Kevin Love details his frightening panic attack: 'I really felt like I was going to die'

In the first of Jackie MacMullan’s five-part series on mental health in the NBA, the ESPN writer wades deep into an issue that impacts almost half the league, according to the National Basketball Players Association’s new director of mental health and wellness, Dr. William Parham. Only about five percent of those players are seeking treatment, and Cleveland Cavaliers star forward Kevin Love is one of them.

On the heels of Toronto Raptors star guard DeMar DeRozan opening up about his bouts with depression, it was Love’s Players’ Tribune article, “Everyone Is Going Through Something,” that let DeRozan and anyone listening know they weren’t alone. In his own words this past March, Love described the panic attack he suffered during the third quarter of a Nov. 5 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Now, with the help of MacMullan, the five-time All-Star details just how frightening the attack was:

After he ran from room to room in a total panic, he says, he finally collapsed on the floor of the locker room.

“My heart was jumping out of my chest,” Love says. “I couldn’t get any air to my lungs. I was trying to clear my throat by sticking my hand down my throat.

“It was terrifying. I thought I was having a heart attack. I was very scared. I really felt like I was going to die in that moment.”

Love says Cavs trainer Steve Spiro came in and found him splayed on the floor. “He was trying to calm me down, but he didn’t know what to do,” Love says. “He asked me, ‘What can I do to get you some air?'”

The team transported Love to the hospital. All his vital signs checked out. His heart was fine. His teammates were confused, and angry. “They had no idea what was going on,” Love says.

After the Players’ Tribune piece was published, Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon reported that Love informed his teammates during a testy team meeting this past January that another panic attack forced him to leave a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder — a contentious issue that precipitated the meeting. Although Love told MacMullan that this part of the narrative was misguided, his mental health battle was still met with suspicion nonetheless, according to the first part of the ESPN series:

While the outpouring of support was heartening once Love publicly announced that he was suffering from anxiety and depression, behind the scenes, mild derision and skepticism lingered. A small number of Love’s teammates weren’t buying the mental health excuse for his bailing on the team in the middle of a game. The withering criticism was piercing — and proof that the stigma of mental health remains alive and well behind closed doors of NBA locker rooms.

In the face of that reported “mild derision and skepticism,” Love has continued to speak openly about his experience, which has included therapy. He and DeRozan both discussed the issue in a public-service announcement that aired during the playoffs. Love received an award for his contributions to the conversation. The NBA players’ association hired Parham and launched a mental health and wellness program. On Monday, Love spoke to a national TV audience about his struggles with anxiety:

If players around the NBA and others outside of it remain guarded against the face of the issue, Love is helping tear down those walls. Players of all walks and sizes — from Nate Robinson to Kelly Oubre Jr. and Steven Adams — have sinceopenedup about their own struggles. Just last week, much-maligned former lottery pick Jahlil Okafor discussed his anxiety, crediting Love for assisting his transformation.

Former players are also warming to the NBA’s new normal. Paul Pierce described to MacMullan his crippling paranoia that followed the September 2000 stabbing that came within inches of claiming his life in a Boston nightclub. He was so frightened of appearing in public that he suffered a panic attack before he was scheduled to welcome fans into TD Garden to promote that year’s season opener. Basketball was his only form of comfort, and Pierce told ESPN he wishes he had Love’s strength then:

“I should have opened up earlier than I did,” Pierce admits. “It was eating me alive. Once I finally started talking to a family member, it helped me.

“I realized, ‘I should have done this sooner.’ I would tell everyone to get the help they need. My depression was bad — really bad. I never want to feel that way again.”

He’s not alone. As Love said, everyone is going through something, and talking about it is the first step toward ensuring that skepticism and derision subsides in favor of people not suffering in silence.

31 PHOTOS
Kevin Love through his career
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Kevin Love through his career
ARCHIVO - En esta foto del 19 de octubre del 2018, el alero de los Cavaliers de Cleveland Kevin Love hace un tiro libre en un partido de la NBA contra los Timberwolves de Minnesota. (AP Foto/Jim Mone)
UCLA's Kevin Love (C) eyes a rebound with Washington State's Daven Harmeling (L) and Kyle Weaver during their NCAA basketball game in Los Angeles January 12, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
UCLA's Kevin Love laughs during a timeout in the first half of their NCAA baskeball game against USC at the PAC-10 tournament in Los Angeles March 14, 2008. Love was the high scorer for the game with 19 points as UCLA won the game 57-54 to advance to the final on Saturday. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello (UNITED STATES)
UCLA Bruins' Kevin Love celebrates their win over Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at the end of their NCAA men's West Regional basketball game in Phoenix, Arizona, March 27, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
UCLA center Lorenzo Mata-Real (14) holds up the West Regional trophy as he celebrates with teammates James Keefe (L), Kevin Love (4th R) and head coach Ben Howland (R) after defeating Xavier Musketeers in their NCAA men's West Regional basketball game in Phoenix, March 29, 2008. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri (UNITED STATES)
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love smiles during a timeout in the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors in the Target Center in Minneapolis January 29, 2011. Love scored 21 points, and the Timberwolves won over the Raptors. REUTERS/Eric Miller (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
NBA basketball player Kevin Love, of the Minnesota Timberwolves, arrives at the 2011 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, California, July 13, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ENTERTAINMENT BASKETBALL)
Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves competes in the three-point contest during the NBA All-Star weekend in Orlando, Florida, February 25, 2012. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
NBA player Kevin Love accepts his award during the 27th Anniversary Sports Spectacular benefiting Cedars-Sinai Medical Genetics Institute at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, California May 20, 2012. REUTERS/Bret Hartman (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SPORT BASKETBALL)
Deron Williams (L) and Kevin Love (R) both of the U.S. joke around with teammate Anthony Davis (C) during the men's preliminary round Group A basketball match against Nigeria at the Basketball Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 2, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (BRITAIN - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT BASKETBALL)
Nov 16, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love (42) smiles and congratulates Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Kevin Martin (23) after making a three point shot in the second half against the Boston Celtics at Target Center. The TImberwolves won 106-88. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward David West (21) is guarded by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 2, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12) defends Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 26, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) injures his shoulder during the first half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics. at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) juggles a loose ball during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Cavaliers won 107-100. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 23, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) and forward LeBron James (23) react in the third quarter against the Orlando Magic at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
March 13, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) shoots a basket against Los Angeles Clippers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 5, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) passes the ball against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during the first quarter in game two of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) enters the arena before game five of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
June 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and forward Kevin Love (0) celebrate the 93-89 and series victory against the Golden State Warriors following game seven of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters Picture Supplied by Action Images (TAGS: Sport Basketball NBA) *** Local Caption *** 2016-06-20T032523Z_2053546459_NOCID_RTRMADP_3_NBA-FINALS-CLEVELAND-CAVALIERS-AT-GOLDEN-STATE-WARRIORS.JPG
Nov 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) shoots during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 128-90. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
May 21, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and forward Kevin Love (0) celebrate during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics in game three of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) poses for a portrait during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 08: Kevin Love #0, LeBron James #23 and Jeff Green #32 of the Cleveland Cavaliers look on during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 8, 2018 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 27: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on December 27, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 28: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against the Detroit Pistons on January 28, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 15: LeBron James #23 and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers react on the bench in the second half against the Boston Celtics during Game Two of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 15, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 06: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors attempts a jumper over Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half during Game Three of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 6, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 19: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on October 19, 2018 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Timberwolves defeated the Cavaliers 131-123. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love (0) poses for a portrait during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Independence, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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