Preparing to pursue an NBA championship under normal circumstances is extremely difficult, but doing so given the unique circumstances of 2020? It’s completely uncharted grounds. Nobody knows how to keep players engaged and enthused for a potential three-and-a-half-month slog, much of which will be spent away from families and all of which will be spent away from home. Players are afraid of the coronavirus. They are impassioned on the growing movement for social justice reform. The effects of their isolation are going to be difficult to counteract. Los Angeles Lakers’ general manager Rob Pelinka acknowledged that in a video call with reporters Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
“I think Orlando itself is going to be as much of a mental test as it is a physical test just because of the extraordinary circumstances there,” Pelinka said. “I think a team like ours, that has such a strong togetherness component, will have an advantage at that part. This team of guys love being together and love playing together. I think that’s the significant part of the [first] 63 games.”
But according to McMenamin, Pelinka cited a familiar source of wisdom for the Lakers as inspiration in helping players deal with the stress of the bubble: Phil Jackson. He spoke of Jackson’s unconventional methods, including yoga and meditation, as ways of keeping players mentally strong throughout the grueling run to the championship.
“Just keeping guys fresh, keeping life interesting,” Pelinka said. “Keeping everyone’s passions sharpened, I’m sure there will be many, many stories coming out of Orlando about some of the different practices that evolve once we get down there.”
Jackson coached the Lakers to five championships between 2000 and 2010, and previously led the Chicago Bulls to six before landing in Los Angeles. Maintaining team chemistry and opening players up to new experiences was a hallmark of his coaching style, and fortunately for the Lakers, Pelinka already views his locker room as a major strength.
“I think that we’re in a unique situation where we’ve had such a strong chemistry, such a strong team chemistry, that I think that platform is going to be seamless in terms of guys jumping on and being part of that identity and chemistry that we already had formed,” Pelinka said. “I don’t see that changing at all with the new additions, just because it’s such a strong identity.”
The bubble is going to test players and teams in ways that no championship run ever has. Catering to the mental health of the players in Orlando will be just as important as protecting their physical health. Most teams are likely considering unorthodox methods of doing so just as Pelinka is. The Lakers got to see Jackson’s tactics up close for years. No team is better equipped to adopt them than the one that used to employ him.