Hawks join NBA arms race by unveiling plans for new practice facility

ATLANTA — Before Tony Ressler finalized his ownership group’s purchase of the Atlanta Hawks last June, he already had a checklist in mind. Nine months later, his organization announced its plans to cross off the first item.

"The Atlanta Hawks were and are at a professional disadvantage facilities-wise. My view was that was job No. 1, to change that. That was absolutely our first and highest objective," the Hawks’ principal owner said on Tuesday at the franchise’s announcement of a new practice facility located in Brookhaven, Ga. "The NBA is tough enough. Having a great coach, having great players, having a good staff — it’s a competitive world.

"Having a professional disadvantage, which I thought our practice facilities were, that’s not an organization I want to be a part of."

The state-of-the-art, 90,000-square-foot facility will cost approximately $50 million, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, and is expected to break ground in mid-May with the goal of revolutionizing the integration of sports science and research into the day-to-day schedule of a professional sports franchise. The facility will open prior to the 2017-18 season.

By partnering with Emory Healthcare — the Emory Sports Medicine Center will comprise 30,000 square feet in the facility — and P3, a world-renowned leader in athletic research and performance, the Hawks are aiming to not only be at the forefront in the fast-growing field of sports science, but also to join the NBA elites in terms of amenities.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said the facility will be privately funded. Architecture-engineering firm HOK, which also designed the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium, has been hired to lead the project design.

The Hawks currently practice on-site at Philips Arena in an auxiliary gym tucked behind the locker rooms. Small-scale renovations followed the new ownership group’s arrival, but in the fast-growing NBA landscape the franchise, as Ressler pointed out on multiple occasions, lagged behind the competition.

"I think we’ve all seen the fruits of the labor of our player development," said president of basketball operations and head coach Mike Budenholzer, hinting at the likes of Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll. "I think this is just going to make it hopefully even better, more productive, more efficient. … It’s part of competing in today’s NBA.

"Most importantly, my mind is always on retaining great players, which we have (upcoming unrestricted free agents) Al Horford, Kent Bazemore and all of our players. Recruiting in the future — this is just something that puts us where it’s a more competitive playing field."

Led by Dr. Scott Boden, Emory’s involvement should not be overlooked.

The on-site medical facility, which has aspirations of being a "sports science and sports research mecca," will provide guidance in nutrition, injury prevention, recovery, peak performance and rehabilitative services. The state-of-the-art labels come into play with the availability of advanced diagnostic imaging technology, 3-D motion capture analysis and blood and sweat testing — vital medical tools now located a few steps away from the practice court.

The addition of P3, one of the leading organizations in optimizing athletic performance founded by Dr. Marcus Elliott out of Santa Barbara, Calif., will resonate in the locker room as well.

Hawks players Kyle Korver, who credits Elliott’s company for making his late-career surge possible, Paul Millsap and Al Horford have each worked with P3 in the past. Recent Hawks draft picks have been sent to their West Coast headquarters for testing. As Dr. Boden said, "Their work and research with athletes from the NBA, NFL and MLB is second to none."

Now, as part of the partnership, P3 will open its new East Coast center of operations in the Hawks practice facility.

New practice facilities are en vogue for NBA franchises.

By 2019, at least one third of the league is expected to boast a sparkling new practice facility, following in the footsteps of Chicago, Minnesota, Toronto and Brooklyn. (The Raptors and Nets unveiled their new digs in February.) The 76ers, Lakers, Pacers, Wizards, Bucks, Kings and the defending champion Warriors are not far behind.

In total, thirteen NBA practice facilities are scheduled to open between 2013 and 2018. The league is pouring hundreds of millions into like-minded projects in search of a competitive advantage. And many franchises, like the Hawks, are jumping into joint ventures with medical partners.

It’s a bona fide arms race.

"There’s definitely a trend in the NBA that have practice facilities. Many of them have healthcare partners," Dr. Boden said. "(The Timberwolves) and a number of others have simply a co-location of some medical offices and facilities, but it’s not really as integrative of a program with sports medicine, science and research or the actual physicians that make up the group that’s taking care of the team. In some cases it’s a satellite medical office.

"The idea behind this facility is to really reach a whole different level of integration. … We wanted to look at this venture through a different lens than other practice facilities throughout the NBA."