Summer workouts key to NBA success

Summer workouts key to NBA success

Published Aug. 29, 2012 6:46 p.m. ET

Summers, or any offseason for any sport, can be interesting. They can either be very productive for a player, or they can be one of the worst times. I have seen both.

This applies to all sports, but particularly to basketball. Some players decide after the grueling regular season and playoffs that they need a break and don't work on their games much over the summer. That's a mistake.

The key to making it and being successful in the NBA is summertime work. The best in any sport have one thing in common: a burning desire to improve. The best just always work harder than the rest. Athletes need to spend an immense amount of time – especially early in their careers – working on their craft.

Their sport is their skill and, like anything, you have to work at it. Basketball is no exception.

Nobody gets to be a star and be a consistently good player in the NBA without a ton of hard work in the summer. Even the greats like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant – three of the greatest players this game has ever seen – worked harder than anybody. MJ was known for his legendary workouts during the summer, but more importantly he kept adding things to his game. You saw tremendous improvement in Jordan's early years from season to season based on the work he did over the summer. The same can be said for Kobe.

And Magic, boy was he committed – even at pick-up games. Some of the best pick-up games in the world are played at the men's gym at UCLA over the summer dating back some 30 years.

Back during my playing days, Magic used to have a regular pick-up team which was comprised mostly of Lakers who played and worked out together every day. Magic used to come every day, Monday through Thursday, for the 3 p.m. game and was always on time and always had his same team. Well, one day there was a player – I won't say who – who had missed two or three days in a row and showed up expecting his normal spot on Magic's team.

When Magic asked where he had been the player responded, "I just had some things come up and I couldn't make it." The player then stood there and asked, "Well, can I play?"

After Magic refused to let him re-join the squad, the player said, "But we always play together."

Then Magic told him: "Look, let me tell you something. I'm an every-day player. I show up to work every single day and I expect everybody on my team to do the same thing. So, no, you can't play with me."

And that was for a scrimmage game over the summer at UCLA. Talk about commitment. But that is the dedication necessary to be a star.

You have to be committed to working on your body and improving your game. You see that with the great ones. They improve by leaps and bounds every year. And how did they do it?

The first thing they did was develop a plan on exactly what their summer would look like. They sat down and devised a schedule: I have four months of a summer and in those four months I want to improve these things. They knew by talking to their coaches and trainers what they wanted to improve, whether it was quickness, athleticism, conditioning, shooting or adding something to their game.

Early in his career, Kobe didn't have the great left hand around the basket that he has today. He didn't have the little runner; he's added that. And what's amazing to me is you look at Kobe Bryant – he's obviously one of the greatest players of this modern era – and he is still trying to improve his game.

The latest thing he added was that step-back jumper off of one leg. And why did he add that? Because he saw Dirk Nowitzki use this move so effectively. Kobe wanted it in his game because he knew he didn't have the explosiveness he had when he was 22 years old, so he had to come up with something in order to get off a shot consistently. He didn't need that move four years ago, but as one of the all-time great scorers playing in the last few years of his career, he had to add that to his game, and now he does it as well as Dirk.

And that came by working at it during the summer.

So making a summer plan is the first priority. The second thing is consistency and following through with the plan every single day. All the great players write down their plan, almost like a coach – taking 100 free throws a day, shooting 500 jump shots from these spots; tracking their weight and their nutrition and mapping out exactly what they are going to do. You have to set your goals, follow your plan and be dedicated to executing it. The greats don't take weeks off from the gym just because they don't feel like working out. That doesn't happen to Kobe, Michael or Magic.

If you want to be a great player, you have to go to the gym and get your work done, and that's even if you're hurt.

Everybody looks at an injury as a negative, but you can turn that negative into a positive. The best thing to do when you're injured is look at the weak points in your game and pick something that you can improve while you're injured. Blake Griffin, for example, hurt his knee during the Olympics training camp, an injury that required surgery and sidelined him from most basketball activities. But even with a knee injury, he can still shoot free throws (he's a .593 career shooter) and practice his shooting form.

And it is my understanding that is exactly what Griffin has done. He has always put in the work and I expect his free-throw shooting to be much-improved next season.

I remember I hurt my right hand one year and I couldn't use it for 3-4 weeks over the summer, so I spent two hours every day practicing with my left hand and I became better with my left than with my right around the basket. If I hadn't been injured, it might not have happened and I may never have developed that left around the basket.

It's the work over the summer that helped me throughout my career – from UCLA to the NBA. As a young man, I was able to spend time with coach John Wooden – I just missed playing for him by a year with the Bruins – and his mottos are still engraved in my skull. "Failure to prepare is preparing to fail," and, of course, "Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

Summertime is all about putting in that effort to be great.