Camp? Bah, humbug

Make no mistake, NBA training camp is the antithesis of pina coladas, sandy beaches and coconuts.

Originally Published: October 7, 2003
By Tom Tolbert | Special to ESPN.com

It's that time of year again, when NBA players go through training camp.

In the past some people have romanticized camp as an opportunity to teach basketball in its purest forms or as a chance for coaches to reach out and bond with their players. Let me assure you, those people are wrong, because camp sucks and everyone hates it!

Imagine coming off vacation with your family only to be immediately thrust into two-a-days and drills. It's unbelievably mentally draining for players. You're sitting there dreaming about coconuts, pina coladas and sandy beaches and your coach is screaming out defensive assignments. It's ridiculous trying to get in the mindset of playing basketball when you've been relaxing for three months.

It's still a pretty good bonding experience for a team. It's a great chance to sit back and share with the group how much you hate your coach.

And as mentally draining as it is, physically it's worse. Players are running stupid drills and doing a lot of running that doesn't really get them into playing shape. Luckily, the preseason starts relatively quickly and those games give you a real opportunity to get into game shape and do what you're paid to do -- play basketball.

This past season, the NBA players union negotiated a deal where veteran players were given a few days off at the beginning of camp. As much as I disliked camp, this is a stupid rule. It doesn't give veterans any real time away from camp, just a couple of days. It would've been better to give the veterans an entire week, instead of a glorified three-day weekend.

But I don't want to disillusion everyone about camp. There are good things about it and here they are:

Four good things about training camp
1. The per diem
Every player in the NBA loves the per diem. It's unbelievable watching guys who make five million dollars a year go crazy over five hundred bucks. But for most of them, it's an opportunity to have money of their own -- money they don't have to share with the wife.

2. Free stuff
No not shoes, shirts or gym time, but Gatorade. Some guys would steal the free Gatorade they provide at the practice facility. There was one guy -- who shall remain nameless -- who I caught shoving a case of Gatorade into his duffel bag after practice. I walked up to him and asked him what the rest of us were going to drink and he looked at me and said the team had money! He left the rest of us with four bottles of Gatorade for the next day. What a piece of work!

3. The bonding experience
Even though camp is relatively short, it's still a pretty good bonding experience for a team. It's a great chance to sit back and share with the group how much you hate your coach. The coach takes the brunt of the team's hatred because he's the one setting up the drills and dreaded two-a-days. But seriously, it's a great opportunity to get with the guys and talk about the offseason, play video games, cards and just chill. It's awesome to just hang out with guys you haven't seen in three months.

4. Poker
OK, this is more a personal like. But it's my column so what the heck. I loved playing cards with the guys. Especially since, I used to kill them in poker. At one point in my career, I tried to find a way to just travel around playing basketball players in poker. There's nothing better than playing with rich guys who don't know how to play but are willing to pay to learn. Personally, I loved teaching at $140 bucks an hour. God, I miss training camp.

Tom Tolbert is an NBA analyst for ESPN.

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