I have been enthralled in the game of basketball my entire life. Basketball has taken me all over the world, it has allowed me to work with some amazing players and coaches, and it is how I support my family. I am a basketball diehard. That's why it bothers me that there is a lingering myth being perpetuated by novice fans:
NBA players only play hard in the playoffs.
Have you heard people say that? Have you said that? Is it true?
Nope. It is 100 percent false.
I don't think anyone would argue the overall intensity of the NBA playoffs is sky high, and minute for minute, is higher than your average regular season game. But that's because there is a renewed sense of urgency. You win or you go home! Just because the atmosphere, energy, hype and intensity of the playoffs is downright palpable, it doesn't mean they didn't play hard during the regular season. It just means they are playing even harder in the playoffs.
Why don't people say the same thing about college basketball? College players and teams play harder in the NCAA Tournament than they do in the regular season. It might not be as obvious, but they do play harder in March. Why? It's the nature of sports. The more at stake, the harder a team plays! The higher the urgency; the greater the intensity. This is true for college basketball, the NBA, as well as any other sport I can think of.
Don't agree? Think about these two scenarios:
What if I took you out to the track right now and told you to run a lap. Then right before you were about to take off I changed my mind and said, "Actually run 5 laps." Would your approach be different now? Would you plan to run the first lap (of five) at the same speed as you would have run just the one lap? No way! You would appropriately pace yourself because you know you have four more laps to run. But does that mean you wouldn't be working hard on the first lap? Of course not, you would still be working hard; you would just be working hard (and smart) within the confines of your overall goal. NBA players have a similar mindset. Players know they have 82 regular season games plus playoffs as their overall goal. They keep this in mind during the regular season.
Now, what if we went out to the track and I said, "Let's run a lap for fun." And then right before we were about to take off I said, "The loser owes the winner $1,000!" Which lap would you run harder? The fun lap or the lap with something at stake? Obviously you would run much harder for the $1,000 lap. Why? There is an urgent sense of competition and a "reward" at the end. Either run hard now or cough up $1,000. The NBA playoffs are the same. When your team is down 3-2 in a seven game series; you have to play harder than ever or you go home. You just can't fake the same urgency during the regular season.
I can't stress enough, just because the stakes are raised in the playoffs doesn't dismiss the fact these guys play hard every single night during the regular season. I have sat courtside for numerous NBA regular season games. Trust me, these guys play hard. These guys are big, fast, strong, and super explosive. The NBA is unbelievably fast paced and today's game is played above the rim. Yet these guys make it look easy. They have to play hard just to keep up!
And while we are talking about the concept of looking at the big picture, let's not forget NBA teams often play more than 3 times as many games as college players and have a much more rigorous travel schedule. Not to mention more overall demands and responsibilities like the media, appearances, in season workouts, etc. I am not making light of what college players go through, believe me, I know how tough it is for college players to balance everything (school work, practice, etc.)—but the NBA takes it to a whole new level. So once again, it would be like the difference in running 5 laps (college) versus 10 laps (NBA); the pace and intensity would have to be different.
I have been fortunate to work with dozens NBA players in my career. I have certainly learned the NBA is a business. It is how these guys make a living. But I also know how much these guys love and respect the game and how thankful guys are to be in the league. No matter how much money they make, or fame they achieve, once the ball gets thrown up... these guys love to play hard and they love to compete.
The moral? NBA players do play hard during the regular season; they just play even harder in the playoffs. And let's be honest; so would you.