The result is a traditional, well-done documentary that celebrates a remarkable athlete’s achievements while also delivering an important message about mental health.
Chamique Holdsclaw was a legend in women’s basketball long before she reached the professional ranks. A high school All-American, she led Christ the King Regional High School to four straight state championships. At the University of Tennessee, she was a four-time All-American and led the team to three consecutive national championships. Her professional career also got off to a bright start: Holdsclaw was selected first in the 1999 WNBA draft (one newspaper headline proclaimed her the future of the WNBA) and was chosen as Rookie of the Year. She also did well in her second and third seasons, despite playing for one of the worst teams in the league. The first sign that all might not be well came in July 2004, when she failed to show up for a game; after several more seasons, and more unexpected absences, she unexpectedly announced her retirement in 2007.
What no one knew at the time was that Holdsclaw was suffering from depression (a diagnosis later revised to bipolar disorder). In the popular imagination, athletes are supposed to be strong, and they certainly aren’t supposed to suffer from mental illness. That’s nonsense, of course—mental illness does not play favorites, and there’s nothing about having a smooth jump shot that inoculates you against bipolar disease or any other condition. But reality is one thing and beliefs are another, and Holdsclaw struggled in private for years before acknowledging that she needed help with a serious problem.
Holdsclaw’s life are career are the topic of Rick Goldsmith’s documentary Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw, which has three interwoven story lines—Holdsclaw’s athletic accomplishments, her struggles with bipolar disorder, and her new career as a speaker and advocate for mental health. All are covered well, making this a film that will please both basketball fans and people interested in mental health issues.
Holdsclaw had a rough beginning, to be sure. Both parents were alcoholics (her father was also schizophrenic), and she had emotional issues in childhood (she refers to basketball as her drug and her therapist, because she poured all her anger into the game) and in college. While playing in the WNBA, a combination of events, including her grandmother’s death and the disappointment of playing for one of the worst teams in the WNBA (after enjoying almost unbroken success in high school and college) took her to the brink. She began drinking and became paranoid, feeling that she was losing control of her life, but even after receiving a diagnosis of clinical depression, she kept her troubles private. In fact, her struggles with mental illness first became publicly known after her retirement, with the publication of her 2012 biography Breaking Through: Beating the Odds Shot after Shot.
Goldsmith tracked down some great footage of Holdsclaw on the court (you can see from just these clips that she was already an extraordinary player in high school) as well as some great shots of Pat Summit, Holdsclaw’s college coach, in her prime. He skillfully combines the basketball clips with narration by Glenn Close and interviews with childhood friends, family members, and other notables including NBA player Metta World Peace (who recalls Holdsclaw giving as good as she got while playing against boys in New York) and New York Times sportswriter William C. Rhoden (who recalls that as a high schooler she displayed not only remarkable athletic gifts, but also a “take no prisoners” attitude common to many top athletes). The result is a traditional, well-done documentary that celebrates a remarkable athlete’s achievements while also delivering an important message about mental health. | Sarah Boslaugh
MIND/GAME: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw is distributed on DVD and streaming by Kovno Communications. It will debut on the Logo channel on May 3.