Las Vegas Aces All-Star Liz Cambage was all smiles heading into Sunday’s game against the Connecticut Sun.
From pre-game warmups, to the opening tip, to the end of a 21-point, 12-rebound performance in the Aces’ 89-81 victory, nobody would have guessed she’s been dealing with mental health issues for roughly half her life.
But after a self-penned article on The Players Tribune entitled “DNP-Mental Health,” everyone knows.
“I’ve been very open about my mental health the past couple of years, and I kind of feel like a pillar, in some way of support to other kids out there and people that are dealing with mental health,” Cambage said after the game. “I had to be honest with myself and for them, but sometimes strong people aren’t that strong.”
Cambage’s article detailed her ongoing struggles with depression. It also revealed a downward spiral after All-Star weekend in Las Vegas last month, and why she missed two games, which were labeled as rest.
“I felt like I had to be honest for the people who look after me,” said Cambage, who added she’s been speaking with a sports psychologist, who was provided by the Aces. “You see us on the court, you see us out there balling, and there’s so much more to the sport than just being a basketball player.
“This whole season I honestly haven’t been myself. I’m already being back playing to my old way. It’s a bittersweet situation, but it’s what I need to do to be the best basketball player I can be.”
Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said the organization is in full support of Cambage, and it will do everything possible to help her along the way.
“Everybody has their moments and she’s very focused right now,” Laimbeer said. “I knew she would be. Everybody goes through time slots where they get down, it happens. It’s professional athletics. The pressure’s always on, especially the pressures on the stars. They have to perform all the time and it wears people down.”
After satisfying obligations with the Australian national team, hearing about her grandmother going in and out of the hospital thousands of miles away, and enduring a breakup with her longtime beau, it apparently wore Cambage to the core heading into All-Star weekend.
“I feel like I went into the break already broken,” wrote Cambage, who admitted in the article she’s been taking medication to help treat depression and anxiety for years. “The weekend spiraled into partying… which spiraled into drinking…. which spiraled into exhaustion..
“And maybe even then I would have been alright — except for one thing. I was off my meds.”
Cambage said she had stopped taking her medication because it had a “dulling effect and she woke “up groggy in the mornings” and that she moved “a little slower.”
Looking to “feel” a little more, she ended up feeling too much on All-Star weekend, as she admitted during a post-All-Star game interview she did a little too much partying.
“I heard her comment,” Laimbeer said. “We looked at and … I told the person that I trust to watch the situation and I said pay attention there because it was out of character for who she is right now.”
Cambage wrote she started getting blackout drunk “at around 15 years old” and said there were times she had “woken up with an IV in (her) arm, after a weekend of partying, not being able to remember a thing” and that her “first attempt at sobriety was at 18.”
Less than one week after the NBA announced every team has to have a mental health professional on staff, Cambage said it is something every professional sports organization needs to have, for those seeking counsel.
Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas agreed.
“I think absolutely it’s something that would be necessary. Mental health for so long has been something that people felt ashamed to talk about,” Thomas said. “And now that people are finally being open about it and sharing that experience, it’s helping other people feel that they can talk about it too. And having the proper resources for things like that is definitely necessary.”
Back on her meds, Cambage said she feels better and is ready to help lead the Aces into the postseason.
“I’m already feeling back to myself and I’m freer,” she said. “I don’t overthink everything. The voices of self-doubt don’t build up, so I’m playing my free game and just doing my thing out there now.”
Cambage masks her mental anguish well by flashing her infectious smile that brightens a dimmed Mandalay Bay Events Center during player introductions, as a motivator for her teammates and a fan favorite who ignites the crowd during every home game with her many facial expressions and exuberant fist pumps.
“This is a very strong mental person,” Laimbeer said. “The pressure has been on her, her entire life. And she handles it in every way she can get through it. But as we say in basketball, the best safe haven for any athlete is on the court.”