The Future of the Athlete, Part II
My career has always felt unfinished.
That’s a natural result of retiring early and unexpectedly: no matter how much you have to be proud of, there’s always going to be something scratching at you, forcing you to wonder about what might have been, over and over again.
That’s not to say I haven’t made peace with bowing out of basketball. My life was in danger. I didn’t want to gamble it—not to mention the presence of a father and husband in my family—for more chances at glory. And I’m preeeetttyy proud of everything I accomplished.
Ironically, though, retirement came just as I’d developed a new outlook on taking care of myself. In any sport, paying attention to your body is monumental. But when you start out young, with what feel like endless supplies of energy and confidence, there’s a whole lot of stuff you can rationalize. Take your diet: During my first few years in the league, I was still a frequent visitor of my local fast food chains at home and on the road. . And sure, in the back of my head, there was my father’s voice from childhood: Boy, don’t eat that stuff—you’re putting unleaded gas in a Ferrari. But I felt invincible, like I could bounce back from anything. After all, I’d already made it to the bigtime—and I hadn’t been slowed down by the cheesesteaks I’d get in Philly and the Whataburgers in San Antonio...which were especially good after a loss!
But as you get older, that changes. I was around 30 when I realized I wasn’t one of the young guns on the court anymore—I had aged into being the one my opponents were motivated to be on their A game to defeat. Every night, guys came at me hard and fast. . I wasn’t out of shape, but I was more keyed into what it took to feel good on game days. I still remember Ray Allen joking while he told me to “wait until your body feels like after the game...before the game.” And I remember when that promise came true.
After I hit that point of self-awareness, I tried so many different things to stay in shape that my house started to rival the clubhouse’s treatment center. Why? Because your team can only offer you so much—and taking care of yourself doesn’t stop when you hit the showers and head home. Take LeBron: we can talk all day about how great he is at the age of 37, but that conversation is incomplete without mentioning the time he’s put in researching, training, and preparing, season after season. I mean, the guy spends a million a year on his body. That’s invisible work, but it can also be some of the hardest you’ll do. And the return on that investment is exponential, especially with everything we know now about how to get the most out of your body.
Truth is, there’s way more information about health and self-preservation out there than there was 20, even 10 years ago. More options to explore, strategies to try. That’s a wonderful thing. But I hope today’s pro athletes will be open to that exploration and trial before they are forced to be—or before it’s too late.
Performance enhancement. Loaded words, right? Thing is, they don’t have to only mean steroids (which, I’d argue, end up doing the opposite of enhancement, but that’s for another post). Across sports, athletes are trying new stem cell therapies to treat damage to muscles and tendons. They’re looking at NAD+ treatments, a form of IV therapy that targets the repairing abilities of cells. The number of other cellular and DNA-targeting treatments is always growing. And they’re available everywhere—hell, Kobe even went to Germany to have blood re-injected into his knees. This isn’t me endorsing any particular one—but I will advocate for keeping an open mind, staying tuned to new developments in the world of well-being. Even a massage can go a long way.
Now, of course there are a good bit of substances that are no-nos depending on the sport. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say so. But that’s just another reason to stay up on these things—to make sure you’re not taking a path that’s going to curl back and bite you in the ass. Investing in your body means giving your mind a workout, too. And that’s not just advice for athletes. I think we all can do better.
Even though I’m not playing 82-game seasons anymore, I still have things as simple as my dad’s mantra about food as fuel echoing in my head. Think of the human body as a machine that needs maintenance—not that different from the cars in one of my favorite sports, Formula One.
When you stand in the pit and take in the sheer amount of focus, engineering, and attention to detail that go into one vehicle, in the pure pursuit of performance? That’s a well-oiled machine! It’s the difference between first and last place! And whether you retire early or play long past everyone’s expectations, you’ll want to say you did everything to maximize your own machinery. Because we only get one body... as far as I know.