Former NBA Star Mike Sweetney Maintains Balance On-and-Off-Court


Sweetney joined the N6A team for the February 2020 edition of our Outcomes & Omelettes thought leadership series.

After kicking off in January, the Outcomes & Omelettes thought leadership series kept on rolling this month. Retired NBA Player and mental health advocate Mike Sweetney joined N6A CEO Matt Rizzetta and the team to speak about destigmatizing mental health challenges in the workplace, overcoming adversity in your career, the pressures of being a young celebrity, and life in the NBA.

Mike Sweetney - O&O

But first, some background. After a prolific college basketball career at Georgetown University —  where he still ranks in the top-ten in scoring, blocks, and rebounds for the Hoyas — Sweetney was selected ninth overall by the New York Knicks in the first round of the 2003 NBA Draft (the same draft class that featured names like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony ,and Dwyane Wade). By 20, the young star seemingly had it all: a multi-million-dollar NBA contract, billboard endorsements in Times Square, a celebrity lifestyle, and a beautiful family. But within a few years it all quickly went away. 

After losing his father, Sweetney began to suffer from depression, and his career went into a tailspin. Less than a decade later, Sweetney was out of the NBA entirely. After a long road to recovery, Sweetney is now a national mental health advocate, and is on a mission to help destigmatize mental health challenges in the workplace. 

Sweetney hopes to maintain his mission to inspire people through their highs and lows, so here are a few of the key takeaways from this month’s session:

Maintain a Balance, On-and-Off-Court

When Sweetney hit the court, he was in his safe space and playing the game that he loves. Off the court was a different story. 

Often alone despite being on a team, and away from his loved ones, Sweetney said his toughest challenge was to find the right mental balance to ensure that he was taking care of himself during games and at practice, but also on his down time. 

The NBA during the early aughts was much different than it was today, and lacked many of the mental health resources that current players can use to their advantage. Sweetney cited current Cavaliers center and power forward Kevin Love’s op-ed in the Players’ Tribune about his own struggles with depression as having a serious impact in starting conversations in the league about what it takes for players to find a healthy balance to maintain mental health and wellness.  

Mike Sweetney - Matts OfficeThe former basketball star showed off his height when he left a message on Rizzetta’s office wall with some words to inspire people through their highs and lows.

You Don’t Need to Go It Alone

It wasn’t until Sweetney began playing pro basketball in South American leagues that he had a breakthrough — he finally felt he had the proper support system. Only then did he realize he didn’t need to go it alone. 

Despite his unique challenges, his coaches there inspired him to open up and share his feelings about what he was going through instead of keeping it to himself. He didn’t have to focus on just playing basketball anymore, and began having the courage to open up to his teammates about what he — and perhaps they — went through. 

Sweetney’s takeaway was to encourage people to open up even when they were uncomfortable doing so, and to try to embrace the support systems around you no matter how big or small they may be.   

Omelette Station -- February O&OThe interactive discussion about each guest’s background and career journey also includes a team-wide design-your-own-omelette station!

Keep an Open Dialogue

An often overlooked part of the equation is what employers can do to encourage employees to open up about their mental health if they need it. For Sweetney, it’s all about those employers and people in positions of power establishing and encouraging an open dialogue free from hierarchy constraints. 

Mental health and wellness can only be achieved when an employer makes resources available to help employees, and has next steps lined up to help those employees in need. It’s then up to the employee to be honest with themselves, and to be willing to take the next step to be open for a moment of change and stability.

Outcome Omelettes Logo-SMALL VARIANT

Each monthly Outcomes & Omelettes session is an educational and interactive discussion on each guest’s background and career journey to engage and inspire the team. Check back in March for our next guest! You don’t know who will show up from the worlds of business, media, philanthropy, and beyond.

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