I am half way through watching ‘The Last Dance’ for the second time. I’m sure many of you have watched this incredible documentary on the all conquering 1990s Chicago Bulls. For all the great content, I was waiting for the scene in episode seven where Michael Jordan shows how adrift from his team mates he was. He felt he needed to drag them up to his standards, for the team to succeed, but in doing so was not popular. Six times NBA champion, one of the greatest sports stars of all time yet this clip radiated how alone he was.

Of course, it’s easy to look over this and see the benefits of his success. He’s worth a couple of billion dollars and has had a standard of living most of us could only daydream about. Fellow basketball great Magic Johnson once said

“There’s Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us”

Which speaks to the truth that it’s possible that his fame, fortune and respect from peers can be accompanied by a part that is or was missing. The price he paid, if you will.

Seeing this powerful passage again made me think about loneliness. All shades of it and how it just isn’t talked about. I have had many conversations with people about their experiences of depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses but I can only recall a couple about just feeling alone.

However, 27% of adults in Great Britain reported feeling lonely always, often or some of the time in a ONS survey. Perhaps we just assume that 1/4 or so of people aren’t in our sphere. Surely if they are playing cricket, surrounded by people, that means they can’t feel that way? I’d say that is the most misleading assumption we can make.

There’s many causes of loneliness and these vary across different parts of society (here is an interesting look at two significant causes) so I’ll just focus on what can be overlooked in our social and sporting environments.

The Michael Jordan example is by definition extreme. It doesn’t mean it can’t be used as a prompt for thought. The same detachment can occur irrespective of setting and status.

Loneliness is something that visits me from time to time. The period I noticed it the most was between 2014 and 2016 when I was cricket chairman at my club (supplemented by two further spells, showing a forlorn wish it would be different despite doing the same thing!) My hope was that being involved almost daily in the running of the club would connect me to fellow members more, something I’ve always played the sport for. In the end, I’m sure through my own mistakes, it ended up doing the opposite. I felt isolated, frustrated and often angry. I just didn’t seem to have the same idea as others of what was best for the club.

I’d do much of it differently now. Probably starting with realising such a role can place you distant from others. People may see you less as a friend and more of an official who is just asking them for their subs, nagging to come to events etc. I got the opposite of what I did it for, making me feel foolish. Especially as I didn’t manage to achieve what I wanted so didn’t get my 0.1% of what Michael Jordan could take as success.

Sometimes the greatest player of all time looks all alone on ‘The Last Dance’

I know from chats up and down the country that others who take on committee roles can feel as lonely. Others the opposite. It really does depend on individuals and what is going on around them.

For me, adding the extra work on to existing commitments and struggling to accept the presence of depression as an on-going challenge just created conditions where loneliness thrived.

What can we do?

The answer to this question is much the same as the others that come up. Look out for each other better.

Now, in 2023, I’m fortunate to have captains who are interested in and care about me and others as a person. Yes, they would like some runs and wickets but they’re also aware of what your other hobbies are, how work and family life are going too. It really helps to feel included and part of something.

What else can do we do? A pause for a moment might give some ideas. Who might benefit from an invitation to have a lap when you’re waiting to bat? Who could be welcomed to a social gathering that doesn’t usually get asked?

Like mental health more widely, it should be about preventing something going badly rather than just helping someone get over it afterwards. Cricket has the power to do that. Let’s work on how we be the best team mate as much as we do our bowling, batting and fielding.