Alan Anderson gestures toward to the most important piece of fitness equipment he has.
He is pointing to his temple.
“Right here,” he said. “First thing in the morning, do you say to yourself ‘I’m tired?’ If you do, you’ve just told your body to feel tired. If you tell yourself you feel great, you do.”
While the brain might be the most elaborate piece of conditioning equipment used by NBA players, it is far from the only one.
The Raptors are in the middle of an unholy scheduling string of five games in seven nights. That means maintenance, in all its guises, is more important than ever.
If you’re not hurting in the NBA then you’re not trying hard enough. “At this stage, with every NBA player, at least one thing is hurting them,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey.
Unlike hockey, which is collision sport, the NBA combines impact and wear as joints are worn down like out-of-date shock absorbers by daily pounding.
The wild card during the dog days of the NBA season is fatigue.
Take Anderson, a 30-year-old vet who played in Spain, Israel, Croatia and Russia before catching on with the Raptors. On nights when the team flies in and out of a road city, Anderson usually doesn’t sleep until 3 a.m. – two hours after the team charter has touched down in Toronto.
Anderson is far from unique. It’s often impossible to just shut down after a day designed to produce an adrenaline rush at 7 pm.
There is a machine at the Raptors gym adjacent to their practice court. It looks a bit like a step machine but when activated it vibrates a platform, and the player. The machine is nicknamed The Reviver.
Another unit flashes light cues at the player to test his reflex time. The players trudge up to the machines before practice and often take several reps each.
The purpose of the machines is simple enough: to help players wake up.
Nothing will wake a player up faster than ice. “Sometimes it’s a toss-up which will hurt more, the ice or the injury,” said Raptors strength and conditioning coach Jon Lee. “The last few years the use of ice in treatment has gone through the roof.”
Basketball has always had a love affair with ice. Lee recalls working in Vancouver in 1995 when veteran Byron Scott, now the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, would request eight bags of ice after each game: two for the ankles, two for the knees, two for the elbows and two for the shoulders.
Casey remembers being a young player in Seattle and watching veterans such as Sam Perkins reading the paper while swathed in ice.
While Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson stick their feet into tubs of cold water and ice after every game the hardcore immerse themselves in ice tubs.
“It’s not so bad,” said Anderson. “I sit in there for 15 minutes or so.”
For those interested in a faster, if colder fix, the Raptors have a cryonics chamber in which a player’s body (the machine accommodates everything from the neck down) uses quick freezing technology for just a few seconds to revive injured areas.
Routines are modified during intense periods of the schedule. When a team plays the night before they routinely cancel the morning shootaround in favour of a team meal in their hotel restaurant. To keep the players together at the hotel, coaches use athletic tape to create a key and walk players through sets without ever leaving their conference room.
Anderson’s own stretching routine includes shootaround, pre-game warmup and a 25-minute post-game session he follows religiously
“When I played in Europe there wasn’t anyone to stretch me out so I developed my own routine,” Anderson said.
Does it work?
“Absolutely,” Anderson said. “It’s essential.”