‘That Was Like My Pit’

Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers looks on during the game against the…

‘That Was Like My Pit’
‘That Was Like My Pit’

Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on October 22, 2022 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty

Paul George is giving away $3 million in free therapy, and the NBA star hopes the initiative will encourage his fans to embrace mental health awareness, especially among African-American men.

George, 32, who is partnering with BetterHelp on the giveaway, says that opening up about mental health struggles is “a tough conversation” for a lot of men, but “especially in the African American community, it’s always been a stigma.”

“We’re so taught to keep our emotions in and work through them ourselves, that you think you’re weak if you need help.”

The LA Clippers star became an athlete at the forefront of the mental health conversation in 2020 after he suffered from depression and anxiety while competing in the NBA Bubble.

“That was like my pit,” he tells PEOPLE.

Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers dribbles the ball up court against the Sacramento Kings in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on October 22, 2022 in Sacramento, California.

Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers dribbles the ball up court against the Sacramento Kings in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on October 22, 2022 in Sacramento, California.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty

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The NBA power forward and his co-star Kawhi Leonard suffered an embarrassing season-ending loss inside Disney World’s basketball bubble, which turned George into a controversial topic among NBA fans who felt that his poor play was worthy of online harassment.

Mocked endlessly by the nickname “Pandemic P” after the 2020 elimination, George says that now looking back, speaking out about his depression after the bubble “was like my coming out party.”

“When I had that moment, of saying like, ‘Hey, I’m not okay right now, there’s stuff going on and I don’t know how to address it, I don’t know how to figure this out.’ “

The seven-time NBA All-Star says he’s “got so much that I deal with on a day-to-day,” and now, he knows “it’s okay to ask for a little help in certain situations.”

Embracing mental wellness allows George to “get another view of” challenging situations or “blocks” and how to work through them. “It’s just good to have someone else’s perspective,” he says.

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He says talking to someone can offer “new perspectives” and ways to “let people understand that it’s okay to have these feelings, to have these thoughts.”

“Everyone does, it’s just about working your way through it,” he explains. “For a lot of things, it’s just hearing yourself talk about it.”

Now, the athlete is eager to encourage others to be proactive about their own mental health, especially to break down the stigma for men.

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George says he’s trying to use his platform to “really help others” through his work with BetterHelp.

“And I’m really proud of that.”