On August 14th, a woman named Gia Allemand died. She was known to the public as a former contestant on "The Bachelor." But as is the case with every celebrity, be they athlete, artist, or reality television person, she was a person with a life, with family, with people who cared for her.
One of those people was Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, her boyfriend at the time of her death. At the time, it was only reported that she was admitted with a "serious medical event." It later came out that the 29-year-old woman had committed suicide.
Before the Pelicans' Wednesday night game vs. the Magic, Anderson spoke with the media about his loss. It is a heartbreaking interview in which he talks about the significant problem of depression and suicide in this country. It's worth a moment of your time. Despite the tragedy, Anderson says he's focused on committing to depression awareness and support for those considering suicide.
“My faith is what gets me though. Things don't happen...that doesn't happen for no reason,” he said.
“I know where Gia's heart was at. I know where she's at. She's in heaven right now. She's incredibly happy. She's pain-free. She's not feeling that way anymore. And now it's my mission that God has given me to voice this, to help a lot of people through her story. I'm really going to focus a lot on that.
“I feel like that's why I'm here. Basketball isn't why I'm here. This is why God put me on Earth.”
Near tears and his voice cracking, Anderson said getting through every day is a challenge.
“Every day's a roller-coaster, man. Every day is hard,” he said. “I miss her every second…but I owe this to her. I owe this to myself. I don't want to just be a basketball player and go home and have my life just revolve around that.
“I want it to be about changing lives, be a difference-maker. This has really helped me grow up.”
After the San Antonio Spurs lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals, future Hall-of-Fame coach Gregg Popovich told his players that if this is the worst thing that happens to them in their lives, they've been so blessed. He teaches perspective.
In a society that chooses, for many good reasons, to obsess over the on-court/field dramatics, it's good to remember that these are very real people with lives once the cameras are off and the ball stops bouncing. Anderson will carry this with him for the rest of his life, but unlike so many, including myself, who would never want to rise from a dark hole ever again, Anderson seems focused on finding ways to translate this tragedy into something good for himself and the world.
When the Pelicans open the regular season on October 30th vs. the Indiana Pacers, whether off the bench or as a starter, here's hoping that Anderson gets a rousing ovation not as adoration of an athletic hero, but as support for someone face to face each day with one of the cruelest of tragedies.