A Great Basketball Player Competes for Mental Health


Playing for mental health makes you a champion.




It is the time of year for the men’s National Basketball Association playoffs. Once again, since Giannis Antetokounmpo has become a star for my home team, the Milwaukee Bucks are a favorite for the championship. Many think he is the greatest player right now.

So, when I opened the online edition of the April 11th Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I thought I was viewing a long story by Lori Nickel about the quest for another championship.1 And it was, but very indirectly. In a way, it was first of all a quest by Giannis to be a champion for mental health. As he is quoted:

“Mental health—it’s big for me.”

But mental health was not big for him until 2020. That is, he never paid attention to it in his laser focus on basketball and his family since he was a teenager in Greece. When such other stars as DeMar DeRosen and Kevin Love went public in 2018 with their undue depression and anxiety, he describes his reaction:

“I was like: ‘I don’t understand what this is.’”

Then paradoxically, it seemed, at the time he signed his $228 million supertax contract extension in December 2020, he was ready to leave the game, and more. He reported that troubling stress had been building up:

-The unexpected death of his father

-Greece wanting him for his home country team

-Endorsement demands

-The usual need to focus on being a becoming a star

“And if, my mind, and if I, am not in a good place? How can I leave my family? You know, I can’t leave my family. So, you know, that’s when I realize—maybe—I need to talk to somebody.”

He did so.

“I kept talking with this counselor. He helped me a lot—not just being a better basketball player, being able to deal with it; but being a better partner, better father, better brother, better son. Better person.”

He found the therapeutic experience so enlightening that he wanted to add mental health to his family’s foundation and philanthropy for those in need. He understood that there was stigma preventing talking about and dealing with it. Not only that, but it influenced his playing.

“The moment I started talking about it, I improved as a basketball player . . . And then I tried to help as many people as I can.”

Getting to know how limited access is to treatment when you do not have resources like he did, a partnership between Giannis and Antidote Health is trying to increase access to affordable care. Right now, they are providing free mental health services to Milwaukee residents for the month of April.

As he presented in his history, individuals also must know what constitutes mental health. That includes the provision of basic needs, appropriate validation, and adequate love, along with avoidance of adverse childhood events. Mental health can—and should—be taught and enhanced in school.

As I was working on this column, with the last revision, I finally noticed my slip of the keys in the working title. I had “Completes” instead of “Competes,” so it read:

A Great Basketball Player Completes for Mental Health

Maybe that was psychologically unconsciously relevant, though. We can learn from our slips, verbal or otherwise. Good mental health completes our potential, does it not?

Whether his team wins another championship or not, I would call this a championship for mental health.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.


1. Nickel L. Feeling the stress, Giannis once almost quit the NBA. Now he wants to help as many people as possible with foundation. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. April 11, 2023. Accessed April 14, 2023. https://www.jsonline.com/story/sports/nba/bucks/2023/04/11/giannis-foundation-provides-many-different-types-of-support/70091667007/

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