Content Warning: This essay contains strong language about suicide and suicidal thoughts.
My name is Rob McClanaghan, and not too long ago I almost took my own life.
You wouldn’t have seen any headlines about it. No articles. Before today, not even my closest friends and family knew. And, truth be told, unless you grew up in Rhode Island or are an obsessive-level NBA fan, you’ve probably never even heard of me.
But I have a story to tell. One that I think is pretty important. And if you give me 10 minutes, I promise to make it worth your while.
My story is about a skinny kid from Cranston, Rhode Island, who went from being a walk-on guard at Syracuse to building a career from scratch as a basketball skills trainer, to training eight of the top 15 picks in the 2008 NBA draft, to flying overseas on private jets with KD or Steph to … feeling like his entire world was cratering and that everyone he knew would be better off if he was no longer around.
More than any of that stuff, though, my story is mainly about how sometimes things are not what they seem.
For a kid who’d been infatuated with basketball pretty much since birth, it almost seemed like a dream.- Rob McClanaghan
For most of the past 15 years, my job has been about flying to different cities and leading individual workouts for some of the best players on the planet. Early on it was Chicago, and L.A., and a few other places. But in this business, if you’re good at what you do, word spreads fast. So, by 2010 or 2011, I was on the road 200 days of the year, and, before long, it had become international. Guys started taking me abroad to work clinics with them in the offseason so they could get their same workouts in while they were out of the country. I looked up one day and my travel itinerary had become like: Orlando, Manhattan, Shanghai, Boston, Rome, Atlanta, Seoul, Paris, Denver.
It was always the best hotels. The swankiest restaurants. Top-of-the-line everything.
And, you know what? On the court, I can definitely be a hard-ass sometimes — brash, demanding, all business — but by a certain point, as things got bigger and bigger, I couldn’t believe what was happening. For a kid who’d been infatuated with basketball pretty much since birth, it almost seemed like a dream.
You couldn’t get any closer to the NBA than me. I was more in with some of the best players than even their coaches were. I was with these guys six, seven days a week in the summer. My boys back home were getting up and trudging to the office on a Tuesday morning or whatever, and I’m out in L.A. running a workout with KD, Melo, and Kevin Love. Just those three guys and … Rob from Rhode Island. I’m up in their chests guarding them, running the show, talking shit, the whole nine. Looking around during water breaks like, How f***ing incredible this is right now?
In 2011, Derek Rose wins the MVP, and he’s up there at his press conference thanking me, using my full name. A week later, another of my guys, Kevin Love, wins Most Improved Player, and Kevin namechecks me, too.
Then, aside from the on-the-court stuff, I could get any ticket I wanted. I’m going to dinner with players after games, playing I Spy with their kids. I’m over at the house on Sunday watching football while their personal chef cooks wings for us.
In a lot of ways, it was actually better than a dream. Somehow even more unbelievable. It was as if I was in the NBA without having to actually play the games.
It was like: This is the life!
I mean, that’s what it seemed like. It’s what everyone told me. That’s what everyone saw.
What they didn’t see, though?
Well, for starters, they didn’t see me, one late night in the winter of 2019, leave dinner in New Orleans with one of my guys, walk back to the Ritz-Carlton alone, slap the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door handle of my room, close the shades tight, lie back on the bed, grab my phone, pull up Google, and start typing into the search box….
what did robin williams do to kill himself
Looking back on it now, it’s pretty incredible that I actually made it to where I am. And I can definitely understand why, over the years, it may have seemed like I had absolutely nothing to complain or feel sad about.
Early on in my career, it honestly could’ve gone either way for me. For a while after college, I was living back home with my mom, working at a local high school, basically teaching kids dodgeball for a living. But I hustled and nagged and bugged people about becoming a trainer. I got some breaks and did that thing where you tell everyone who’ll listen that you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and look them in the eye while saying it and … hope that a few of them believe you.
Thankfully, with me, some of them actually did. And then, before too long, I’m on Instagram playing five-on-five with Michael Jordan or whatever.
But the truth is, even in the midst of what seemed like a pretty awesome life, I was really struggling. And I had been for years.
