A Cry For Help

By Greg Cote
Updated: August 25, 2009

MIAMI — The Miami Heat franchise quaked at its foundation Monday.

What we don’t yet know for sure could fill a chapter or two. The broadest sketch of what we do know is that young Heat star Michael Beasley is in a rehabilitation center at the club’s behest, driven there by substance abuse and apparent emotional issues.

What we know, too, is that whatever understanding and support we can manage should be his through all of this, not ignorance or condemnation.

“Please pray for him, he needs it,” Michael Beasley Sr. said Monday of his son.

His father also called what Michael is going through “just a bump on the road we call life.” The thing is, this is an extraordinarily public “bump” affecting a multimillion-dollar investment and the future of a local pro team.

The news comes as a gut-punch to our NBA team and its fans two months before the start of a new season. Beasley, overall No. 2 pick of the 2008 draft, is counted on to augment superstar Dwyane Wade and provide the club’s horsepower for many years.

Now, while sympathy for Beasley’s situation is a noble aim, there are also more pragmatic issues to wonder about — questions that all threaten to weaken the Heat.

A young player in rehab for drug and perhaps depression will be seen as damaged goods in terms of market value, and make him less a valuable bargaining chip in the event Miami would have wanted to trade him.

The same questions make Beasley that much less a sure thing in terms of his eventually developing into the superstar Miami hoped.

One also imagines Beasley’s personal issues can only be a negative in terms of affecting Wade’s decision whether to re-sign long-term with the Heat or leave in free agency. Is Beasley a player Wade can count on and will want to invest his trust and the balance of his career in?

Of course, the basketball impact, though an overriding concern, must bow at first to the more simply human concern about a young player in trouble. This isn’t the time to derisively yell, “Pot head” with an imperial wave.

Beasley, a second-year forward, is only 20 — he could be your son or mine — and suddenly a public spotlight has shone on his most personal demons. At once, all the athletic talent and infallibility that got him to this point falls away and all we see, exposed, raw, is the frailty. Give the kid a break now, you want to say. Let him heal.

Heat president Pat Riley encouraged Beasley into an NBA-affiliated rehab facility in Houston evidently with ample reason. Marijuana use was a continuing problem as were other issues more serious and far less in the player’s control, such as depression.

Beasley might conquer his internal foes, making it premature to second-guess Miami drafting of him or call it a mistake. He made the rookie All-NBA first team last season in averaging 13.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, gangly like a colt finding its legs.

We have seen a recovery from similar off-game issues from another of our prominent athletes.

Dolphins running back Ricky Williams was informed of the Beasley development following that team’s preseason football practice Monday, and nodded as only someone who has been there can.

Williams overcame a marijuana dependence that threatened to ruin his career. And, with the help of therapy, medication and yoga, corralled a social anxiety disorder that once left him uncomfortable even removing his helmet during interviews, and that threatened to put a stranglehold on his life.

“I think understanding is what Mike needs most right now,” he said. “You have to appreciate the courage it took for him to be so young but to recognize he needed get ahold of himself. It shows a beginning of maturity.”

There were warning signs of a lack of that, and those were partly why Riley leaned toward drafting O.J. Mayo first in ’08 but was convinced to bet on the greater overall talent of Beasley.

Beasley attended five high schools before his one season at Kansas State, and arrived in the NBA dogged by maturity questions and a rep for youthful clownery.

The league fined him $50,000 following last summer’s rookie symposium when he was determined to have been in a hotel room in which marijuana was being smoked.

The Heat was so concerned about Beasley’s maturity that it paid for a “live-in personal adviser” to be a constant mentor.

Then came the Twitter thing. That’s the social networking site that seems to be ensnaring various athletes in embarrassing stuff, Beasley the latest.

He posted a photo of himself this past weekend that showed off a large new tattoo across his back that read, `SupercoolBeas’ — the latest of his two dozen or so tats. But in the lower right corner of that photo, on a table, were what appeared to be two small plastic baggies — fueling rampant Internet speculation that it was marijuana.

“Tweets” or messages from Beasley that followed raised concerns.

“Y do I feel like the whole world is against me — I can’t win for losin,” read one. And another: “Feelin like it’s not worth livin!!!!!! I’m done.”

His Twitter account, username GorillaBeas, soon was shut down and the photo removed.

Twitter is just another element of an expanding, ever more intrusive media that eats into athletes’ privacy and makes splashy news of their every misstep, every hiccup.

We don’t like to think of our heroic, physical-specimen professional athletes having psychological issues. In the sports world such issues can be viewed as weakness, rather than illnesses meriting treatment.

“The macho thing,” as Williams said.

We’d rather look at Beasley — with all of his youth and fame and wealth, able to hold any South Beach club in his hand merely by walking in — and scoff, “What’s he got to be depressed about?” But it doesn’t work like that.

If Michael Beasley has issues he needs help solving, may he get that help, to the equal benefit of the anxious Heat, and himself.