Only a few athletes can do it. Here’s how I think they got there.
I’m watching footage of Larry Bird in a 3-point shooting contest. It’s the all-star game weekend. I always forget how great it is to see how far we’ve come in terms of style in the NBA.
The 3-point shooting contest is one of my all-time favorite events. Let’s place all these racks around the three point line and watch a guy shoot them as fast as he can. Also, the last ball is worth double what all the others are. Go! When I was in the 3rd grade we would play knockout out at every lunch period. There’s a strange excitement about shooting hoops with a timer attached to it. You’re playing against time. You’re playing against yourself. And you’re playing against other people. I realize now that’s basically what we’re doing our entire adult life. I know some of you feel that.
Bird is floating. He’s gliding. He’s making his way around the three point line. Swish. Swish. Swish. Brick. Swish. Swish.
He gets to final rack. There’s time to spare. He shoots the final ball and you see it — you’re thinking “he’s electric right now!” The ball is pie high in the sky. Bird starts walking away, this man’s confidence is radiating through YouTube videos 30 years later. Holden Caufield is smiling. Bird is halfway back to Boston.
Nothing but white hot nylon.
All your practice, all your effort, all your hard work. When you’ve put in the time, it flows outward into the world. People feel it. It’s an energy, really. I’m sitting at my computer right now and before I type this last sentence I’m feeling like I need to point at the sky before the buttery smoothness of this final sentence ensues because here’s what I’m about to do: I’m about to share some passages I’ve collected over the years about my favorite athletes and how they got so good they could win before the game ended.
*walks away from keyboard*
*points at sky*
1. Larry Bird
Shoot your shot before anyone else.
“While most players waltzed into the locker room the required 90 minutes before game time, Bird has been on the floor by at least 6:00, more than two hours before tip-off. In the loneliness of Boston Garden, with only attendants and a few Celtics season ticket holders present, Bird shot more than 300 practice shots. He’d start with 6 to 10 free throws, move out on the court a bit, and then start firing away at a comfortable pace as comrade Joe Qatato hit him with perfect passes. Then the “Parquet Picasso,” as he was dubbed, would speed up the routine and by the end of the workout throw up rapid-fire shots, many featuring the Bird “drop back a step” maneuver that guaranteed him an opening from every angle. “I really don’t count my shots,” Bird said. “I just shoot until I feel good.” — Hoop Thoughts on Larry Bird
2. Hakeem Olajuwon
Being the most down to earth guy in the room.
“Discipline, order, patience, balance — when you come to play you think of those things and your mind is free,” Olajuwon says. “Once you have tasted the faith, tasted the sweetness of faith, that is where real happiness and satisfaction is.”
“Speaking of superstar teammates Drexler and Charles Barkley, Olajuwon says, “None of us are trying to prove anything; we’ve already proved it. That frees us up to play together. We all play to win and that’s what makes us great. If we were a small-minded team, we would have more problems.” — An Athlete and a Gentlemen
3. Jerry Rice
I can catch fish on my own.
“Most remarkable were his six-days-a-week off-season workouts, which he conducted entirely on his own. Mornings were devoted to cardiovascular work, running a hilly five-mile trail; he would reportedly run ten forty-meter wind sprints up the steepest part. In the afternoons he did equally strenuous weight training. These workouts became legendary as the most demanding in the league, and other players would sometimes join Rice just to see what it was like. Some of them got sick before the day was over.” — The Practice of Jerry Rice
4. Novak Djocavic
I will occasionally rub the Buddha’s belly.
“I try to put myself only in the present moment, not fight against the thoughts and the pressure and the excitement, but just acknowledge them and be aware of present thoughts but also try to keep my composure and calm,” the defending champion said. “I try to just be in the moment and enjoy.”— Novak and the Buddhist Temple
5. Wayne Gretzky
Slow people can get fast by getting good at anticipation.
“As the legend goes, as a child Wayne Gretzky would, like most other boys in his home country, watch the NHL on television every chance he could get.
What made him different, however, was that every time, he would sit there with a blank piece of white paper and a pencil. Without looking at the paper, eyes constantly on the screen, he would trace the path of the puck on his sheet of paper throughout the course of the game.
By the end of the game, he would have a sheet of paper covered in pencil marks, and the darkest areas were where the puck spent the most time.
Years later, Gretzky would amaze the world with an uncanny ability — never seen before or since — to know where the puck would be even before anyone else knew they were going to send it there.” — The Training Log of Gretzky
6. Ted Williams
Wait for your perfect pitch line you’re waiting for that perfect girl.
“I kept thinking about the thousands of swings I had taken to prepare myself,” Williams said years later. “I had practiced and practiced. I kept saying to myself, ‘You are ready.’ I went to the ballpark the next day more eager to hit than I had ever been.” “But nothing except practice, practice, practice will bring out that ability.” So he practiced all the time both on and off the field. “The kid swung any object that happened to be around, swung the bedroom pillows in simulation of the swing he would use at the plate,” wrote Leigh Montville in “Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero.” “He swung nothing, just the imaginary bat, if no object could be found. Repetition bought subtle innovation.” — .406 is more than just a Number
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