The day before the 2019 NBA London game, the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards were penned in for practice sessions in the heart of the city.
NBA teams don’t practice all that much and we know this. Often, it’s schedule dependant. Washington seemed to be going through the motions because of the expectation to do so. Scott Brooks’ team completed a ‘practice’ and Knicks coach David Fizdale ran a PRACTICE.
In between the two sessions, both teams were available to talk to the gigantic and intense media huddle – a sign of the scale of the event at this point. The players almost seemed taken aback by the size of the scrum, in comparison to regular season games back home.
A purposeful Fizdale then took to the practice court. He was heard promoting the importance of mental engagement, to a receptive Knicks team. This prompted several players and coaches to take to the floor, close their eyes and slip into a meditative state.
Members of the media stared from the other side of the court, remaining considerately hush and watched on like spectators to a live spiritual experiment. The silence was surreal and deafening in equal measure, as the Knicks coaches gently vocalised breathing instructions for around ten minutes.
Sooner than you could say ‘mindfulness’, the coaching staff began a much tighter, high-energy session – a stark comparison to the more blasé shoot-around earlier in the afternoon.
When time allowed him to do so, Fizdale talked to me about a matter that – make not mistake – is considerably bigger than basketball.
For some time now, Knicks’ Turkish center Enes Kanter has been embroiled in a back-and-forth with the President of his homeland – Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Since being publicly critical of the controversial figure, Kanter and his family have been targeted, which meant that he didn’t feel comfortable travelling to Europe for the game in London.
His coach didn’t have an active role in the decision itself but supported Kanter’s decision to do what felt safer.
“Well, I wasn’t really involved in that process,” Fizdale revealed. “Once I got the news at the end of it, I just supported it and made sure that he knew that he had support from me to stay back.”
Speculation has surrounded the 26-year-old big over the last month, with his role in the rotation provoking questions about a potential move from New York, but for now, Fizdale looks forward to welcoming him back when they resume their regular schedule next week.
“We all have his back. We miss him . We’re really going to be happy to see him when we get back.”
Featured photo – via Associated Press / David Zalubowski / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration