Introduction: This is Your Brain Health with noted Neuroscientist, Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Your Brain Health explores strategies to maximize your cognitive functions through life. Here’s Dr. Kristen Willeumier.
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Welcome to Your Brain Health on Radio MD. I’m Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Today I’m honored to have my new friend, Tracy Murray, legendary NBA veteran and coach here to discuss his personal journey with depression. For those of you who don’t follow NBA basketball, Tracy is a 12 year veteran of the NBA. Having been a first round draft pick out of UCLA. He went to the San Antonio Spurs to work with one of my favorite coaches in the league, Greg Popovich or Coach Pop as he is affectionately called Tracy, has played for several NBA teams from 1992 to 2007 and won a league championship playing with the Houston Rockets in 1995. Following his playing career, he served as an assistant coach for several teams and is currently an analyst for the UCLA sports network. So Tracy and I met at a very special event at USC for student athletes created by our mutual friend, Eric Cousin, founder of the global mental health Alliance called. We are All a Little Crazy. For those of you who listened to this podcast, I’ve previously interviewed Eric and we discussed his foundation, which is an Alliance of celebrities, athletes, musicians, and others who’ve come together in community in order to have a deeper dialogue around mental health issues. Eric has established a college tour designed to decrease the stigma around mental health issues on college campuses. Tracy and I were at the USC event. I was the MC and host and he was one of the celebrity guests. And he’s gracious enough to accept my invitation to come on the show here today and share his personal story about how depression has impacted his life as a professional athlete and ways he was able to successfully manage it. So Tracy, welcome to the show. It’s an honor to have you join us today.
Tracy Murray: Thank you. Oh, I wish I played for Popovich. Coast pops was a great coach. I was drafted by San Antonio. But yeah, I mean I wish I played for him.
Host: Yeah, he’s amazing. Okay. So Tracy, tell us about some of the teams that you did play for.
Tracy Murray: Well, I was a, I played my first few, I was drafted by San Antonio. I played my first three years, two and a half years with Portland Trailblazers, a half a year with the Houston Rockets which won a championship. Then I went to Toronto for a year in inaugural season played for the Raptors, then went to Washington for four years, Denver for half a year to run back to Toronto for a year and a half, Lakers for a year, Portland to end my career. And had a training camp invitation to the New York Knicks. I was the last cut of the Knicks in 2004, which I went to Europe after that and played three years in Europe, two years in Greece, one year in France. That’s where the career ended.
Host: How did you never make it to my Chicago Bulls?
Tracy Murray: Played against them many of times, I’ll tell you that.
Host: Oh my God. Against the great Michael Jordan.
Tracy Murray: Yes, the great Michael. Those championship teams I played again.
Host: That’s amazing. I was in Chicago during that time. It was pretty special time. So and tell the audience, which teams have you coached?
Tracy Murray: I was an assistant coach in the w MBA to the Tulsa Shock with Teresa Edwards when she was the interim head coach. I coached in the NBA D league before it became the G league with coach Herrick who was my college coach at UCLA. We coached the Bakersfield jam. I was a assistant coach, slash mentor of the team. And then I had a year with [inaudible] Scott last year with the Lakers and I have that experience under my belt as well.
Host: That’s impressive. You really have had quite a career and a championship ring.
Tracy Murray: And that was just on a professional level. I currently coach and train and mentor high school kids with my brother’s organization Prodigy Athletic. It’s an AAU program that’s based out of Rancho Cucamonga, California. And we’re a smaller brand, but you know, we actually give a lot to what these kids need.
Host: Oh my God. I love you. That’s amazing. So I’m going to pivot and just have you share a little bit with us about your journey with depression, and your struggles and how that came about. So, you know, please feel free to share with us.
Tracy Murray: Well, you know, professional basketball is really different. You know, it’s the best job in the world, especially if you love basketball. But at the same time you’re pigeonholed or boxed in and have a visible ceiling on how high you can get. And for a person that’s motivated and loves the game and knows, I knew my skillset and I knew I could have been better if given more of an opportunity. That starts to mess with your psyche a little bit. You know, you know, they tell you how good you are when you know how effective you’ve been against the people that they are pushing. You know, so it’s like and the facts were there, you know, it’s like they promote, what some of the stars have done, but they don’t promote your good games.
Host: So did that, is that why this started more in your professional career versus when you were back in UCLA?
Tracy Murray: Yes. Because in high school and college it’s about basketball. You know, if you can play, you get the shot, right. You know, there was a little bit of politics at UCLA but not nearly as much as when you start getting paid for it and then, you know, the politics is really a problem. There are some people that that came in the training camp, you know, throughout my 12 year career in the NBA that were better than all of us. And because you know, we all had guaranteed contracts that kid didn’t get a shot. And it’s sad to see that because you know, it’s about what they can market and how they can put more money in their pocket and not about necessarily having the best players on the floor.
Host: See, back when you played there were longer term contracts. Now you see player shifting from team to team so frequently, which is quite fascinating. Now you don’t have these teams like the Bulls, you know, of the early nineties where the teams stayed together for so long. So, how did that, like when did you start to notice that you were feeling depressed or did you not even notice that, somebody else noticed?
Tracy Murray: My first year in the NBA, very first year in the NBA, I’d go from sunny Southern California to rainy, dreary, Portland, Oregon. And when you’re not used to rain that much in the year and you’re used to seeing sun 300 times a year, that started the depression. I’m not able to get out and do the same things that I’m used to doing. It’s a smaller city. I’m used to more things to do. I was only 20 years old when I was a rookie. So I’m young and ambitious and bright eyed and bushy tailed. And I wanted to get out there and see everything and do everything. And, and you know, as a professional athlete, you can’t do that. You can’t be a kid. This is a grown man’s sport. And you know, so that’s what a lot of these kids don’t understand going into the NBA is this is truly a business.
There are things that you have to do that requires a lot of time, a lot of work. And you know, when you start like for example, I started my whole career up until I got to the NBA, I was a starter. And now not only am I coming off the bench, I’m not playing at all. I’m playing on a team that just came from the finals, from playing against the Chicago Bulls, right? So they’re not going to put me in front of. You know, and I’m not, I’m not, you know, stupid either. I know who Clyde Drexler is a Hall of Famer. I know Terry Porter was a very important piece to that team. I know that, you know Kevin Duckworth and Buck Williams and all, Jerome Kersey and all of those guys fought so hard in the finals year before that Rick Adelman had trust in those guys. So I am not saying that I was better than them. I am saying that I was a piece that I felt they could have helped them. And then they bring in Rod Strickland at the same time that I came in and he was an experience point guard that that really helped the team and that was a good move for him. But they also had a log jam at my position. So I’m sitting there wondering why am I here?
Host: Right. So here you are, a young athlete, you know, who wants to go out and play, you’re playing in locations that you know, like Portland where you know it’s raining all the time and you have more of that seasonal affective disorder, right? You’re not getting in the sun, you’re not feeling like you’re being utilized. Your skills and talents are being utilized. So it’s sort of slowly chipping away at your psyche and your sense of self worth. And you start to realize the business of your job. And I’m sure Alonzo Ball who also, you know is a star athlete coming out of UCLA and is probably feeling a lot of those similar pressures on the Lakers.
Tracy Murray: Not really similar though. He’s at home with his family. I wasn’t and, we’re both extremely close to our families. He has the support that I didn’t have when I was in Portland. So yeah, I mean, but at least he got to play for the hometown team. I didn’t. He’s still in the sun. He can go home. He can, he’s with his friends. I wasn’t. So it’s a major difference between me and Alonzo Ball.
Host: So how did you start to realize that you were genuinely depressed?
Tracy Murray: I joked about it but wasn’t, wasn’t sure if I was, because I was still, you know, I don’t think my teammates would have thought I was because I was still happy, go lucky, you know, just being myself. But deep down inside I was dealing with, with not being around my parents, my brothers, my best friend not being around him. I’m on the phone with them for hours every night after practice and in the morning on the way to practice. You know, I miss them terribly. You know, they were, you know, they were always there and now they weren’t, you know, there were a phone call away, but it’s not the same. You know, and I’m dealing with, you know, when you’re dealing with the NBA and there’s a lot of money and positions to give, you dealing with a lot of cut throat stuff. I’m not used to being cut throat. So you’re dealing with that. You’re not trusting some of your teammates, you know, it’s a lot of things that that happens. You know, that that creates separation even though you have to try to be a team.
Host: Sure. So how did this, like, has it impacted you, you know, towards the end of your professional career? What kind of things did you do to help sort of get you back on track?
Tracy Murray: Well, a lot of things were building up, you know, when it, when it came to for example, trade to Houston, I feel like I got new life. With Clyde Drexler, we win a championship with Hakeem Olajuwan, you have a sense of euphoria, everything is great. And Houston saying they wanted me in the draft and they took Robert Ori. So they’re feeling like now, you know, at least they’re telling me that, yeah, we got what we wanted and we got the draft pick, you know, as far as young guys, we’re going to build for the future along with the team that we have and keep going. And so I’m feeling like I’m part of something and then all of a sudden the expansion drafts come for Vancouver and Toronto, and now, you know, all of the players are selected. Now it comes down to time for to resign. And Houston’s not interested in resigning me. So that ruined my I could’ve gone into an expansion draft and would’ve been happy with the team that I was with, but now I don’t get that opportunity to go to two other teams. They closed the door. I’m an unproven young player after three years and now I’m stuck at home, everybody’s in training camp and I don’t know if I’m going to be in the league anymore.
Host: So you’re actually bringing up such an interesting point and it makes me think about pro athletes in general and maybe, you know, if you’re going through this, this is what a lot of people go through and we don’t even think about it. You know, when we think about athletes, we’re not thinking about how you feel, you know, being traded or not being played. And you know, we seem to think they get paid well. They’ve got one of the best jobs in the world. Of course they should be happy. Whereas, you know, on the inside you’re thinking I’m not.
Tracy Murray: You’re empty.
Host: You’re not feeling like you’re living up to your potential. And that is certainly a recipe for feeling depressed.
Tracy Murray: Yeah. Right. And another thing, I come from a family where I’m used to being told the truth, good, bad, or otherwise. I’m used to being told the truth and now you’re being lied to every day. And that’s a problem with me. You know? It’s like if at least if you tell me the truth, then I can adjust my attitude and my personality and my work ethic and what I’m putting into the game. I can know what it is and adjust my mind to it to where I can deal with it. But if you lie to me and tell me things like, Oh, just be the first one there in the last one to leave work harder than everybody else in your earn your time, and that time never comes. That’s a lie. That’s a lie to keep you away from them. So they don’t have to tell you like, look kid, you’re not going to play this year. I’d rather be told, look kid, you’re young, continue to develop. You’re not going to play very much this year. Just be ready for when you are called upon. Otherwise, this is a learning experience. Learn from the veterans. Sit here and work hard every day. You’re not getting in any day, I can deal with that. If you tell me that’s the case.
Host: I like this and I’m going to use this as a place to wrap up this first segment. We’re here on your brain health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier. I’m talking with NBA legend Tracy Murray and Tracy. In our next segment, I want to go a little bit deeper into this because you now coach young students and you’ve coached professionally, so we can sort of take this and implement it into how you’re using your experiences to get the next generation of athletes to think about their mental health. So we’ll be right back.
Conclusion: You’ve been listening to Your Brain Health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier, for more information or to contact Dr. Willeumier, Visit DrWilleumier.com. That’s D, R, W, I, L, L, E, U, M, I, E R.com.