Myles Turner is balancing on one socked foot, bent at the knee, his eyes, behind wire framed glasses, pinned unblinking at the phone recording him. He starts dribbling a basketball against the wood floor of his front hallway. The ball bounces from the floor to where his hand is waiting poised at his knee to hammer it down again. It’s loud. After about thirty seconds he stands and says this is when you’d switch the leg you were balancing on, and the arm doing the dribbling, he then tells everyone to stay safe and urges, “Please, don’t break anything in your parents house.”
It’s one of over 231 short videos NBA and WNBA players and coaches have contributed to Jr. NBA at Home, a free and interactive content series launched under NBA Together that streams across the Jr. NBA, NBA, and NBA cares accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. More than 25 members of the NBA community have so far provided basketball skill drills tailor-made by the pros to be done individually and within limited space.
Other drills include Larry Nance Jr. showing the correct form for lunges in his foyer, Duncan Robinson practicing shooting form while lying on his couch, Matisse Thybulle doing a side-to-side and between the legs move, his fine art of ball handling and two large format paintings on full display, Jewell Loyd with a home workout that would put most professional trainers to shame and Muggsy Bogues doing a ball bouncing drill in his basement rec room.
The videos are all focused on skill-building exercises, some deceptively simple until you start doing them, that can be repeated, perfected, and built around other drills. It’s a tangible tool kit for kids (or even adults) who are missing their friends and teams, as the absence of the social aspect of the game is felt as much as its physical outlet. Aside from all sharing an endearing DIY quality, the videos also offer a glimpse into the lives of the NBA community who are very visibly going through the same thing. Players who seem initially shy at filming themselves quickly settle into confidence in the first steps of a drill they are demonstrating, while others appear relieved for the outlet.
David Krichavsky, Head of Youth Development for the NBA, admitted the Jr. NBA at Home program is a “very organic” fit for the NBA and WNBA community, especially players, for a number of reasons.
“One, they are stuck inside and looking to stay fit, like so many of us. So they’re facing the same challenges that the kids we’re trying to reach are facing,” he said over the phone from his home in New York City. “It’s like, ‘Gosh, this is a lot of time indoors, I’m not able to do the things that I love. How do I continue to work on my basketball skills? How do I continue to stay fit?’ And so it’s a very natural thing for them.”
When the program was initially rolled out, it was with the intent to offer 30 days of original content to young people under the Jr. NBA umbrella. With the current shifting landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, Krichavsky says another thing his team has been focused on is adapting as they go. Developing content in real time as much as developing content that can be used in the future, with an eye to the metrics of coronavirus spread as a guide.
“As the pandemic evolves, we’re going to continue with the program, continue to generate content. It’s very much a global view. The Jr. NBA program reaches 60 million boys and girls currently in 72 different countries around the world, and one of the things that the experts are seeing is that the pandemic may crest in certain areas as it’s falling in other areas,” Krichavsky says.
On a domestic level, that spread is occurring throughout the U.S., with certain regions hit harder and future peaks predicted while the rate of infection drops off in other areas. This will be the case globally, and Krichavsky is adamant about producing content in as many languages as possible to reach kids all over the world, “We’re developing as much content as we can in multiple languages, and so we’ll continue with this as long as we need to.”
Sourcing continued content won’t be difficult because as Krichavsky put it, “content’s pouring in” from players and the broader NBA community. “Word of mouth is spreading from player to player, from team to team, and so the response there has been tremendous.”
Partially that is because initiatives like Jr. NBA are so intrinsic to the league that players have always been involved in its efforts, if only under less anxious circumstances. But at a more intimate level, the league was one of the first to be publicly hit and thereby tied to COVID-19, with Rudy Gobert being the first player to test positive and games grinding to a halt as a result — with more than 10 positive tests around the league since. The awareness that caused and the way it made many, including those in politics, sit up and pay attention to the encroaching pandemic, was a needed public shift in perception of what was to come.
Because of that, the NBA community and its players were some of the first advocates in safety measures that have now become colloquial. Social distancing, practicing careful hygiene, self isolation, under the NBA Together banner these practices were pressed upon basketball fans by their favourite players, or in some cases more largely. When Steph Curry did an Instagram Live with Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Curry asked pertinent questions when it came to spread of COVID-19 and spoke incredibly candidly on the concerns that people had. It was a clear moment of leadership and another example of how, inadvertently or not, the NBA has stepped up in a time when others, including some of the the highest elected officials, are prone to outburst and weird, pedantic waffling.
“There’s definitely an ethos that’s part of the DNA of the NBA community to make sure that we’re part of the response during challenging times, and it is very much natural.” Krichavsky says of the leadership and response the league has shown so far in the pandemic, “A lot of these initiatives come from our players, they recognize the power of the platforms they have, whether it’s NBA players or WNBA players or our coaching community.”
Asked by Dime why initiatives like NBA Together are so important in this moment, Krichavsky acknowledge the nuance of this time and how connected we all still are and must remember to be.
“Certainly providing relief to those who are on the front lines as we’re trying to do through some of the charitable contributions is of critical importance right now,” Krichavsky said. “Trying to inspire acts of caring is of critical importance… But I think the name of the campaign, NBA Together, probably brings it all together in that it’s really creating a sense of connectedness at a time when we’re all struggling with the isolation that’s inherent to this situation.”
Writ so large it can be difficult to zero in on maintaining a healthy day-to-day, in mind and body, but that’s where we return to Myles Turner, balancing on one foot in his hallway and bouncing a basketball. As much as they are focused on kids, the exercises are challenging, and can provide a needed distraction and outlet for anyone, including me, who almost wiped out in my hall.
“Some of them are very hard,” Krichavsky laughs, maybe too kindly on my behalf. “I not only have tried them but have participated along with my daughters, who serve as guinea pigs for a lot of the drills. Some of the dribbling drills in particular I’ve struggled through myself.”
Aside from difficulty, Krichavsky recognizes another tiny drawback — the same thing that Turner bashfully blurted like a postscript in his Jr. NBA at Home video — “We’re hoping that there’s not a social media backlash from parents who have broken appliances at home, but we haven’t heard anything yet.”