Warrior Movement Nike photo 1

From left, Nike COO Eric Sprunk, NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan, Arlee senior Greg Whitesell, former Arlee student-athlete Will Mesteth, Arlee senior Lane Johnson, and Arlee basketball coach Zanen Pitts spread the Warrior Movement's message to roughly 300 people at Nike's headquarters in June. 

ARLEE — “I was about to put a gun to my head.”

Those are the words Arlee senior basketball player Greg Whitesell said in a video trailer for an upcoming television piece about the team and its Warrior Movement, a suicide awareness campaign that’s nearing its one-year anniversary.

The feature will premier at 4:30 p.m. MT Sunday as part of NBA TV’s "Beyond The Paint," which is billed as a “magazine-style show providing in-depth coverage of the league’s most compelling stories.”

Arlee’s message fits in with the recent trend in the NBA to better address mental health. Within the past year, stories shared by NBA all-stars DeMar DeRozan, who met with the Arlee team, and Kevin Love have led the NBA and NBA Players Union to create a mental wellness program and hire its first director of mental health and wellness.

“Doing the video, we’re adding to what (the NBA is) saying,” Arlee coach Zanen Pitts said. “It’s important to reach out and talk. I mean, these guys are knuckleheads. They’re kids. We’re all humans. We’re going to make mistakes, but it doesn’t distinguish what we have in our hearts. The human life is important. That’s what the Warrior Movement is all about.

“The Warrior Movement, at the moment now, with hopes of growing and expanding with the Boys & Girls Clubs and other things, is simply about awareness. It’s just to bring awareness that, ‘Hey, you’re a person and someone loves you. And if not, find someone, something where you know you’re needed and that you’re wanted because everyone is.’

“So, NBA TV was like, ‘Man, we want to endorse that. We want to spread this message with you to go along with what DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love did.’ So, they came out three different times, got to know us and created like a 20-minute time capsule of what the Warrior Movement is and what it’s like to live here and how these guys are starting to care about each other.”

In addition to meeting with DeRozan, Arlee has posted a video to Facebook that’s gotten 1.1 million views, has been endorsed and sponsored by Nike, and was featured in the New York Times magazine since launching the Warrior Movement at the 2018 divisional tournament on Feb. 24.

Pitts didn’t expect the Warrior Movement to grow as large as it has or that they’d be featured on national TV. Neither did Whitesell, who had considered putting a gun to his head but is now a go-to scorer for Arlee.

“Pfft, no,” Whitesell said, shaking his head before pointing at Pitts. “He told me we’re going to make a video and said it’s going to blow up. I was like, ‘It’s going to blow up in Montana. That’s about it.’ But nope.”

Arlee senior Lane Johnson has grown up watching the NBA and dreaming of playing in the league, so he’s excited to see his team and its message featured on the NBA’s channel.

“Having them come down here was just a dream come true. It was unreal,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think (the Warrior Movement) was going to get to this point, but I think it’s making a big change around everywhere in the whole U.S.”

While Arlee's message has been spread through basketball, senior Isaac Fisher hopes it can spread beyond the sport.

"The Warrior Movement isn’t just a basketball thing," Fisher said. "It’s a big thing that everyone needs to be a part of. It’s not just basketball. It’s about saving lives and letting people know they’re loved and cared about. Don’t go down that road because once you go through that door it shuts and locks, and there’s no coming back from that."

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at Frank.Gogola@406mtsports.com.

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