Training like the Pros: Recapping a month-long Nike Basketball workout experience

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NEW YORK — Being a professional basketball player goes well beyond attending team-mandated practices and workouts. For the best of the best, it also involves going through hardcore training sessions designed to finely hone their skill set, both from a physical as well as from a basketball perspective.

Nike Basketball gave a group of media members the chance to see just what this was like, by putting us through a month-long training experience designed to mimic what the professionals go through in every way possible.

We met once a week for 8AM workouts, except during All-Star week where there were a few additional responsibilities. Car service was provided to and from the facilities, as was all of the clothing and footwear necessary to go through the complete training experience. And, a meal prepared by Chef Max — the personal chef of Amar’e Stoudemire — was waiting for us after each session was finished.

It was set up so that the only thing you had to focus on was giving your all during each workout session, just like the professionals. And the trainers that were enlisted to put us through the paces were demanding enough to ensure they got the most from all of us.

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The first week coincided with the launch of the Kobe X, so it only made sense that Kobe Bryant’s (and Michael Jordan’s) personal trainer, Tim Grover, ran our initial workout. The drills were a combination of conditioning and basketball, with little time to rest in between at any point during the 45-minute session. There were core exercises mixed in with plenty of cardio and leg-strengthening drills, and we held a basketball during all of them, because Bryant does during his workouts — as Grover said, “Kobe likes to feel the ball in his hands.”

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Week 2 was a slight departure from the full training experience, but there was still plenty to keep us busy. As part of the All-Star festivities, our group participated in Nike’s Zoom City Classic, which was a six-team basketball tournament that also featured actors and entertainers like Common, Stalley, Eddie Huang and Ansel Elgort, as well as semi-professional players like Brian Kortovich, who lit it up from everywhere and walked away with MVP honors. The tournament was played at Nike’s Zoom City arena that was specifically constructed to host All-Star week activities, and featured an insane LED court that provided a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

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The day before the tournament, we were put through a series of tests modeled after the NBA’s Draft Combine, where BAM testing-like measurements were taken in order to create even teams. Players like Kortovich added to the mix made that somewhat impossible, but the games were mostly competitive nonetheless, and a couple ended with some very intense buzzer-beating finishes.

Weeks 3 and 4 were more like the first, with early-morning workouts run by the game’s elite trainers. Jerry Powell has worked with the likes of Paul George, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, and his drills had us focused primarily on honing our fundamental basketball skills, while teaching us ways to improve upon them at the very same time.

The last workout was run by Idan Ravin, who boasts a similarly impressive client list and is known in the industry as being somewhat secretive about his practices. He authored a book called The Hoops Whisperer, and his workout was the most intense of the bunch, as the drills involved the targeting of specific muscle groups to support the moves most commonly made on the court by the game’s top athletes. There was non-stop cardio training in between, and the combination of that and the knowledge that was imparted made for an extremely enlightening (and completely exhausting) final session.

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The month-long journey was a perfect way to experience just how much hard work goes into training at an elite level. While it’s true that the vast majority of those in the NBA have genetic gifts that most of us could only dream of, to those who consistently seek to outperform their peers or hope to emerge as one of the game’s greats, the additional training sessions aren’t merely an occasional luxury — they’re an absolute necessity.

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THE SHOES

A recap of all the footwear that was tested during the month-long Nike Basketball training experience, along with a brief performance review of each.

WEEK 1

KOBE X

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The tenth signature model for Kobe Bryant has been improved over its predecessor in two significant ways. The cushioning system is now a hybrid of multiple technologies, which makes for a much bouncier feel and a solid and comfortable ride from forefoot to heel. The traction is brand new, and uses nodules that grip the court similar to those that appear on performance race car tires. The fit is comfortable from the moment you put these on, with zero break-in required. These lived up to expectations, with the overall performance ranking right up there with any basketball shoes currently on the market.

WEEK 2

NIKE ZOOM HYPERCROSS TRAINER

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The first time I got a chance to try these was at the LeBron 12 launch in Portland back in September, and I’ve been a fan ever since. The hex zoom pods on the sole are excellent for multi-directional training workouts, like those we were put through as part of our NBA Combine experience. The shoe features a snug and lightweight fit, and the cushioning is there wherever you need it, thanks to the pods passing you seamlessly from one to the next as your foot changes positions throughout your training session.

NIKE HYPERCHASE

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The Hyperchase is a new model, designed for playmakers like James Harden who was the inspiration for the way this one performs. The stylings are more interesting than most, thanks to an asymmetrical design and the angular position of the Swoosh, which was placed that way intentionally so that “it would read accurately when an athlete, like Harden, is on his toes – a position that’s common for quick, dynamic athletes.” These ones fit nicely, with little-to-no noticeable slippage once you’re locked in. The shoes feature above-average traction, and plenty of forefoot cushioning, which helps immensely when attempting to make that explosive first step.

