This month I attended the NBA 2K23 Summer League in Las Vegas in my capacity as an Integrated Mental Performance Specialist. I watched and I learned. I met fabulous people: NBA super fans, agents and scouts, former NBA players, current players, and more. I left feeling energized and hopeful for those players vying for position on a team. Some will make it. Some won’t. What sets apart those who make it? The answer is summed up in three essential components below. But first, let me set the stage for you.
A Job Interview Like No Other
Have you ever wondered what the interview process looks like for a budding NBA star? Picture one medium-sized arena and one gym the size of what you might see at a large high-school. Picture collegiate superstars, hoping for their chance on the big stage. Picture players who have already played on the big stage but are there to show they deserve to stay. Picture players from around the world hoping to demonstrate their talent. As a fan you see your idols right up close. You catch their eye as you pass them in and around the arenas, practically breathing on them as they warm-up on the sidelines. You walk by quickly to grab the best seat you can find (general admission). Both the fans and the players are well-aware the players are vying for a job while just feet away from: adoring fans, rows full of hiring managers (i.e., agents, scouts, NBA coaches, owners) and onlookers including (but by no means limited to) Lebron James, Mark Cuban and Phil Jackson. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. The players are squarely situated right inside a giant pressure cooker. Not to mention, the outside temp in Las Vegas heating up to about 109 degrees. Pressure cooker, indeed.
Thriving in the Pressure Cooker
What does it take for a player to not just survive in this uniquely challenging environment, but to excel, to thrive, to absolutely crush it out there? Take note of the following three components. Players MUST: trust, self-regulate and be in the present moment. I’ll say more:
The superstars out there on the NBA 2K23 Summer League court trust their training. Their instincts guide them. They are out there draining buckets, rebounding with grace, ease, and agility; breathing with exertion but not effort. They trust every moment and as a result they perform beyond what they imagined possible. Because they trust their body-mind know what to do, they prevail.
The superstars achieving huge contracts after the conclusion of NBA Summer League 2022, know how to regulate their anxiety and channel it into an all-star performance. Their stats show they are here to play. For real. For good. The anxiety does not debilitate them. They control it, focus it, and leverage it.
3. Present moment.
These self-aware not self-consumed athletes are not living in the past, they player they were then. They are not even focused on the player they are becoming. They are in the NOW. They are nowhere else but on that court in that moment, seeing and sensing everything around them and instinctually reacting, things are firing on all cylinders. Right here. Right now. This is what they are here for. This moment. This one. And the next.
At its Core
I observed players achieve these three components. They moved with ease, just enough tension to execute the skills. They demonstrated the ability to use their breath to recuperate and regulate themselves before the next moment of expert exertion.
I saw players fall short, getting in their own way. Looking tense and uneasy. Their worries about the past and/or the future stopping them from seeing the opportunity to be right where they are, a big stage, with many adoring fans.
Pressure cooker. Yes. A job interview? Indeed. But at its core, NBA 2k23 Summer League is a chance for players to have a whole lot of fun doing what they love.
Players: Enjoy it. Soak it in and keep doing what you do best.