Posted Aug 30 2010 11:40AM
Welcome to this week's Morning Tip. This week's guest columnist, Idan Ravin, has become one of the league's most in-demand personal trainers. In an ultra-competitive business where people are desperate for access to athletes, Ravin has built an amazing clientele, working with the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay, Gilbert Arenas and others, mainly through word of mouth. Known as the "Hoops Whisperer," Ravin keeps his methods for improving the NBA's elite close to the vest. But this week, Ravin shares his appreciation for the journey that many pro players make to the big time. Hope you enjoy it.
I'm often asked whether the NBA players I train are "good guys." An interesting question because it suggests people want to find a way to humanize the professional athlete and make them more familiar. Television, print and the Web bring the NBA player into our homes. We see them compete, win, lose, succeed and struggle.
But it is still not enough. They want to know, "What are they really like?"
In my eyes, they are like you and me. There are good days and not-so good-days. They can be careful and careless. They can make good decisions and not-so-good decisions. It is not as important for me to share with you whether they are good or bad guys, but, rather, that we can find inspiration from their unlikely journey.
It's easy to say you want to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant, banker, consultant, journalist, graphic designer, architect, etc. After all, there's a traditional path to take and inevitably there's someone you know who has taken this journey. It is palatable. There is a path of bread crumbs you can follow until you make it "home." In other words, "If I go to school, get good grades, get good standardized test scores, excel with my internship, then I will eventually reach my goal and succeed."
Now, imagine an 8-year-old boy living in Brooklyn, or Inglewood, or Riga, Latvia, or Bologna, Italy, or Vancouver, Canada, or Berlin, Germany telling his mother he wants to play in the NBA when he grows up. The numbers don't lie: there are 30 teams and 13 to 15 roster spots, but at least 20 million children/teenagers/men that play organized basketball around the world. The odds are frightening. Yet, each NBA player started at this point. I call it Point A or, "I have a dream and I am crazy enough to believe I can do this."
The dream starts with a bounce of a ball, and a hoop, somewhere in some park or gym around the world. For the sake of this story, let's call our 8-year-old Billy. At an early age, Billy learns the game by playing in the park and devouring every bit of information he can to develop his game. For the next eight years, he continues to practice, to play and to improve. He becomes a very good player in his age group and attracts the attention of AAU travelling teams and high school coaches. He selects a travelling team that complements his style of play. The travelling team swallows up his summer. It is an enormous time commitment. Along with practice, he plays in multiple summer tournaments around the country.
For the next two years, he plays well with his AAU travelling team. He catches the eye of several top universities. These schools would like to recruit him but they have some reservations regarding his ability to play other positions in college, as well as the strength of his high school schedule. They suggest he transfer high schools so he can play against the top high school talent in the country. After talking it over with his family and his AAU coaches, he elects to leave behind friends and family and transfer from his neighborhood high school to a small prep school located in rural Virginia.
Billy packs two bags and leaves his family and friends behind. When he arrives on campus, he is shocked to see this small campus is nothing more than a few buildings, a gymnasium and a cafeteria hidden in a small town. Each day becomes the same until he eventually loses track of time: 5 a.m. wake-up call; weight room, practice, school, practice, homework, lights out. Billy has traded his adolescence for a goal and a dream. Unlike other teenagers his age, Billy has no weekends at the mall, dates, time to hang out with friends. But his sacrifices pan out. He becomes a starter on the team and excels against the other top-ranked prep schools.
Billy receives college basketball scholarship offers from many top ranked Division I programs. He narrows his choice of schools to Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State and Connecticut. He visits each of these schools. He meets with the coaching staff and team, and tours the campus and facility. He eventually selects a school after analyzing which team has an NBA system and has produced the largest number of NBA players at his position. He announces his decision to the media. He receives several nasty e-mails and phone calls from third parties disappointed he didn't select their schools.
Five months later, the pressure escalates as Billy arrives on campus. He must manage 12 school credits per semester, at least 15 hours of basketball practice each week, mandatory lifting sessions, school work, classes, mandatory study hall, new found popularity and the high expectations from himself and the public as a highly recruited player. Each game is nationally televised and so each game brings its own internal and external pressures. Billy battles through sprained ankles, a dislocated finger and a bout of food poisoning he sustains while on the road. Nevertheless, he plays well . He leads his team to a top 20 ranking, a second-place finish in the conference and the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs.
Billy catches the eye of NBA scouts. NBA scouts project him as a top 20 pick in the upcoming Draft. Billy must now decide whether to hire an agent, to declare for the Draft and forego his remaining collegiate eligibility, or remain in college. His college coach and others in the university encourage him to stay in school. Meanwhile, his family and AAU coach, who love him but who also are expecting to be taken care of, encourage him to declare for the Draft. Billy elects to trust his instincts and declare for the NBA.
