Denver Post – Feb 14, 2007 – Robert Sanchez – Romantic plight of pro athletes real crush – “I want to find someone who is interested in me because I’m me,” the Nuggets’ Jamal Sampson says, “not because I play in the NBA.” Sampson hopes to marry someday. “I know she’s out there.” (Post / Cyrus McCrimmon)

At 6-feet-11, 235 pounds, Jamal Sampson is one imposing banker.

That is, until someone blows his cover.

“I’m in a club, telling a girl about my job, and, you know, she doesn’t look very interested,” says Sampson, 23. “But then someone comes up and says, ‘Hey, you’re not a banker, you play ball.’ After that, she’s all up on me, and so are the other women. It doesn’t feel right.”

The fact that Sampson’s real job is playing pro basketball pretty much assures him of a date anywhere north of Antarctica. But for a guy who someday wants to meet the woman of his dreams, settle down and eventually get married, being an NBA player can be more hindrance than help at times.

So on this, the most romantic of days, the single Sampson says he’s looking for the perfect woman; somebody who can listen to him and feel comfortable talking about herself; someone who can be a partner and not simply a fan. Or be after his money.

“I want to find someone who is interested in me because I’m me,” he says, “not because I play in the NBA.”

Sure, the romantic plight of a man who gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a sphere in a cylinder is hardly a burning societal issue. But consider this: It really can be hard for a male athlete to develop a healthy relationship with women, says John F. Murray, a Palm Beach, Fla.-based sports psychologist who has studied the issue.

“You look at all their traveling, the money, the fame, and it’s hard for them to meet anyone besides groupies,” Murray says. “These guys have to decide very quickly the reason why a woman is interested in them. It can be very lonely.”

J.R. Smith knows the feeling. The Nuggets guard entered the NBA directly from high school and found the road to fame and fortune difficult to navigate.

So his mother, Ida Smith, took control for him.

“She was always worried about me, that women were after my money,” says Smith, now 21 and in a committed relationship. “I’d bring a girl home to her, and she’d be like: ‘What’s your name? How much do you make? Where do you work? Do you have any kids?’ It was really hard at first when she acted like that, but I realize now that she was just trying to protect me.”

Charlie Brown, a North Carolina psychologist who has studied celebrities’ relationships, says the most successful partnerships usually occur after athletes return to their roots and hang out among those who aren’t impressed with their status.

“There’s a comfort level that’s not there at other times,” he says. “For the athlete, they don’t have to be on edge about a person’s reason for talking to them.”

Nene, the Nuggets’ bulky Brazilian forward, found love in his home country, marrying a woman who had never been to Denver.

“God took care of me,” he says.

And Nuggets forward Eduardo Najera and newly acquired guard Steve Blake both married their college sweethearts.

“I’m one of the lucky ones because I found someone to love early in my life,” says Blake, 26, who met his wife, Kristen, as a sophomore at the University of Maryland. “I’ve seen guys struggle with that.”

Guys such as Sampson, who is certain the future Mrs. Sampson isn’t hanging around a club at night.

“I figure when I get to 26, I might want to get married,” he says. “I’m going to meet my wife somewhere I won’t be expecting it.

“I know she’s out there.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.