WEEK 3

NIKE ZOOM HYPERREV 2015

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These are surprisingly good basketball shoes, and maybe even the best of the bunch. The cushioning and lockdown are both very impressive, the latter made possible by a foam collar construction that provides a snug and comfortable fit. Traction and breathability are well above average, too, and I’ve found myself reaching for these time and again when heading to subsequent workouts. I recommend a half-size up from what you normally wear due to the way these fit, and while I don’t want to oversell these too hard, they really provide an extremely solid level of overall performance.

WEEK 4

KOBE X ELITE

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This was a very cool surprise.

It’s not often you can shock members of the basketball sneaker media with something unexpected, but when we were told we’d be getting to play in the Kobe X Elite the day of our final training session — a shoe that hadn’t yet been announced, and wasn’t even on anyone’s radar considering the Elite series usually doesn’t drop until near the end of the regular season — there was a palpable sense of excitement.

The Kobe X Elite goes with the highest of high-top silhouettes, much like its predecessor, the Kobe 9. The cushioning system is improved over the previous year’s model, and is the same that’s found in the Kobe X low version we demo’d the first week. The Flyknit upper makes for a more sturdy and locked-in feel that stops just short of being rigid, and players who value ankle support will certainly appreciate it. If you liked the high-top 9s, then you’ll like these, too — they take a significant step forward in that particular design’s evolutionary process.

Report: Pacers interview former Thunder coach Billy Donovan

Billy Donovan coaches Thunder vs. Pacers
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The Pacers were reportedly expected to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

But if set on the former Rockets coach, Indiana isn’t acting like it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan interviewed for the Pacers last week, sources said. The Pacers are expected to interview a pool of around 12 candidates, trim the candidates approximately in half, and conduct in-person interviews.

Donovan joins a list of known candidates that’s already way longer than 12:

  • Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
  • Former Kings and Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger
  • Former Pistons and Nuggets star Chauncey Billups
  • Warriors assistant and former Cavaliers and Lakers coach Mike Brown
  • Nets assistant and former Magic coach Jacque Vaughn
  • Spurs assistant Becky Hammon
  • Spurs assistant Will Hardy
  • Heat assistant Dan Craig
  • Heat assistant Chris Quinn
  • Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley
  • Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas
  • Bucks assistant Darvin Ham
  • Bucks assistant Charles Lee
  • Magic assistant Pat Delany
  • Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool
  • 76ers assistant Ime Udoka
  • Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts

Leaving the potentially rebuilding Thunder, Donovan clearly expected to land on his feet. The Pacers are equipped to win now, but maybe only moderately.

Donovan has shown impressive adaptability to his roster. That’d come in handy if Indiana is set on continuing the talented but challenging Domantas SabonisMyles Turner pairing.

Report: Clippers teammates rolled eyes at Paul George’s postseason calls for togetherness

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Paul George and Montrezl Harrell reportedly had a heated exchange on the bench during the Clippers’ loss to the Nuggets.

Apparently, that wasn’t an isolated incident.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Paul George had a disappointing series against Denver, and had several moments that left him in compromising positions with his teammates — beyond just his production. Multiple teammates had verbal spats with George throughout the postseason, citing in their exchanges a lack of accountability from him.

In the postgame locker room Tuesday night, George was preaching to teammates to remain committed, for all the players to return to the team this offseason and stay ready to make another run. It was met by some eye rolls and bewilderment, sources said, because George did not back up his words with action in the series and the team has multiple free agents with decisions to make.

George wanted more time with his teammates. They already had enough of him.

This had been a simmering problem – George and Kawhi Leonard getting preferential treatment, their teammates resenting it. Harrell sounded particularly bothered by the dynamic.

Losing exacerbates issues like that, and getting upset by Denver was a big loss. Both George and Harrell faced oncourt and offcourt stressors – only further contributing to squabbling.

Harrell will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Clippers should try to keep him. He’s a good player, and they wouldn’t gain much cap flexibility without him.

But the 26-year-old might also want to explore the market and secure the most lucrative deal. It’d be reasonable for him to resent a teammate pressing him just to take the Clippers’ offer – especially if Harrell felt George wasn’t as committed to the team in the first place.

George and Leonard have earned preferential treatment. Leonard in particular has shown he benefits from load management.

However, that can annoy teammates. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad plan. It just means that downside should be accounted for.

