Ever since Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan opened up about their battles with depression and mental health issues, a number of NBA players have been coming forward to share their unique battles with different mental illnesses.
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan has been working on a multi-part series and Wednesday she published an article focusing on former Boston Celtics guard Shane Larkin’s battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Larkin battled the disorder from a young age, and he detailed to MacMullan how it affected him growing up and during his first college stop at DePaul University, and how the game of basketball helped him fight a disorder that affects only 2.3 percent of the population.
“That was the craziest part,” Larkin told MacMullan. “I couldn’t touch the elevator button or the faucet to turn on the water because, ‘Oh, that’s so dirty,’ but I could walk on a basketball court where guys were grabbing their armpits, digging in their nose, then touching the ball, and I’d be fine.
“I’d play for hours with that ball, then walk off the court and eat a hamburger without even washing my hands. It made no sense at all.”
As his condition persisted as he got older, Larkin elected to try medication, but he felt that zapped him of the competitive edge he needed on the court.
“The medication flat-lined me,” Larkin said. “It made me way too relaxed — too chill. I felt like I needed to be on edge to be the competitor I wanted to be. When I was on the medication, it was like, ‘Eh.’ I told my mom, ‘There’s no way I can continue with this.”’
One NBA player told MacMullan that being on medication can affect a player’s NBA future when they hit free agency.
“I’d like to think it doesn’t matter, but I’m not sure that’s true when free agency comes around. I’m choosing to keep my life private because I don’t need the s— on social media. It’s hard enough already,” the anonymous player said.
Larkin ditched the medication but still needed to find a way to manage his anxiety when it came time for him to play college basketball.
When Larkin left for his freshman season at DePaul, his mother, Lisa, worried so much about how he would fare so far away from home that she started having panic attacks which made Shane’s OCD that much worse.
He flew home before summer classes started to try and regroup and get control of his OCD. He began seeing a therapist who got him into meditation and relaxation techniques to help get his anxiety under control without the use of medication.
Larkin got a medical waiver from the NCAA and transferred to Miami, which was close to home, and has found ways to manage his disorder without medication. He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and then played for the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Celtics before signing a one-year deal to play in Turkey.
MacMullan notes that the guard still has to turn on the faucet with his elbows, but he no longer has to “obsessively” wash his hands, as he would as a kid, once washing his hands eight times per trip to the bathroom because he saw Ray Allen hit eight 3-pointers on “SportsCenter.”
Larkin’s decision to publicly address his disorder has helped him immensely.
“When you talk about it,” Larkin said, “you don’t feel quite so alone.”
Thumbnail photo via Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports Images