A Dry Goodbye
Imagine bracing yourself for an impending drop. You sit there, breathing slowly, body tensed, your mind repeating some story that will help prepare you for the fall.
And wait some more.
But you never drop.
At some point, you have to call it.
You need to move forward.
Then, whispers of ANOTHER drop begin.
You assume that same bracing position and… nothing.
While these whispers seem to be nothing but hot air, over and over again, you play this game until you eventually stop bracing.
When you become immune to the brace,
it’s harder to stick your fall.
But when you stop waiting for the drop,
you can finally embrace where you currently stand.
“You simply cannot grow if you’re always waiting for something to break.”
Meyers has always embodied this. He gives himself fully and unconditionally to those around him. And as his spouse, this is his most beautiful and most difficult quality.
Over the last seven years, I’ve watched him commit his heart to a city, community, and organization. There have been hard times and good times, but ultimately there was an undeniably special bond.
This is why on July 1, 2019––the drop we felt would never come, dropped the hardest.
When I first learned of the trade, my body lost feeling. I was trying to understand what it meant. What did I need to do? Who should I call? How was Meyers feeling? Or, did he even know?
My brain and body were numb. But, one thing was clear: I needed to talk to Meyers.
He was in the middle of an off-season workout when he found out. His trainer had paused his drill and told him to go call his agent.
It wasn’t long until my phone started ringing. It was Meyers. The looming drop that we’d been bracing for was happening. He couldn’t speak for long as I could tell he was experiencing the same shock as I was. But for him, it was on a deeper, more personal level.
My phone started to go wild. Texts, calls, and messages were flooding in.
Question after question, I began to feel more and more out of control about how to handle the news.
“How did you find out?”
- Uh, Twitter.
“What do you need?”
- I don’t really know.
”What are your next steps?”
- Not a clue.
“How did it happen?”
- Not sure.
“How do you feel?”
- I can’t yet.
People wanted answers. But, I only knew as much as Woj’s 133-character tweet explained.
“Miami is finalizing a trade to send center Hassan Whiteside to Portland for Mo Harkless and Meyers Leonard, league sources tell ESPN.”
After Meyers’ sophomore year of college, he was faced with a decision that would forever change the rest of his life. At only 20 years old, he needed to choose if he was going to continue his college career or enter into the NBA draft.
Leaning on mentors, family, coaches, and friends, each person offered differing opinions. Each offering of advice came with pros and cons. If he were to go to the NBA, he would risk the security of the known and gamble with the unknown. College was a safety blanket. A degree was forever while a long NBA career wasn’t promised. Going to the NBA meant that he would be betting all chips on himself.
During this time, I watched him process both sides. It wasn’t that he was necessarily worried about the unknowns of the next chapter, but rather what pieces of the current story would be lost in the transition.
Luckily, in this situation he could test the drop.
At this point in our lives, Meyers and I had been dating for a year. Personally, I was in a tough place when it came to giving him advice. Selfishly, I would have loved for him to stay at the University of Illinois with me. But ultimately, I wanted him to make the best decision for his career and future. I tried my best to play both sides, but he knew how hard it was for me.
So in the Spring of 2012, before he ultimately announced his decision to enter the draft, he decided to “test run” the news on me. Meyers and I were relaxing at his college apartment when he looked over and said,
“I have something to tell you.”
“What?” I said.
“Well….” He paused.
“Well, what Meyers?”
“Meyers! You’re fine just tell me.”
In truth, I wasn’t fine. I was bracing. My heart was racing. And, I wasn’t appreciating the suspense.
“Well, I have decided that I am going to the NBA.”
There was my drop.
I broke down. Just as he worried about the unknown, I did too. Our sophomore year of college was my epitome of perfection and the thought of it all changing hurt.
To this day, I’ve never been a crier. So when Meyers saw tears flowing down my face, he realized this “test drop” was a terrible idea. Immediately, he started to retreat.
“Elle!! I’m kidding! I just wanted to see how you would respond. I wanted to make sure that you wouldn’t break up with me,” he said.
Oh, boy. All my emotions took a hard right towards ticked off. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the tears on my cheeks began steaming off my face.
Looking back, I now understand what he was trying to accomplish. While I wouldn’t advise him to EVER take this approach again, I do understand why he did it. If his life was going to change, he simply wanted to know what came with it.
See, to him the decision to go pro was a drop. But, the chance of losing what we had was an even bigger drop. And the thought of this aftershock wasn't something he was willing to gamble.
Fall Back On What You Know
If I had a superpower, it would be the art of problem solving. I’m exhilarated by the process of fixing issues and determining solutions for all types of situations. So, with our lives in a sudden state of unknown, I fell back on what I knew how to do best.
After Woj’s tweet, I had a few hours before I saw Meyers in person. The most immediate problem I needed to solve was how to help Meyers’ heart handle this news. Problem-solving mode allowed me to transition out of numbness and into Meyers’ shoes.
