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Former WNBA legend discusses battle with mental illness
0:56 | WNBA
Former WNBA legend discusses battle with mental illness
Tuesday May 3rd, 2016

Lakers forward Metta World Peace—the once-tenacious defender formerly known as Ron Artest—has been working as an advocate to raise awareness for mental health issues for many years now.

World Peace has openly documented many of his own struggles, and in his latest project to bring more attention to the topic, the former All-Star teamed with his longtime friend and fellow Queensbridge product Chamique Holdsclaw for the documentary Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey Of Chamique Holdsclaw. The film follows Holdsclaw and the obstacles she faced as a player clinically diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.

World Peace appears in the documentary, which airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Logo TV, to discuss his own experiences. World Peace chatted with SI.com about mental health issues in sports, his childhood and much more.

(Warning: This conversation contains strong language.)

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Rohan Nadkarni: How did you get involved with this movie?

Metta World Peace: It was great. It was something I’ve done in the past. I’ve donated my championship ring, raffled it off to help raise awareness. Now [Holdsclaw’s] getting her story made, to talk about her issues. We found out she wanted us to be a part of it. This is a great opportunity for us to work together again, raise some more awareness.

RN: Do you feel like awareness for mental health issues has improved over your NBA career?

MWP: Mental health issues can be just a word for problems. Some people develop mental health issues. Sometimes it can be like, things that affected your life, maybe your grandmother passed away, maybe your parents separated, all those things kind of fall under mental health issues, when you get depressed, have anxiety and different things like that. But sometimes people are mistaking mental health issues for you being crazy. Some people don’t understand mental health is broad. You have to ask questions. Are you depressed?  Are you schizophrenic? Do you have anxiety? Are you bipolar? Those are the different things that come under the banner of mental health.

RN: Did you feel you were unfairly labeled?

MWP: I don’t really care because so many people, all the time, are unfairly labeled. The media these days, who knows what’s right and what’s wrong, especially if they’re not educated. You could take the presidential debates, for example. If you’re not educated, you get one guy saying this guy is a bad candidate. And the next guy saying this guy is a bad candidate. You get two people saying they’re all bad candidates. Who’s right? The media, I try not to let it affect how I feel.

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RN: How would you like to see teams or the NBA address mental health issues?

MWP: Well, I think it’s not about teams or the NBA, it’s about people. I don’t really care about how teams handle players or how the NBA handles it. It’s more about what’s happening in the school system, because before you get to a professional place you’re in the school system. It’s more about what’s happening at home. Do you have parents in your household? Some people don’t have both parents. Some people only grow up with a mom, mom got to work. Some things like that are more important.

RN: How can we move to a point where people can overcome those stigmas? What steps can we take to move past labels?

MWP: I think it needs to be in the school system, and I think you have to hire candidates that support these manmade problems. A lot of these problems people are having are coming from the food, coming from incarceration, drugs. These are problems that we designed. The only way to fix it is if we fix it. But sometimes people don’t want to fix the problems.

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RN: During your career, was there a situation where people didn’t understand you? Was there a situation where the stigmas affected you deeply on a personal level?

MWP: Well, for me, mental health issues were more of an environmental thing. It was more the violence, more the drugs, dysfunctional household. That led me to having a defensive mechanism because my neighborhood, if you aren’t defensive people will walk all over you. And then survival, there’s a survival aspect coming from, I remember one time being at my cousin’s house. My cousin was cooking up crack. Police are knocking on the door. I’m thinking, ‘Oh shit, if I get caught, I’m going to jail. Just being in situations like that.

So for me, that kind of made me feel like I always had to be on edge and I always had to be on ready. I remember these drug dealers came and beat up my cousin. He had to go to the hospital. You start questioning things. Are you next? I remember one time my mom had to call this other guy and make sure he didn’t mistake me for my older brother, because they were trying to kill my older brother. My mom had to call him up and say these are two different people. So people don’t get that part of the story. But they do make fun of it, though. What I realize is you’ll get people in the media, that have not heard these stories, and they’ll say, ‘This guy is crazy. He’s not ready to be a professional. He shouldn’t be here. Those are all people that support, they don’t want to care what goes on in these neighborhoods. So for me, I look at it as they support the drugs and the guns that’s going on in these neighborhoods. Because they absolutely don’t care. So that’s why I try to put myself out there and make a difference.

Gary Dineen/Getty Images

RN: How much does that hurt? How does it make you feel when people put labels on you and they’re ignorant of what you’ve been through?

