TORONTO — It's close to DeMar DeRozan's heart, and much bigger than basketball.
And so the Toronto Raptors all-star is happy to be an advocate for mental health, and has lent his voice to the NBA's new initiative that launched Tuesday.
"When we get to speak to speak out against something that's bigger than basketball — something outside of the conversation of basketball — it's important, man. A lot of people suffer from a lot of things," DeRozan said. "They're afraid to share, they're afraid to bring to the light and be better. It starts very young. It goes a long way. So anything that's beneficial to (bringing) this to light and being happier, that's what it's all about.
DeRozan spoke at Tuesday morning's shootaround ahead of Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He and Cavs forward Kevin Love star in NBA Care's new public service announcement.
DeRozan first hinted about his depression in a February tweet, writing "This depression get the best of me..." He then spoke candidly about his mental health issues, prompting Love to pen an article for The Players Tribune under the headline "Everybody is going through something," about his episodes of anxiety.
In the PSA that will air during the playoffs and finals, DeRozan says: "We all go through it . . . Don't be ashamed of wanting to be a better you."
DeRozan said after he and Love spoke candidly about their personal experience, they agreed they wanted to do more.
"I think it kinda came to us. He said it when I came out about my experience with it, it opened him, and it just started a whole dialogue of mental health," DeRozan said. "The opportunity presented itself and it's a great opportunity for myself and a player like Kevin Love to be able to forefront that. And if that can help any people, then that's what we all for."
DeRozan was asked how the Canadian government can help pick up the slack. It's all about keeping a dialogue going, he says.
"You have to start with making people feel comfortable," DeRozan said. "We live in a world where we can't talk about certain things and push people in the shadows of their own feelings. You've gotta make people — kids, grown-ups, everybody — comfortable.
"It's not about teasing or making fun of nobody who's going through something. It's all about making that person comfortable and understanding that if you come out about it, it'll all relieve a lot of weight instead of putting more weight on your shoulders, so just getting people to understand that at an early age."
Cavs superstar LeBron James added his voice on the issue at morning shootaround, saying people need to know they're not alone.
"No matter if you're a professional athlete, where they feel like we're invincible or we don't have problems and things of that nature, I think it sheds the light on that, that we're human just like everyone else," James said. "But also the kids and the people that go through it as well, it's helpful to them to know that people in limelight and the cameras can have problems as well.
"I definitely salute Kev and DeRozan for what they're going through and being able to use their voice and their platform to better the state of what they're in."
DeRozan and Love have known each since they were kids, and plan to continue working on more mental health initiatives.
"Every step of the way I've known him. So I'm thinking now we'll open up more of a dialogue once we've finished work and go into the summer time and get details and share a few things," DeRozan said.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press