Things started to take a turn for me back in 2011 when my dad got really sick all of sudden. He died of cancer in what seemed like a flash, and I didn’t handle it well. He was a sports nut, and we always bonded over basketball. It was the first big loss I’d experienced in my life, and I guess I just didn’t know how to grieve at that point.
I tried to jump right back into my life immediately after he passed away. The NBA lockout was going on at the time, so I felt like I had no choice. My clients had to work out, they had to stay in shape during that period. It was like: My guys need me. They’re relying on me.
I never took a break, and I never told anyone how sad I was. Or how the sadness didn’t seem to be fading with time.
What made everything even worse was that so much of what I do for a living, it all really is dependent on me carrying myself a certain way. It’s about projecting self-confidence, about being tough, demanding respect. A lot of the best players in the world, I mean, let’s face it, by no real fault of their own, they’re surrounded by lots of yes-men, by people telling them how great they are. And with me, part of what makes me different is that I’ll get on your case. I’ll hold you accountable. If you’re late, I’m going to call you out. If you’re not going as hard as you can, I’m going to tell you to get your ass in gear.
I felt like I had to practice what I preached.
A big part of me back then thought that if I showed any weakness at all my guys would stop wanting to work with me.
So I just held it all in. I suppressed it. And what that meant was, unbeknownst to my clients, things just got worse and worse and worse over time. I’d be having these episodes where my breathing would speed up all of a sudden, or I’d get so anxious that I’d have to lie down right away. And, as this was all taking place, I just kept on going a mile a minute.
By 2013, I’d gotten married and had three children in 15 months (a daughter, followed by twins). It was tough not being around as much as I would’ve liked. But I felt like there was nothing I could do because I had to support the family. If I didn’t travel to meet up with my clients, I wasn’t making any money.
My life got real lonely, real fast.
A big part of me back then thought that if I showed any weakness at all my guys would stop wanting to work with me.- Rob McClanaghan
On the road, if I wasn’t going to dinner with my clients, I’d be by myself. I might work a guy out from 10 a.m. to noon, and after that I’m done for the day. Sometimes I’d hang out with my guys, of course. But these players have wives, they have families, and lots of times they just want to rest up before the game. So I’d end up hanging out in my room by myself.
After a while, I developed a routine.
The first thing I’d do as I was opening my hotel room door would be to reach around and grab the DO NOT DISTURB sign from the inside handle and move it to the front of the door. That was my signature move. Right away. Boom. Do. Not. Disturb.
The DO NOT DISTURB SIGN became my best friend.
That and the hotel curtains — you know those real heavy ones they have at hotels where, if you close them just right, absolutely no light can get through … those ones. I’d get in the room, walk over to those curtains and shut them as tight as I could. I became a pro at that. I could get it pitch black.
I’d sit in the dark for a while. Maybe throw on a game. Order some bad takeout. Then just … more darkness.
It’d be like that for 15 or 16 days each month, sometimes more. And….
That’s a lot of darkness, you know what I mean?
Eventually, that became my norm — sitting alone in hotel rooms and worrying.- Rob McClanaghan
That’s a ton of time spent alone, beating yourself up over not being present for your kid’s first visit from the tooth fairy or first bike ride, or wondering if you were around enough during the last days of your dad’s life, or whether you’re getting overextended financially, or about a zillion other things that can overtake your mind when you’re stressed out.
Eventually, that became my norm — sitting alone in hotel rooms and worrying. That became how I lived. And the weird thing is: It somehow also became something I sought out. Something I craved.
I know that sounds strange. Believe me. It seems absurd.
But by that point I felt like every time I went out or spent time with other people, I had to kind of put on an act. I had to pretend that everything was fine and that I was still the same Rob Mac everyone knew. Especially around my players, their agents, coaches, anyone involved with basketball or my career. Even though I was hurting, and deteriorating on the inside, when I got around people I carried myself the exact same way that I always had — same confidence, same swagger, same everything.
It was exhausting.
I didn’t let it impact how I interacted with my guys — I was still doing dinners with them anytime they asked, hanging out, being my same-old self. But, I have to be honest, it got more difficult the worse I felt. It was just so tough pretending to be happy and O.K. all the time.
