest thing is, he knew he could do whatever he wanted to do, but he just made a simple pass to the next guy over. He didn't even try to score on me. So that's my claim to fame," Brooks said.

Brooks played against Jordan 20 times in his career, and his teams actually fared quite well, all things considered. Brooks went 7-9 in the regular season across his stints with the Sixers, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Rockets. The playoffs were a different story. Jordan took those 3-1 and happened to outscore Brooks by exactly 40 points per game.

What Brooks remembers most of all about playing against Jordan was his defense. Most think of Jordan as a scorer, but he won the defensive player of the year award for the 1987-88 season and was a nine-time All-Defense selection. He also led the NBA in steals three times.

"I just remember how intimidating he was on the defensive end. Everybody talks about his offense, and rightfully so. The guy was probably the greatest offensive player. But his defense was intimidating for a point guard," Brooks said. 

"A lot of times your entry pass to the offense was to the two, to the off-guard. It was nerve-racking making that pass because you knew he was lurking in the weeds, and he was gonna jump out and take the ball. He challenged passes. It's hard to get guys to challenge shots, and he would challenge passes. That's how good he was."

Most of the legendary stories about playing against Jordan deal with his trash-talking. There are countless tales, including one told by Chris Webber to the Dan Patrick Show in 2013. Webber was on the Washington Bullets when they faced the Bulls in the first round of the 1997 playoffs.

According to Webber, Jordan walked into the Bullets' locker room before Game 1 with a lit cigar and asked the team: "'Who's going to check me tonight?'" He then had a lit cigar again before Game 3 as the Bullets got off the bus, and he was standing next to a black Ferrari with Scottie Pippen. Webber said Jordan was "letting us know that he's the Red Auerbach before the game even started. It was almost like 'I lit the cigar. I'm celebrating already. This is just a formality, you guys getting on the court tonight.'"

That is vicious stuff and Brooks said he was spared from it. Jordan apparently set his trash-talking sights on the bigger fish in the sea.

"He never trash-talked me, but I don't think I was ever a concern for him," Brooks said with a smile. "I don't think I could ever get under his skin anyway. Why would he ever want to trash-talk me? He probably felt sorry for me."

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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis talks Dwyane Wade, still undecided on offseason moves

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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis talks Dwyane Wade, still undecided on offseason moves

WASHINGTON -- Ted Leonsis had a front row seat to two converging storylines.

The Wizards owner was among throngs inside Capital One Arena appreciating Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade’s final game in Washington.

Leonsis also recognized the likely last gasp for his team’s playoff hopes came up short.

“They’ll make the playoffs. It doesn’t look like we’ll make the playoffs now,” Leonsis said to NBC Sports Washington following the Wizards’ loss Saturday night.

 “Hope [Dwyane] plays well,” Leonsis continued. “We’ll have to figure out what to do in the off-season.”

The loss dropped the Wizards (30-44) 6 ½ games back of the Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington only has eight regular-season games remaining.

Earlier this season Leonsis said organizational changes are in play should the Wizards fail to reach their goals, which included reaching the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons.

Asked for his current thoughts on any off-season changes, Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington, “Don’t know yet. Let’s see how they do out West. It was disappointing. We were trying to catch [Miami].”

The Wizards embark on a four-game Western Conference road trip starting Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Despite any frustration with the game’s conclusion and the season at-large, Leonsis appreciated Wade’s gusto on his way out. 

The 16-year veteran and 13-time All-Star announced his retirement before the season. Wade, 37, looked anything but over-the-hill late against the Wizards.

Having turned into Miami’s closer after the All-Star break, Wade scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Heat (36-37) fended off several Wizards rallies.

“Kind of historic, right? (Wild) that Dwyane Wade beat us tonight,” Leonsis said. “What a career, what a game. Just everything about the way he plays is beautiful. He’s really great.”

Leonsis remarked the referees overlooked an apparent traveling violation from Wade in the third quarter.

“We wanted to beat them. They played better. The no-call on Dwyane on the travel was apropos. I thought he took five steps. You say, ‘Well, that’s when you’re a Hall of Famer you get that respect,” Leonsis said respectfully. “But, good for him.”

Miami moved one game ahead of idle ninth-place Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings.

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