Gerald Henderson: The NBA Life, Perception vs. Reality

(Photo courtesy of SportsBlog.com)

By Gerald Henderson, a veteran shooting guard for the Blazers who’s a regular contributor for SportsBlog.com, a content partner of the NBPA that focuses on first-person stories with pro athletes   

As NBA players, we are very blessed. We are compensated generously to play a game that we love. I have ZERO complaints because I love my job and am so grateful every single day that I can play the sport for a living. And since our fans don’t get a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes, I wanted to share a little about that in my first blog post.

NBA fans are amazing! The fans give us the energy to push—both home and away—when you think you can’t push any more. Fans, however, don’t get to see what goes into becoming and remaining a professional athlete, which plays a major part in the final product—the game. In other words, there’s much more that goes on behind the scenes in preparation for the game before we step on to the court.

The long flights, the practices, the conditioning, the lifting, the scouting reports—all of the important things that go into the game before we actually play. Just like a 9-to-5 job, where there are meetings, deadlines and projects, there are a number of pressures that come into play before and after each game.

I’d say most NBA fans understand and follow the game pretty well. Fans should know that there are so many factors to consider when they just sit down and flip on a game. For example, there’s a fatigue factor. Maybe a player competed in last night’s game and scored 30 points and played 40 minutes. He could have gotten into a new city at 3:00 a.m. and woken up early to watch film before a back-to-back game. Maybe this is the team’s fourth game in five nights, and eighth game in 12 nights. Those situations happen. I have been on teams with schedules like that, and it takes a lot of mental toughness to get your body going and battle through yet another game.

In addition, there are other factors, not physically related, that play into performance. Players have different contract situations. Some want to have a big year because they will be free agents the following summer; some guys don’t know how many minutes they are going to get; some guys are at the end of their playing days and are trying to stretch their NBA careers out; and some guys are coming from the D-League and want to stick to a team and make their NBA dream come true. The game is composed of many pressures—physical, mental and emotional. Only NBA players and coaches can really be in tune to the dynamics that go into a team, and ultimately impact what you see on the floor.

We have a job that is so different. We work and get paid for six months out of the year. For the other six months, it’s on us to work on our game and our conditioning. I will say that the majority of guys do not look at the offseason as “off” any more. Most use the time to get better. I’d say a lot of that has to do with competition and never wanting to feel that other players are doing more than you or working harder than you. That’s personally how I approach the summer. During the season, there’s a lot on the line and a lot of people relying on you. A job has to get done just like anybody else has a job to get done. You have to go and produce, and that’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. So you want to be ready.

For me, I try to keep things in perspective and stick with what I can control. You’ve got fans expecting you to do certain things. That’s understandable and going to happen on every team. You are expected to perform at a certain level—not only from the fans, but also from your teammates, your coaches and everybody upstairs. And that’s every night. So I try to minimize complications. I try to focus on the team goals and my own goals, which allows me to play at the highest level possible. The goals I set for myself are probably higher than most people would set for me. If I focus on both the team goals and my personal goals, then all of the other stuff will take care of itself.

The next time you sit down on the couch and turn on a game, try to consider all of the elements that could be influencing the competition on the floor. As I mentioned, there is just a lot going on. With a wider eye to the dynamics of the game, I believe that viewers could attain a greater appreciation for the truly special athletes that are in the NBA.

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