I remember on this one basketball trip to Shanghai, probably around 2015 or 2016, during a 12-hour flight, I was a ball of nerves the entire time because all I wanted to do was to get to my hotel room as soon as possible. It wasn’t like: Let’s go out and have a nice steak dinner, check out the city some, see the sights. All I could think about was opening the door to my room, closing the curtains, and being alone.
When I finally got there, I remember lying down on the bed, taking several deep breaths and just being like….
Whew, thank God.
From there, it was pretty much a direct line to that night in New Orleans.
Those hotel rooms allowed me a break from the show I was putting on for everyone. They provided relief. But it was only temporary. And, as time went on, outside of work, my personal life had become an absolute mess.
It’s no surprise, right? When that’s the type of life you’re leading — putting on an act every single day, not letting anyone in, away from family for extended periods, bottling up all your emotions and just trying to get from one hotel room to the next — what’s bound to happen in your personal life?
I don’t have to tell you. You know.
You know what’s coming next.
In 2019, my wife and I decided to get a divorce.
That whole process — the lawyers, the filings, all the meetings and phone calls, the back-and-forth — added even more stress and anxiety to my life.
Then there was a book release and a promotional tour, an uptick in speaking engagements, even more travel.
It just seemed like everything was coming at me all at once.
I guess all I can tell you is that … you can’t really get what something like this is like until it’s happening to you. Until you’re in it.- Rob McClanaghan
Not long after that, I began noticing suicidal thoughts popping into my head.
And look … I totally get it. For those of you out there reading this right now and thinking: What a selfish mother******! You’ve got three kids, a family to support. Those children need you around. How could you even think like that?
All I can say is….
You’re right, 100%. Absolutely. It does seem completely selfish and terrible.
Even in the times when I was having those thoughts, I told myself that very same thing a thousand times a day. I knew it wasn’t right, that I shouldn’t be thinking it. I knew.
But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t make it stop.
I guess all I can tell you is that … you can’t really get what something like this is like until it’s happening to you. Until you’re in it.
And, man, by that point … I was in it.
There’s only one reason why I am still here today.
The belt broke.
I wish I could tell you I had some kind of revelation. I wish I could tell you I came to my senses.
But that would be a lie.
I won’t go into detail about exactly how it all went down that night in New Orleans after I ran that Google search on Robin Williams. But I can tell you this much: I’m here today writing this piece solely because I bought a cheap-ass belt at Marshalls 15 years ago, and the part that connects the buckle to the leather wasn’t strong enough to hold my weight for long enough.
If my belt hadn’t been so shitty, you wouldn’t be reading this article.
I would’ve been gone.
There’s only one reason why I am still here. The belt broke.- Rob McClanaghan
And you know how when stuff like that happens and a suicide attempt fails in a way that kind of seems like a miracle, or a sign from above, you often have the person talking about a switch being flipped. Like: I guess I AM meant to be here after all. I need to take this opportunity and run with it — appreciate everything I have, live life to the fullest, not waste a single day.
Well … that wasn’t me.
I wasn’t that guy.
I remember exactly how I felt in that moment, and it wasn’t at all like that. It was the exact opposite, actually.
I was pissed.
When that buckle snapped, I was at the point where I had begun to go in and out of consciousness, and I remember thinking “Just a few more seconds and I won’t feel a thing. I just won’t wake up.”
And then … BAM.
I felt my head jerk down, and my consciousness immediately returned.
I was so mad at myself, as I lay there on the hotel room floor. Not for getting to that point, or for trying to do it, but for failing. It was like: Man, you really can’t do ANYTHING right, can you?
I walked into the bathroom, and when I looked in the mirror I didn’t even see my face. All I saw was the mark.
It was massive.
It actually doesn’t even seem right to call it a mark. It was a gigantic, bright-red bruise extending all the way around my neck — front to back.
I stumbled over to the bed and fell asleep. Then, when I woke up, get this … I basically went back to my life as if nothing had happened.