MWP: It doesn’t hurt. I know what these people are. I know what they’re made of, what they think. If I was in jail, it wouldn’t hurt anybody, right? If I was in jail—when I was 13 I learned how to sell drugs, right? If I was to continue on that path, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, nobody’s going to be saying, ‘Oh, I wish Ron wasn’t in jail. Right? But it’s people like myself that understand what’s going on in these neighborhoods. So we try to warn people earlier, ‘Let’s not keep going down this path. Because you’re going to be in jail, for a long time. It’s people like myself who are putting a lot of stuff out there about environmental issues, family crisis types of issues. Those are my main two types of issues, environmental and family crisis. Those are the two things that potentially affect someone like myself. There are people who are chemically imbalanced who need our help also.

RN: Obviously, all those issues still need a lot more attention. They’re maybe being talked about more now than they were before. Does anything give you hope at all?

MWP: You always need to have hope. But you are always going to have people who are more powerful and manipulative who will manipulate the situation. That’s why you’ll always have people in jail. Some of these crimes. You could walk into a crime. You could smoke marijuana, back in the day in the ‘70s, at Woodstock, all they were doing was smoking marijuana. And now they made it illegal. But in between that time they locked up a lot of my friends for marijuana. So it’s things like that, laws made where you could just walk into crimes accidentally. Now violent crimes, that’s different. Violent crimes, they need to be handled. But some of these little petty crimes. Even the difference between crack and cocaine. People get more time for crack, less time for cocaine. Crack is more urban. Cocaine is more of a commercial drug. With that being said, I try not to let any of it affect me. I just try to move on with a positive mindset.

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RN: Explain the pressures of your childhood to people who don’t understand. Explain how the pressures force you to do things like learn how to sell drugs.

MWP: I grew up with my mom and my dad, so if I ever did anything wrong I got in trouble. But when your mom and dad aren’t around, you can do what you want to do, and you can get in trouble, right? Just like any other teenager. My friends made mistakes. They did things they shouldn’t have been doing. So when you grow up where I did: A group of your friends play basketball. A group of your friends are smoking weed and playing basketball. Another group of your friends are playing basketball but selling dope. A group of your friends play ball but they have guns and maybe shoot them in crimes. You got all these different varieties of groups, people that you’re around that are your close friends.

So you could be close with a drug dealer, you could be close with a weed smoker, you could be close with a crack head. Sometimes when you need a dollar, you may go to the dope dealer for a dollar. The guys hanging out on the block would give us money. No one else was giving us money except these people. The free money, the easy money would come from the streets. And you pick up these habits. These are habits that I dread, I’m so sorry for kids that grow up like that. It’s not comfortable. It’s not cool. There’s nothing cool about it. There’s nothing cool about learning a process that’s going to hurt thousands of people. Because crack is a killer, you know what I’m saying?

RN: Do you feel like basketball saved your life in a way?

MWP: No, I think people did. People led me to play basketball, like my dad. Being on the court. It’s not so much basketball. Basketball wasn’t here when humans were first put on the earth, you know?. People can save people. Basketball has also hurt a lot of people. People go to college, they play basketball, then they graduate and they don’t know how to do anything else. And now they’re stuck at the age of 21. It’s all about people.

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RN: Who are the people that helped you the most?

MWP: My mom, my dad. I could have continued, I could have made a decision—my older brother, he did 10 years. He did 10 years for drugs. Ten years flat, federal prison. He was in two weeks before I went to school. My mom and dad helped me out a lot, helped me make a decision with what I want to do with my life. Then you got Hank Carter. Then you got a couple white gentlemen, Bob Reese, Bob Welsh, Artie Cox. I was able to be influenced by many different ethnicities, which is a great thing. I wish there wasn’t such a thing as ethnicity or race, because people would just look at people as people. But they got this [thing] called race/ethnicities. So you have to separate the two. But I had many different ethnicities that were a major part of my life, and for that I’m grateful.

RNMoving forward, with your career winding down, what do you see for your future?

MWP: I only worry about the day that’s presented to me. The day that’s presented to me right now. I’m raising my children, I’m watching Game of Thrones, I’m very excited about that. I’m all over that show.

RN: Are you a huge Thrones fan?

MWP: Oh man, are you kidding me? I’m on season one, I went back. I already finished it, and I caught up to season six, episode one, but now I’m starting over. So now I’m back in season one and I’m having a great time, I’m not going to lie.

RN: Were you a fan of the season six premiere?

MWP: Oh, absolutely! There’s no wrong that Game of Thrones can do. There’s no wrong. I’m a big fan. I wish they had Game of Thrones shirts, I ain’t going to lie.

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