It’d be nice if Leonard were more vocal or George rubbed fewer people the wrong way. But their basketball talent means dealing with their shortcomings. It’d be nice if George’s eye-rolling teammates realized that, too.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers bears responsibility for managing this tension. A this best, he connects well with players and gets everyone pulling for the same goal. That’s his job as the Clippers try to make the next step.

Miami’s Meyers Leonard adjusting to going from starter to out of rotation

Meyers Leonard
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Meyers Leonard was bent forward at the waist, standing a few feet away from Miami coach Erik Spoelstra on the Heat sideline, screaming with every bit of the volume that his deep and booming voice can generate.

This is his role right now for the Heat.

His only role.

Leonard is in a tough spot these days; a full-time starter during the regular season, he is now out of the rotation as the Miami Heat have made their run to the Eastern Conference finals. It is a bitter pill for him to swallow — yet to his credit, he hasn’t acted the least bit bitter about his current reality.

“My team knows this, and our coaching staff knows this,” Leonard told The Associated Press. “I would do anything to be out there. And I’d be lying if I said that I’m not competitive as hell. I wish I was impacting the game on the floor. I’m not, but as a person and as a player, I want what’s best for everybody.”

So for now, the 7-foot, 260-pound, chiseled center is the tallest, strongest and best-paid assistant coach in these playoffs. He calls out what he’s seeing on every possession, pulls aside teammates for quick one-on-one chats when necessary, and on off days he’s getting his on-court work in just in case he’s needed to play.

Leonard has started 49 of his 51 appearances with the Heat this season, more starts than he made in his seven seasons with Portland combined. But in the playoffs, he’s logged a total of nine minutes, all in one appearance.

“Meyers is one of the most special people I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach and to be around,” Spoelstra said. “He is just an incredible human being and teammate. He has all our hearts. We will do anything for him because he is so pure.”

Leonard, more than anything else, got unlucky at the worst possible time.

He badly sprained his left ankle in early February and wasn’t anywhere near being ready to return to the lineup when the NBA season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. And then when team facilities shut down as a precaution, Leonard’s rehab process had to be amended as well.

That was the first issue. The second was Miami became a different team a few days after he got hurt, pulling off a trade to bring Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to the Heat. Crowder has become a starter, and Spoelstra told Leonard before Miami resumed play in the NBA’s restart bubble that he was taking the rotation in a different direction.

It was tough on Leonard mentally. He was struggling when he got to the bubble because of his ankle, then spent days wrestling about whether he should stand for the national anthem or kneel with his teammates, and on top of all that he essentially lost his job as well.

“There’s just two things that I won’t ever let be questioned and that’s character and work ethic,” Leonard said. “Every day when I walk through the door, I’m going to be a great guy, a great teammate. It’s not fake. So I’m trying to make my impact now from the sideline.”

There are a few starters who aren’t in the same roles that they were for the four teams remaining in this NBA season. Avery Bradley opted out of joining the Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble. Will Barton — who led Denver in minutes per game this season — has a knee injury and has missed the Nuggets’ entire postseason run. Gordon Hayward has missed much of Boston’s playoff stint while recovering from a sprained ankle. Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn, a starter all season, is in Miami’s second unit now.

Leonard saw the Heat change, and his role change with it. He didn’t sulk, lash out or complain.

“It’s not easy, being in this kind of situation, going through the injury he went through and having the hiatus where he didn’t get the full opportunity to rehab it,” Spoelstra said. “But he’s making the most of it, and if he gets his opportunity, he will be ready.”

Leonard also sees the reason why he should be helping the Heat however he can right now. He’s never been this close to an NBA championship; the Heat lead the Celtics 2-1 in the East finals, with Game 4 on Wednesday night.

He’ll be ready to scream some more then, too.

“I am, in the best way possible, the most jealous of watching our team’s success,” Leonard said. “I literally said this to my wife the other night. I said, ‘Elle, we are six wins away from a ring.’ That is so damn special.”

Anthony Davis yelled “Kobe” after he sank game winner

Anthony Davis Kobe
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The Lakers played in the Kobe-designed Black Mamba jerseys on Sunday night, when Anthony Davis did about the most Kobe thing possible — he drained a buzzer-beater game-winner.

When Davis did it, he yelled “Kobe.”

The Los Angeles Lakers have talked a lot this season about honoring the legacy of Kobe with their play and effort this season, and coach Frank Vogel did after this game.

“That’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit,” Vogel said. “AD flying to the wing like that, catch and shoot with the game on the line, the biggest moment of the season, nothing but net? That’s a Mamba shot.”

The Lakers are now 3-0 in those black Mamba jerseys these playoffs. Expect to see them again.