However, now he faces the monumental task of interviewing and hiring an agent, lawyer and financial advisor. This is new terrain for him. He understandably doesn't know which questions to ask or what to look for when retaining the services of these professionals. He again turns to his intuition to guide him in the process of retaining advisors and counsel. Only three weeks after the college season ends, Billy selects an agent, declares for the Draft and withdraws from school.
Billy packs two bags, again, less than two years after starting his senior year of high school, and relocates to a new city to prepare for the Draft. For the next seven weeks, six days per week, he wakes at 6:30 a.m. to begin his two-hour on-court training sessions. From there he immediately visits with a strength coach for an hour weightlifting session. If he is lucky, he sneaks in a short nap before returning to the gym in the late evening. And it begins again the next day.
In May, Billy begins to crisscross the United States, auditioning for every NBA team with a first-round pick that has interest in him. He flies in the evening, squeezing his 6-foot-5 frame into middle and window coach seats. He is met at the airport and taken to his hotel. He changes to jeans and a collared shirt and heads to dinner for a quasi-interview with the team's front office and staff. He returns to his hotel and heads to bed so he can be fresh for the morning workout with the other top players at his position.
He arrives early for his workouts. Each team puts Billy through a set of rigorous on-court drills to evaluate his basketball IQ and skill set. From there, he meets with the team's strength and conditioning coach, who puts him through rigorous strength, speed and conditioning drills to evaluate his physical talents. He then meets with the NBA team's front office, where he again interviews with the general manager, assistant general manager and director of player personnel. He repeats this process 10 times with 10 teams over the course of two weeks.
In late June, Billy is selected with the 17th pick of the NBA Draft. The next day the team flies him to the NBA city to sign a contract, meet the local media and begin preparing for Summer League. Summer League is more intense then he imagined. All eyes are on him. He is expected to perform immediately and begin to master a playbook as thick as a telephone directory. The NBA does not have much patience and it does not issue much positive reinforcement. There is no time for hugs and kisses. Performance and work product are the metrics for success. The game at the NBA level travels at supersonic speed. Every player is big, fast and with a "Harvard-like" style basketball pedigree.
Billy plays well in Summer League. Veterans camp is several weeks away so Billy elects to remain in the city to continue to prepare for the season. Many of his friends do not understand why Billy does not want to vacation and begin to spend his money. Billy recognizes the pressures associated with NBA life and the expectations of a first-round pick. It is now the end of September and camp is scheduled to start. Two practices per day, film sessions, team bonding exercises and a heightened intensity from players, coaches and front office alarm Billy.
He faces grown men who will do anything to earn a roster spot. Many have families to feed. Billy faces veterans who are 10 years older, who will do what is necessary to ensure the young rookie does not capture all the minutes at the position. This means hard fouls, mental games and physical play. For several of these veteran players, it is also a contract year. They challenge Billy even more because they need the minutes on the court to puff up their statistics, so they have more leverage when negotiating their next contract. Nevertheless, Billy remains focused, poised and plays well in camp. He earns a start for the opening regular-season game.
It's now October 28. Ten years or so since he first began working toward his dream. He lines up for the jump ball. He looks around and witnesses the size, strength and experience of the players on the floor with him. For each game, each team will spend countless hours watching and scouting his deficiencies and tendencies so they can exploit him. Throughout the season Billy will continue to play hard and do what he loves. Yet, at the same time he has to learn the complexities associated with NBA life. These include dealing with the ego of the team franchise player, an overbearing head coach, a team filled with veteran players, a complex playbook, a new city, a new community, a new life, media, extensive travel and expectations from family and friends.
Billy's journey to the NBA has been a journey filled with uncertainty each step of the way. But he had unshakeable resolve and commitment to his dream.
After two years, Billy has become a solid pro. He's earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. He's making good money and has a solid foundation in life. But he wants even more. He doesn't just want to be good, even very good; he wants to be one of the best, a perennial All-Star, someone who leaves a mark on the game. That same drive that made him believe he could make the pros when he was 8 still burns in him, still pushes him. He knows that there are people out there that can take his skills and make them better, using their minds and their methods to push him even further.
And he comes to me. With one question: "How do I get better?"
I find inspiration from Billy's story. The NBA is filled with guys like Billy. In many ways we are not so different. If you are a dreamer like me, you never think your dreams are crazy or farfetched. You just accept the uncertainty. You learn to trust your instinct, develop a talent for catching your balance on this very windy road while finding peace in your commitment.
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