NBA Hall of-Famer Reveals Depression

NBA standout Jerry West has had one of the most successful professional basketball careers both on and off the court. Recently he revealed a very long struggle with depression for an interview taped with Bryant Gumbel for HBO. He said his depression started in childhood due to physical abuse from his father. (Now he is 73.) It was severe enough abuse as a twelve-year old he kept a shotgun under his bed and threatened to use it if the beatings continued. “I would go to bed feeling like I didn’t even want to live. I’ve been so low sometimes and when everyone else would be so high because I didn’t like myself.” (Source:

The emotional toll from such abuse is what scars a child, because they often interpret the violence as something they deserved, and as an indication there is something wrong with them. Somehow West remained committed to developing as a basketball player, excelling in a West Virginia high school and averaged 32 points per game in one season. At West Virginia University he was on a team that went to a national championship. He was good enough to become a professional with the Los Angeles Lakers and win an Olympic gold medal in 1960.

With the Lakers he became a co-captain and was selected to the all-star team fourteen years. In one playoff series he average over 46 points per game. After his playing career was finished, he then became the Lakers head coach for several years. Later he became their General Manager and during this period the Lakers won seven championships. Some time after leaving the Lakers he assumed the same role for the Memphis Grizzlies, and now is working as a consultant to the Golden State Warriors. Throughout his career he has lived with the depression and not sought counseling.

Today he prefers to use Prozac and deal with it on his own. It could be his great work ethic from basketball is helping him, but cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be more effective than anti-depressants. Going it alone is also generally not helpful to people with depression because social isolation can contribute to the condition. Talking regularly with a competent, licensed therapist has helped many people, and it has no side effects like medications can have.

Additionally it can provide thought and behavioral coping skills which are effective over many years. The approach West has employed obviously has worked for him, but cognitive behavioral therapy actually might improve the situation even more. Males particularly seemed to be sort of trained by our society to ‘man up’ and be tough, which does not allow them to express their true emotions, because admitting emotional pain has been wrongly labelled as a sign of weakness. All people have emotions though, and can experience inner pain, low-self esteem and trauma. In such situations working with someone who is trained in how to deal with depression is much better than withdrawing. West’s revelation has generated many news stories and so has already raised some mental health awareness, which is much needed.

A depressed person is simply unwell, not broken or deficient. Healthcare is required often to help the person regain their health, just like when a person has a medical condition like high blood pressure. People who have experienced one episode of depression might be more likely to again in the future.

Image Credit: Rob Poetsch


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Danuta Watola
Danuta W6 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Jake R.
Jake R6 years ago

Cee, the article doesn't say that. It says cognitive behavioral therapy doesn't have side effects like medications can have. "Talking regularly with a competent, licensed therapist has helped many people, and it has no side effects like medications can have.

Read more:

Cee R.
Charlotte Rea6 years ago

Your comment that cognitive therapy can cause no harm is blatantly false. I saw a licensed therapist who turned me into a complete basket case. I had been on anti-depressant medication and came off of it because I had been convinced that drug therapy was harmful and that meditation and cognitive therapy were the best routes to go. I escaped from the therapist and meditation community who turned their back on me and am back on low dose anti-depressant medication. I have my life back again. Pronouncements that there is only one way to treat mental health issues are harmful to those seeking solutions to a cruel disease. There is no one size fits all therapy regime. Alternative (non-drug) therapies work for some but not for all.

Andy Kadir-Buxton

The Kadir-Buxton Method can cure mental illness in just thirty seconds. It has been found that the medical professions in both the UK and US hate it because it is a threat to their jobs.

Margaret C.
Margaret C6 years ago

Lady Kaira, he won't become a wacked out zombie! Lots of people have taken it and are not wacked out. As time goes on, he might not need any antidepressants or he might need a different one. The good part thing about his life and his depression was that he was very social, and that helped alleviate some of his pain. At his age, he is still a vital person and he doesn't seem the type to give up or stop being involved in some sort of sport or activity that will keep his mind working and busy. Everyone has moments of depression, and most people work through them. And don't judge a medication you haven't personally used or a person you know nothing about. Personally, I took Prozac, until it stopped having any effect and for a few years I took nothing. I wasn't wacked out before and I am not wacked out now. But everyone is different.

Jake R.
Jake R6 years ago

Ellen the article doesn't say a person with high blood pressure should talk to a counselor, it is merely an analogy.

Ellen Mccoy
Ellen Mccoy6 years ago

So you are saying that someone with high blood pressure should just talk to someone about it? Equating depression to high blood pressure is absurd. I have a low seritonin problem. It is physical not mental. I have a counsulor and a doctor attending me.
As for Mr West, he is doing just fine. He has a very high priced restaurant at The Greenbrier Resort called 44 West. Google the menu for prices. I wish him luck.

Jarno Lahtinen
Jarno Lahtinen6 years ago

I know the devastating effects of severe depression personally - I've recovered from it with the help of professional counceling and medication though. You shouldn't try to fix depression with drugs alone, but seratonin re-uptake inhibitor drugs are effective for many people suffering from depression, when used in conjunction with counseling.

Debilitating depression can wreak havok on your life, but there is real hope of recovery. Though when you are in that condition, you don't really believe you could recover, nor do you see any future for yourself. Only in retrospect can you see more clearly, and realize that you've made it through.

Lady Kaira
None None6 years ago

Sad, and Kudos for him all these years, but now that he doesn't have basketball to concentrate on, what will he do? Depend on prozac and walk around like a wacked out zombie? Not good! Getting with a professional would be the better thing.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson6 years ago