My neck still looked the same in the morning, and I was scheduled to attend a shootaround and then go to a game that night. So what did I do? Did I cancel? Make up some excuse. Not show up?
Nope. You know what I did?
I went to the mall down the street, and I bought a turtleneck.
It was 60 degrees in NOLA at that point, and I’m out there buying a turtleneck. I actually had to get a scarf, too, because the bruise was so large.
So now, there I am, at the arena, in my turtleneck-scarf combo, laughing and joking around with my guy’s family, talking shit with his girlfriend. Like nothing even happened.
Same old Rob Mac.
It was like: Man, you really can’t do ANYTHING right, can you?- Rob McClanaghan
Then, somehow, things actually got even worse from there. COVID hit not too long after, the divorce went through, and I moved out of the house and got my own place. I saw my kids a lot, but during those times when they weren’t around, and it was just me … let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
I wasn’t working out. Lying around in the dark. Eating frozen pizza at midnight. That kind of thing. At random points during the day, out of nowhere, I’d start breathing all heavy for at least a minute or two without being able to stop. It felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest.
And the suicidal thoughts? Those didn’t stop after New Orleans. If anything, after that failed attempt, they increased. As terrible as it sounds, I actually started weighing the pros and cons of a bunch of different methods, trying to figure out which one would make the most sense for my next try. That was how I was spending my time at home.
And then, when my kids would come over, I’d look at them, and see their smiles and laugh with them, and think to myself….
What the f*** is wrong with you, man.
By that point — even though I was still training my guys and doing speaking engagements — I felt like I couldn’t go any lower. Every day was a struggle. And each day seemed to be worse than the last. Life had become unbearable.
Except for those times when I was with my kids.
And one thing I’ll always remember about that time is that, kids … they know. They can tell when you’re down or when things aren’t right.
My kids have always looked at me like I’m SuperDad, the strongest, bravest, most courageous man on the planet. They grew up thinking I was famous because of all the players I spent time with. (When my book came out a few years back, one of my daughters wanted to be the book for Halloween. Like, she actually wanted to dress up as my book.) So when I got to those low points, no matter how much I tried to be the same around them and keep my energy level high, they noticed the change. They felt it.
At one point, I remember my oldest daughter came up to me while I was sitting on the couch and was like, “Dad, what’s wrong?”
I wasn’t looking glum, or doing anything abnormal. But she could just tell. She had this sense. She knew.
And, you know what? Her knowing, and me seeing the impact I was having on my children, and what I meant to them, that’s what ultimately led me to reach out for help.
Those kids, without even knowing it, they saved my life.- Rob McClanaghan
In March 2020, during the All-Star break, I picked up the phone and texted one of my best friends in the world, Kevin Love. He was injured at the time, so he hadn’t made the team and was taking that week off.
The text? Oh man….
I got real with him about what I’d been going through. I didn’t hold back.
We jumped on FaceTime a few hours later and talked about everything that’d been going on. Right after that, I spoke with my sister and another close friend, both of whom are psychologists. Then, the very next day — after going a lifetime without receiving even a minute of counseling — I called up a treatment center out in California and signed up for several weeks of intensive depression and anxiety therapy.
If it wasn’t for those conversations, I don’t know if I ever get to that place. I have the utmost gratitude for what those three people did for me. But, at the end of the day, I made that call because of my kids.
Those kids, without even knowing it, they saved my life.
Now, let me just pause for a second right here to make something clear: I don’t mean to make it sound like going to that treatment center was something I did like it was no big deal, like it was easy. I don’t want to make it seem like I was this strong, brave guy who had no problem doing this, and I just manned up and made it happen. Because I wasn’t, and I didn’t.
It was f***ing hard.
Every part of it was difficult. It was the most scared I’ve ever been.
In fact, going to the airport, I almost turned the car around like 20 times. I’m honestly not sure how I even made it onto that plane. Once I did, though, it was basically seven straight hours of sweating and shaking and trying not to lose my shit.
Then we landed, and I grabbed an Uber to the place, and, get this … even at that point, I’m thinking about what it must look like to the goddam Uber driver. Like I’m worried about how, no matter what I say to him during our small talk, He must think I’m out of it, that I’m totally messed up.