Here’s what I knew to be true:
This news felt personal.
We all know the coined break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” In a trade situation, it feels like the opposite. “It’s not me, it’s you.” Naturally, you tend to focus on why it didn’t work in the last relationship before you can even realize how beautiful the next one will be.
The logistics of the change hadn't even crossed his mind.
As a couple, Meyers and I have always had this two-prong approach. I handle logistics and create a plan and Meyers helps put the plan into action. Or, as he likes to call it, he’s the “blue-collar worker.” This meant I needed to figure out our next steps to be sure he knew this was the last thing he should be worrying about.
Meyers always thinks about others first.
Yes, the change primarily affected him and his career. But by nature, Meyers always thinks about others. He will feel guilty if he thinks his waves have rocked someone else’s boat and, similar to the “test run” in college, the boat he would be worried about rocking most was mine.
“How do you like Portland?”
If there were two questions that Meyers and I hear the most, the first would be, “How tall are you?” which is understandable, considering Meyers, standing tall at a solid 7’0”, can be quite startling to first time viewers.
But the second would be “How do you like Portland?” which always left me questioning. Is it that they had previously visited or wanted to go? Are they asking indirectly about Portland’s weather? Are they trying to get inside information about the team and organization?
Regardless of the intent, I’ve noticed how our answer has evolved throughout the years.
Nicer Than Nice
When I heard the words, “With the 11th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Meyers Leonard from the University Of Illinois” my heart both jumped for joy and sank to the floor.
Meyers was fulfilling his dream of being a professional basketball player, but he was going to live at the single furthest NBA city from where I was. At 2,142 miles away, Meyers moved to Portland by himself while I finished my undergraduate degree.
My first impression of Portland developed from how he would talk about it.
“SO nice,” he would say. “I can’t describe it. People here are nicer than the typical nice.” While I tried to understand, I didn’t have a clue what “nicer than typical nice” actually meant.
It wasn’t until my first visit to Portland that I began to understand what he was talking about. He was right. The people, the city, the culture. It was nice on overdrive. Portlanders did things that were so over the top nice that I would ask myself if it was creepy or not. When I realized these offers, questions, or gestures were part of the culture, I was taken aback.
“Nicer than the normal nice” was dead on.
Soaking Up The City
Upon finishing my degree, I moved to Portland in December of 2013. Meyers and our dog, Bella, welcomed me with open arms.
Meyers and I started our relationship in college, but we began our life together in Portland.
Never knowing how long our time in Oregon would be, we tried to soak in every experience we could.
In the summer of 2014, Meyers proposed. The hardest wedding decision for us was WHERE we were going to get married. We considered Illinois or the surrounding states, sunny California, and various tropical destinations. But, we kept coming back to one place: Portland, Oregon.
At this point, Portland was a part of our relationship. We had friends that felt like family. Not only did we love the life we had created, but we wanted to share this with our Illinois family and friends.
Growing In A Downpour
Now for every Portland sunny day, there were will be a rainy day or two. And just like the weather, there were both great and extremely challenging times in Portland.
In the NBA, it is exceptionally rare to be on one team for seven years. But from ages 20 to 27, Meyers and I lived in Portland by ourselves. We not only learned a lot during those years, but we also had one audience watching us try and figure it out.
During any true growth, there are setbacks.
And for us, the 2016-2017 season was when everything fell apart.
Until recently, Meyers never spoke publicly about that year. Actually, he never told any friends or family about what he had gone through. But on a local Portland podcast, I heard Meyers finally admit that he had battled severe depression and anxiety.
We never had a conversation about him telling this story prior to the podcast. So when I heard him speak openly about it, I was both proud and scared.
I was proud that he felt strong enough to speak about it. I knew that it meant he truly felt like he had made it to the other side. At the same time, I was terrified about opening up this wound. Especially a wound, that he mentioned, I was battling with at the same time.
Unlike him, I don’t know if I was ready to talk about it.
After listening, I ran over to him and said how proud I was of him. But, I also requested that if he were to speak his truth to not include my mental state in the narrative.
I’m not entirely sure why I did this. It could be because I wasn’t ready to admit what I had gone through. Or maybe, it was because I’m still working on healing my wounds. If I were to guess, I think deep down I want to be the one to tell my truth.
So yes, what Meyers had mentioned was in fact true.
The 2016-2017 season was the single lowest point of my life.
There were times that my tears felt as if they were in competition with the rainfall outside. It became easier to lock myself inside from the rain then go outside and drown in the downpour.
The 2016-2017 season was the year that I slowly stopped attending games. I knew Meyers wasn’t healthy. So sitting in that arena felt like absolute torture. Each opportunity seemed to be coupled with an injury or heartache. Each game, it was like I had a front-row seat to watch my husband’s pain on public display.
“Nicer than nice”, also has a polar opposite. And for fans, they don’t hold back. When I realized attending games gave people the ability to send cheap shots directly on my heart, I stopped going to the Moda Center.
