Teams try to keep up with own practice space

Updated: May 16, 2006, 1:12 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- NBA teams, which once shared practice space with the public at colleges and recreation centers, are going upscale.

They are investing millions of dollars in state-of-the-art practice facilities that give players 24-hour access to courts, weight rooms and steam rooms. Some also come equipped with massage therapists and chefs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers are among those looking to join the ranks of the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz and others with new training centers.

Team owners and front office executives say such complexes are necessary to help develop players and build team chemistry in a secure, comfortable setting.

"We're in a highly competitive business. Any edge that a team can gain to be more competitive we're going to do," said Chris Grant, assistant general manager for the Cavaliers.

Cleveland plans to build a $20 million facility in the suburbs, moving practices out of downtown Quicken Loans Arena, which the team shares with other events.

Cavaliers guard Eric Snow expects the new site to help build camaraderie among players while helping them focus on training.

"When you have a private facility, it's easier to cater to the different workouts and needs of each player," Snow said. "It's going to help guys. The object is to try to keep them on the court as much as you can -- keep them playing together as much as you can."

Practice facilities are part of a larger trend of improved player amenities in the NBA, said Portland Trail Blazers general manager John Nash. As players' salaries have increased, so have the perks.

"Charter flights, practice facilities, baby-sitting, etc., is just a natural progression," Nash wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "It is the same reason that we stay at Four Seasons or Ritz Carltons instead of Marriotts like we did in the '80s."

The Jazz opened a two-story practice facility in 2003 that includes two courts with a shock-resistant floor, a weight room, steam room, two whirlpools, a therapy pool and a video editing room. Amenities include a 58-seat screening room, coaching offices that overlook the practice courts and a players' lounge with views of the mountains and downtown Salt Lake City.

Practice centers have become a necessity because of the offseason training expected of players, said Jazz vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor.

"You want the guys to be working out," he said. "You want them to have a place to go. It's all about the investment in the players."

Before Sacramento's training complex opened in 2000, the team practiced at five or six local high schools, two colleges, the California Highway Patrol Academy and the Salvation Army, which had an old-style hardwood floor.

"We would bounce around. It was awful," team spokesman Troy Hanson said.

Owners Joe and Gavin Maloof made a $9.1 million facility, located next to the team's arena, a priority when they bought the team in 1999. It's been popular with players, who enjoy 24-hour access through a fingerprint security system.

"I've seen Ron [Artest] here so much, he might as well just have a back room," Hanson said. "Mike [Bibby] comes in at some really odd hours."

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said 24-hour access to a practice court is what his players like most about the team's practice facility, located underground at American Airlines Center. The Mavericks' facility includes pool tables, foosball tables, big screen televisions, plenty of plush robes and gadgets such as PlayStations and flat-screen televisions in each locker.

While most NFL teams still train at colleges, NBA teams that don't have a facility are in the minority.

The Clippers, who are in the playoffs after an eight-year postseason drought, look at their planned suburban practice facility as another sign of the franchise's turnaround. They previously practiced at a variety of sites, most recently at a health club in El Segundo, Calif.

"The modern-day NBA player has to have a cushy life and these practice facilities have pretty much everything, from a place to take your kids to go and play to chefs and all kind of things," Cavaliers guard Damon Jones said. "It's something you definitely look at as a free agent. You don't want to be practicing in a tore-up building."

The Cavaliers' planned practice facility certainly won't hurt in trying to persuade LeBron James to stay in Cleveland when he becomes a free agent after next season. But with practice palaces becoming more common, they may become less of a selling point.

"Just about everybody has one now," said Utah's O'Connor. "I don't think it's who's got bigger or better. You're conspicuous by the absence if you don't have one."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press