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Fatigue Strikes

Since today is a complete and total nothing as far as news goes it is time to address the issue of fatigue and whether it is a valid excuse for professional athletes. I have been reading all across message boards that the players, Rashard Lewis in particular are whining about tired legs and the role they have played in recent losses. Many internet posters feel that this is a cop out on the part of Lewis and I have even read people going so far as to say that they are concerned long term about Lewis’ attitude in light of his recent fatigue related complaints.

Simply put these people are human beings and deserve more credit than they are being given in some cases.

Over the last several weeks I have had the chance to observe first hand the grind of an NBA season. On a personal level I am often stunned at the lack of days off. Almost every day since the season started I have had the opportunity to either cover a game or attend a practice/shootaround and it has taken a toll on me(keep in mind I have a real job). I have been frankly amazed at the grind this schedule presents to beat reporters who travel with the team, covering each game and having to spend hours making their own travel arrangements. Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune has small children ages 3 and 1 and in conversation to him I am significantly more sympathetic to his off-season lack of coverage. You can only devote so much time to basketball and after months of daily focus on the team his family is obviously a priority during the summer months.

On to the players…

First take the grind suffered by poor media members and then add in a grueling conditioning schedule and the nightly aches and pains caused by playing basketball at a high level and you will get a sense of how these guys feel. I play basketball for about 90 minutes 3 days a week and each day I am sore afterwards. The average player practices 4-5 days per week for 3 ½ hours including a 1 hour full speed scrimmage. Following practice they lift weights, receive physical therapy, and review game tape. Each day in practice it is common to observe guys limping with bruises and strains, players icing themselves at every opportunity and generally taking a beating.

“I don’t think a lot of the fans understand it.” PF Danny Fortson confided in an earlier interview. “(The season) just takes its toll on your body. Everything hurts. When you’re this big and carrying this much weight problems with your knees and feet just effect everything.”

Keep in mind also that the team does not get much of a break due to travel schedule. On Wed. November 6th the Sonics had a 5pm game against the Boston Celtics to end a 6 game road trip that involved 9 days of travel. The schedule went something like this:

8:00pm Game Ends
10:00pm Flight departs Boston
3:00am Flight arrives Seattle
4:00am Players arrive at their homes
10:30 am Players report for mandatory practice

“I am just so tired” said Sonics center Rob Swift on that day. “Sleeping on the plane is just not the same and I didn’t even get any real sleep at all.”

Regardless of schedule the players participate in grueling exercises regimens. Upon return from their recent 9 day road trip PF Reggie Evans stayed late to run full speed catch and shoot drills in which he ran to mid-court, sprinted back to a series of spots on the floor, and took jumpers. Luke Ridnour makes almost a daily habit of running full court sprints before receiving the ball for a jumper. Yesterday I attempted this same drill in 3 sets of 5 and walked away exhausted. Ridnour does it for 20 minutes straight after a 3 hour practice.

In short I want to say that I really believe that fatigue is a valid excuse for professional athletes. Despite public comments that practice under Coach Bob Weiss was fairly intense I never got the sense that players were working overly hard. Since Bob Hill took over I think that, if anything the public comments made understate exactly how hard he has worked them. To a man the players are saying that this mini-training camp is hard and draining. The question I believe needs to be answered is not whether the fatigue that is costing them games is real, it is whether implementing this new discipline at this time, at the cost of mid-season games is worthwhile for the remainder of this season and seasons to come.