It only started with not attending games. It soon turned into me watching with the TV on mute. And eventually, I stopped watching games at all.
Instead, I used the 82 nights as my time to breakdown for hours. These evenings were my sickest coping mechanism and I wanted to keep my dependency on them private. So right before Meyers would get back from the arena, I would piece myself together and turn back into his silent support system.
I was suffering inside, but I couldn’t show it. I knew he was the one getting the worst burns from the spotlight. So, who was I to mention my pain to someone who was far more wounded?
As I mentioned before, his best and worst quality is that he gives all of himself to those around him. Similarly, my problem-solving nature is my biggest strength and greatest downfall. As a problem-solver, you have to believe that you can pretty much do anything. Within every issue, there is a solution. Within every obstacle, there is an opportunity. But watching Meyers hurt day after day made me lose faith in my superpower. I felt like I was failing at my most important job.
I was failing as his wife.
You Are What You Repeatedly Do
The 2016-2017 season taught me how to dismiss my internal battles and direct that energy onto Meyers. So when the drop happened, I knew that I needed to fall back on my “training.” In times of adversity or change, Meyers is the kind of guy that needs positivity and affirmation. Any stress, anger, or sadness that I showed would only multiply the mix of emotions he was feeling.
So with the few hours between Woj’s tweet and Meyers returning home, I decided to focus on the positive. Making a mental list, I cued up “Miami” by Will Smith and waited for Meyers to walk in.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
A big part of what got us out of this dark time was a group of people that Meyers calls the “Dream Team.” This team is comprised of trainers, coaches, doctors and specialists that all own a “pillar” in Meyers’ training routine. As a professional athlete, there are so many facets of your overall training need to be tended to in order to grow in your sport. For Meyers, these pillars are nutrition, on-court training, strength training, sports psychology, physical therapy, recovery and bodywork. Each pillar, if not attended to, will adversely affect another.
In typical Meyers fashion, he is quick to credit others for the creation of this structure and quick to praise the professionals for his development and health. But at the end of the day, all that this team did was establish a framework that allows him to do what he does best...… Work.
The summer of 2017 was his first off-season with his “Dream Team.” And by the end of August, I had to confront Meyers about something I saw.
Confused by my serious tone, he asked, “Did I do something wrong?”
“Of course not,” I replied.
That summer, I had seen a transformation. I had witnessed a spiritually broken man never lose the belief that he could change his narrative. While he’s quick to credit the team, he hadn’t recognized the person that deserves it most. Himself.
As I was sitting next to him, I began explaining this.“I’ve been watching you this summer. I’ve had a lot of time to analyze, observe and see how you have changed. I feel lucky to have witnessed what you have done this summer.”
He was still confused.
“Meyers, I’ve always been proud of you. You’re a great man. You care more deeply for others than anyone I know. But, this summer you INSPIRED me. You didn’t talk about changing; you showed me through action. You never once compromised. And somehow after the hardest freakin’ year of our lives, you never gave up. Without knowing it, you showed me day after day what it is to have faith in yourself.”
With a half-grin, he leaned in and gave me a kiss.
That was all that needed to be said.
The Dry Goodbye
After the Summer of 2017, my response to “What do you think of Portland?” was completely different. I now began to answer with, “It’s home.”
We hit what some would call “rock bottom” during the 2016-2017 season.
What we realized is that rock bottom can actually be a trampoline as long as you’re willing to jump.
Our lives and our relationship had changed after that year and it was the first time in Meyers’ career, that we understood our happiness wasn’t a situational by-product. It was the result of genuine relationships, uncompromised drive, and faith in the future. We finally stopped bracing for everything to fall apart and began standing on stable ground. Most importantly, our happiness was something we controlled.
Every season since the summer of 2017, Meyers’ play has continued to improve. And in the fourth and final game of Portland’s 2018-2019 Western Conference final series, Meyers was not only finishing with his strongest year yet, but he was closing the season with the best game of his NBA career.
As I sat there in the stands, I remember feeling the exact same numbness I felt when I read Woj’s tweet.
At one point, the Moda Center had been a source of some of my deepest pain. But as I sat there on May 20, 2019, it didn't feel real. People were on their feet, but I couldn't stand. When the crowd began to chant Meyers’ name my body lost feeling. I was trying to soak in the moment, but I was numb. I felt my eyes start to swell and, as I was on the verge of tears, my cry seemed to run dry.
I’ve had reactions similar to that moment as I’ve processed the news of the trade. When I think of the friends I will miss or become overwhelmed by the litany of items to do, there have been times that my eyes, once again, start to swell. I’ve wanted to cry. But on these few occasions, my tears, once again, have not come.
For such a rainy city, it seems that, for once, there has finally been a drought. It's as if I have shed all my tears of pain and showers of immense joy. My dry eyes aren’t because our love has run out. It’s because we have truly soaked up every moment that our Portland chapter had to offer.