NBA Playoff Myth

I have been in love with the game of basketball for as long as I can remember and the game has been very good to me in return. Basketball has been a vehicle to travel the world, to work with legendary players and coaches, and is the backbone of how I earn my living and provide for my family. I have tremendous respect for the game.

And while nothing beats the magic of March Madness, I really enjoy the NBA playoffs.

With that said, there is a lingering myth perpetuated by novice fans, that I want to clear up.

The myth?

NBA players only play hard during the playoffs.

Hell, I have heard 3 different (somewhat educated) people say something to that effect in the past week alone.

“Why don’t these guys play this hard during the regular season?”

That comment shows a severe lack of understanding of the game.

And believe me, it is not true. NBA players play extremely hard (and they do play defense) during the regular season… things just get magnified come playoff time.

As with any sport, the intensity of effort gets exponentially higher during the playoffs because there is a new sense of urgency. Win the series or your season is over. Just because the NBA playoff atmosphere is electric, it doesn’t mean they didn’t play hard during the regular season. It just means they are playing even harder in the playoffs! This is true for every professional sport… but I never hear anyone complain that NFL or MLB players ‘don’t play hard’ during the regular season. Somehow the NBA got stuck with that stigma.

Imagine if I took you out to the track and told you to run a lap. Then right before you were about to start I said, “Run 5 laps.” Would your approach change? Would you run the first lap (of 5) at the same pace you would run just one lap? No way! You couldn’t! You would properly pace yourself because you would have 4 more laps to run. Your goal would be to run the entire 5 laps as fast as possible… not just the first.

But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be working hard on the first lap. You would push yourself, just at an appropriate pace. You would be working hard and smart. NBA players and coaches have a similar mindset. They know they have to maintain a high level of effort, and remain injury free, for 82 regular season games plus playoffs… so they can’t kill themselves on that ‘first lap.’

What if I took you out to the track and said, “Let’s run a lap for fun.” Then right before we were about to start I said, “Loser buys dinner.” Would you run harder now that something is on the line? Absolutely! Why? It is human nature to push a little harder when there is an immediate reward at stake. And in this case, a steak would be at stake!

The NBA playoffs are the same. But they are playing to be World Champions… a much bigger incentive than a free dinner.

The NBA has the world’s best athletes. These guys are big, fast, strong and super explosive. The game is played at lightning speed and above the rim. Yet these guys make it look easy. They are so efficient and graceful it’s hard to grasp how hard they actually play. They have to play hard just to keep up!

If you have ever sat courtside to a regular season game, or been to a practice, you know firsthand how hard these NBA players go. And if you still don’t agree, try guarding Russell Westbrook or Steph Curry for 40+ minutes during the regular season and tell me they aren’t going hard!

Factor in that NBA teams play 3 times as many games as college players. Not to mention more overall demands and responsibilities like the media, public appearances, and in-season workouts. So once again, it would be the difference in running 1 lap (college) versus 5 laps (NBA) – the pace and intensity would have to be modified.

Bottom line is this – NBA players absolutely play hard during the regular season; they just play even harder in the playoffs!

Alright, time to get back in the gym.

Alan Stein