Taking the trophy, thanking the shrink

After NBA victory, Artest salutes his psychiatrist

June 19, 2010|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

Thank God he left God out of it.

God, the go-to guy for post-game gratitude, surely had other things on his mind than the outcome of Game 7 of the Lakers-Celtics NBA championship. So thank you, Ron Artest, for thanking not the man upstairs but someone a little closer to home — like on the other side of the couch — after leading the Lakers to victory.

"I definitely want to thank my doctor, Dr. Sandy, my psychiatrist. She really helped me relax a lot. Thank you so much," the Laker burbled Thursday night. "It's so difficult to play. There's so much commotion among the players. She helped me relax. I thank you so much."

Shrinks don't get this kind of public thanks very often, if ever — as the confetti showers and the champagne sprays, athletes tend to pay tribute to everyone but. Even Artest first thanked "everybody in my 'hood" before getting around to the mysterious Dr. Sandy.

So on behalf of his profession, Dr. Reef Karim would like to say: You're welcome.

"I had probably 30 text messages about what Ron Artest said," marveled Karim, a psychiatrist who treats athletes and celebrities in his Beverly Hills, Calif., office. "In a way, Ron Artest in one single statement, a very gutsy statement, was able to de-stigmatize the concept of looking at your mental health and trying to improve it."

A star athlete thanking a psychiatrist is something like an Oscar winner thanking a plastic surgeon — neither is known for wanting to acknowledge that kind of help.

"I think it's fantastic," said Dr. Eric Morse, president of the International Society for Sport Psychiatry, who saw the game but not Artest's shout-out. Morse is a sports psychiatrist for North Carolina State who previously worked with University of Maryland, College Park and Baltimore County teams.

"For him to come out and say that," he said, "it speaks to the work [he and his psychiatrist] were doing."

Artest's focus on how his psychiatrist helped him "relax" came as no surprise to Karim. "Anybody who has ever treated an athlete knows how relaxing the mind keeps it out of the way so that the muscle memory can take over," he said.

The endorsement of psychiatry came from one of the more celebrated head cases in the NBA. Over the years, the multiply suspended Artest has been arrested for domestic assault, said he used to drink cognac during half-time and has shown up for practice in a bathrobe — and to the Jimmy Kimmel show in just his boxers.

And, most infamously, he triggered a huge brawl during a Pacers-Pistons game, jumping into the stands to attack a fan and earning a 73-game suspension.

"I would prefer my endorsement to come from some other guy," joked Jim McGee, a Baltimore-based sports psychologist who has worked with pro and Olympic athletes. Still, McGee said, Artest's tip of the hat signals personal progress for the player.

"I would definitely say it's a good sign on a couple different levels, considering his past," said McGee, who retired as chief of psychology at Sheppard Pratt in 2001. "All's well that ends well."

McGee has gotten his own thanks from athletes — including a World Series ring he received in 1983 for his work as the team psychologist for the Baltimore Orioles.

He still sees an occasional athlete, helping the physically gifted make sure their mental skills are exercised as well.

"It's one of those things where it can be career-saving," he said. "We used to say they got all the tools but not the tool box."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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