A Chicago Bulls all-star says millionaires feel lonelier than ever: ‘They have nothing’

Amondo Redmond and DeMar DeRozan
Forever21's former chief marketing and brand officer Amondo Redmond and NBA player DeMar DeRozan.
Courtesy of Forever 21; NBA

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When DeMar DeRozan joined the NBA, he expected to suddenly be thrust into the company of people who had everything. 

“I thought the guys in my profession, because they make a lot of money, they shouldn’t have a worry,” the power forward for the Chicago Bulls recalled to Fortune’s L’Oreal Thompson Payton during an exclusive interview for Fortune Connect earlier this month.

He found the opposite. “I tell people all the time, I know more millionaires that feel lonely as ever,” he said. “I feel like they have nothing.”

DeRozan’s ascent began nearly 15 years ago. After just one year at the University of Southern California, he became the 9th overall draft pick and spent a decade playing for the Toronto Raptors before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs and moving once more to the Chicago Bulls. But along the way, he found that the farther up you go in your career, the lonelier you can become, and the more your mental health can bottom out. 

“I think back to growing up in Compton when I had nothing. I was on top of the world, and I didn’t even know I was going to eat dinner that night, but my days were happier [than they are now],” said DeRozan, who is one of the NBA’s most outspoken mental health advocates. 

Amondo Redmond, the former global chief marketing & brand officer at Forever 21 who sat on the panel with DeRozan, said he had a similar experience. When you go after—and often, achieve—your dreams, the attendant disappointments, realizations, and dilemmas you encounter teach you a great deal about the world, he told Payton.

“Ironically, I was happier growing up in Flint, I believe, than when l was living in L.A., doing my thing, only because I was more naive then,” Redmond said. “I had not gone through what everybody on this call has gone through, which is the ups and downs of a career. It changes your mind. It puts weight on you.”

For many workers at the apex of their career, “it’s lonely at the top” is hardly an exaggeration—and it can be hugely impactful, whether you’re an NBA all-star or an exec in the C-suite. Countless research over the years indicates such: A 2012 survey of chief executives by the Harvard Business Review found that half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their role, with most  believing that loneliness hinders their performance. And loneliness at work also triggers “emotional withdrawal” from the company, which in turn makes workers much likelier to leave

The issue is compounded among people from minority groups—especially people of color—who are vastly underrepresented in C-suites across industries. There are only six Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. And executives of color tend to face much more turmoil, beyond just loneliness, than their white counterparts.

Integrating the past with the future

Redmond said he can sometimes struggle with integrating all parts of his story and identity into the work he does. 

“How do I get other men to not look at me as a corporate guy—someone doing well in corporate America—but as someone who is literally just like you, carrying the same pain, carrying the same emotions, going through the same exact thing?” he told Payton. “When I leave this building, I’m just another Black man riding in my car with the same outlook as you.” 

To that end, Redmond has made a point of returning to his community and discussing his experience. 

“All of this weight, all of this baggage of coming out of poverty and getting to the C-suite, it’s tough,” he said, adding that it won’t go away. “I think if we just talk about it, for me, a Black man talking to young Black boys, who, whether you want to be like [DeRozan] and be a superstar basketball player, or go into the C-suite like myself, and people on this call, it’s all possible.”

Talking openly was hard for DeRozan growing up. He said he never spoke about his feelings, fearing he’d appear soft. “There was a BS stigma behind it that we always try to run from, and sometimes you run away from it for so long you end up putting yourself in a predicament,” he said.

Sadly, it can be much the same today, he added. The difference is that he’s not only outspoken about his struggles, but encourages open dialogue among his teammates too. “Every time I talk to one of these guys, I just try to express to them that the only way to free yourself is by telling your story about your pain that you hide,” he told Payton. “Once you express that, you give so much hope to other people that look like you and want to be like you.”

“I don’t care if you play sports or are in the corporate world; we all go through something,” DeRozan said. “So how can we just give each other that light to keep pushing? We just have to be encouraged to use our voice. The more we talk, the better it will be, I guarantee.”

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