I was, even then, still worried about cracks in the façade.
Once I got to the place, though, things really started to change for me. It was still hard — they take your phone as soon as you arrive, no computers, no TV, I missed my kids — don’t get me wrong. But it was a good hard.
At first I tried to be my same old self — the tough guy, the hard-ass, too cool for school. But literally after one group meeting, that whole thing went out the window. There was no point. Not only was everyone just so super nice and supportive, but it was also like: Holy shit, all these people are going through pretty much the same thing I am.
They all had families, careers they cared about, things had been building up, one thing after another happened, they held it all inside, and on and on.
All of them, on the surface, if you looked at them you’d be like: Man, now THAT guy has a great life! And yet, there we all were.
Almost immediately, it was like: I’m not so different. I’m not an outlier.
This can happen to anyone.
I put in a ton of individual work during those two weeks — meeting with doctors and therapists, learning about myself, coming to realizations about certain triggers and stressors that had combined to make things snowball for me. I learned about the ways I am insecure and try to mask it at times, and about how I sometimes blame myself for things that aren’t actually my fault. I learned about the importance of sleep and rest, and the impact of nonstop travel on one’s overall health. And about my tendency to suppress my emotions and bottle things up, and where that can lead over time.
It was f***ing hard. Every minute of it.
But, man, was it worth it.
By the time I got back home, my entire perspective on myself, my life, and dealing with the challenges I have been facing had changed for the better.
It’s not like I’m cured or whatever. (There’s nothing, really, to “cure” in these situations.) I still have my bad days sometimes. The anxiety attacks still creep up on me every now and again. But now I know how to deal with those situations, and, even more important: I know that it’s O.K. to experience them and to talk about them and work through them.
I’ve continued to see a therapist since I got back home, and that’s really helped to cement some of the skills and techniques I’ve learned. It allows me to share things in my life with someone I trust, and that has made a world of difference. Thanks to the therapy, and to the love I feel from my kids, I never attempted suicide again after that night in New Orleans. I keep things so much more positive all around.
I understand now more than ever that if I can keep myself happy and take care of myself, that allows me to make other people happy, too. I become a better dad, a better son and brother, a better friend, a better mentor. It allows me to be a better support system for everyone in my life. So, of all the things I learned when I went to California for therapy, by far the most valuable one was that I need to take care of myself, first and foremost. Because if I don’t do that, I can’t do anything else that matters to me.
I’m so grateful for having made that realization, and I know for a fact that I would’ve never gotten there had I not opened up and talked about my challenges.
I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much the feelings and struggles that matter most — we all experience that stuff, often on a daily basis — what matters is how you respond to them. Do you bottle them up and keep them inside and ignore them, or do you talk to someone, get support, and work on not letting those feelings overtake you?
For years, I did the former. Now, I’m trying my best to do the latter.
And the main reason why I wanted to write this article, and share my story, was because I want other people out there who are struggling with some of things that I’ve wrestled with to know that there is hope. It’s never too late to turn things around.
It can be done. I’m living proof of that.
It all just comes down to finding a way — any way — to stop bottling everything up and suppressing what you’re feeling. And it really does all start with finding someone you can trust and sharing your truth. It doesn’t have to be a therapist. It could be a friend, a family member, a coworker, just anyone you feel you can trust.
And you know what? If I can be of any help to you in that process, I’m happy to do that. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to. Whatever it takes, you know what I mean? We’ve already lost too many people. And especially in today’s era of social media overload, with people chasing likes and approval and putting on an act online, everything can become overbearing before you know it. I’m even starting to see that affect my kids, if you can believe that. People right now are struggling on so many different levels.
I just want to do anything I can to help, based on all that I’ve been through and learned.
And the main thing I’ve learned is that talking to someone, and opening up myself to getting support, well … that was the only way I was ever going to improve things. I had to communicate, and to let people help.
It wasn’t easy. That’s for sure. It’s still not easy. But I’m giving it a try.
I’m doing my best.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts or know someone who is, help is available 24/7 for free by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.