NBA head games: How Miami Heat can conquer Disney ‘bubble’

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This, Graham Betchart says, is about living in the moments.

No, not this singular moment, with the Miami Heat and NBA about to attempt to play in quarantine, but all the moments that lead up to bubble basketball.

“If you’ve been doing mental training for a long time, you have a massive advantage,” said Betchart, a mental skills coach who has worked with some of the league’s leading men, including Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, Karl-Anthony Towns and Aaron Gordon, as well as with NBA teams.

Author of the “Play Present: Mental skills training program for basketball players,” Betchart spoke with the South Florida Sun Sentinel about the NBA plan to play amid the new coronavirus pandemic, while in isolation, during a time of social upheaval, and in front of no fans.

In other words, a basketball time like no other.

And yet, he said, also a time of hope, in light of the way the NBA has stepped up in the past days and weeks to collectively challenge systemic racism.

“I think you’re seeing the NBA evolve in real time,” he said, “with how they look at humanity and how they work with people.”

It is why he sees promise on the basketball side, as well, that the league can make it work with its bid to resume the season in July on the Disney World campus near Orlando, Florida, largely in isolation from outsiders.

In many ways, the NBA’s attempt, he said, will be about more than the fight against COVID-19. It will also be a petri dish for determination, with the advantage to the strongest of mind.

“They can deal with the unknown,” he said of that league subset. “They know how to be present in crazy situations. They know how to let go of results and outcomes and just get into the moment and trust. They know how to be vulnerable. They know how to be uncomfortable. They know how to manage emotions, not suppress emotions. They have a willingness to do this and they have a courageousness to do this.”

Even if it means doing it with few onlookers.

“The players that work out by themselves, you’re going to see them shine there, because they know how to create energy by themselves,” Betchart said. “Who’s famous for that? Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant. So there’s certain players, that drive comes from within. And certain players, the drive comes from the energy that someone provides.

“You can’t create it if you never have. You’re not going to be able to do that. But if you’ve been able to create energy by yourself, you know how to go work out by yourself, intensely, without someone else challenging you, then you’ll be fine. It’s not a switch. Either it’s been on the whole time, or it’s been off. That’s been my experience.”

As for the isolation, the “bubble” being created by the NBA that limits outside interaction? Betchart, 42, cited a potential elevation in spirituality.

“I think it kind of brings out more of the humanity, and you realize how much you love humans and how much connection is really important and what you really value in these times means something,” he said.

Of all the challenges, he said the most profound will be the physical distance from the rallies demanding social reform, movements where NBA players have stood at the forefront.

“Being isolated in a hotel, being away from your family, everyone knows that’s universally hard. Everyone’s afraid of corona,” he said. “But the thing that’s here is social justice.

“Most of them, basketball chose them, and they worked hard at it. But these are spiritual beings living the human experience. Basketball is just bouncing the ball, running up and down the court. But if your human being isn’t right, then that becomes really hard.”

The NBA is giving players until Wednesday to opt out of resuming the season, assuring no consequence beyond loss of salary for games missed.


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