Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Net Work, a behind-the-scenes look at how superstars like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love work to excel at the game, as told by the NBA's most sought-after trainer and skills coach Rob McClanaghan. The book is available for purchase on Oct. 1. The audio-book version of the excerpt is below.
After a few years of working with all these great players, a certain momentum sets in. Word gets around that you know what you’re doing, and other players want you to do the same for them. Until very recently, there weren’t a lot of trainers who were specifically focused on working out NBA players. By the time that market exploded, I had a healthy head start.
After being around Russell Westbrook and watching him grow into an MVP-caliber player, his teammate with the Thunder, Kevin Durant, took an interest in what we were doing. There was nothing formal about it. Russ mentioned one day over the summer that KD wanted to join us. Of course, it was cool with me. There aren’t a lot of players at KD’s level, in terms of both talent and work ethic.
KD must have enjoyed that first session, because it wasn’t long before he was coming in five days a week. We carried those sessions into the season. We’d find a two- or three-game homestand, and I’d spend that week in Oklahoma City. That would give us time to work out on his off days and generally spend time together to talk about his progress and what was going on around the league.
Kevin loves everything about the game. Mostly, he loves to be in the gym. Sometimes we’d be sitting in his town house at 9:30 at night, and all of a sudden he’d say, “Let’s go get some shots up.” So we’d drive to the Thunder facility and do a hard hour-long workout. Then I’d go to practice the next day, do a shooting workout with him when it was done, watch the game, go out to eat afterward, and get right back after it the following day.
I remember one night in Oklahoma City when we were supposed to get in some net work. For some reason, we couldn’t get into the Thunder facility. I asked him if he wanted to just wait until tomorrow. “No,” he replied. “Let’s figure this out.” He made a couple of calls and we found a church gym that was about 30 minutes away. So that’s an hour-long round trip for a 40-minute workout. We had no security. It was 10 at night. It wasn’t the greatest of gyms. The floor was a little slippery, and I was nervous. It wouldn’t be a good look if KD hurt himself. But he wanted to get in his net work, and that’s all there was to it.
I’ve worked with a lot of great players, obviously, but KD is just different. Some guys are really good at one or two things. KD is great at everything. He’s 7 feet tall, but he’s very versatile. He’s also very detailed. Just like Kevin Love, he’ll ask me questions about exactly where I want him to step and how I want him to shoot. It might be only an inch or two, but that’s a big difference to him. People often ask me if it’s more challenging to work with such a great player, but to me it’s actually easier. Whatever I ask him to do, I know he’s going to be great at it. It makes for a fun time.
KD’s a great example of a player who never loses his desire to get better. ... We always went into the offseason with a plan to pick an area and improve on it. KD has gotten smarter over the years about getting his rest. Playing so late into the playoffs every year as he’s tended to do with the Warriors, he can’t put in as many hours over the summer. ... At this point he needs to preserve his health more than anything. Yet, he’ll still put in his offseason hours.
When I first met Kevin, he was young and very quiet. Once he gets to know you, though, he opens up. He’s funny. He’ll chop it up. I’m used to guys taking a while to trust me. There are so many people coming at them and trying to get something out of them. When you’re 20 years old and you’re a millionaire, things change real fast. Yes, I work for them and they pay me, but I’m not looking for anything else, and in time they figure out that I genuinely care about them.
I’m close with my clients, but I also know how to mind my own business. It was definitely strange watching all the drama when KD left Oklahoma City for the Warriors. I know Russ wasn’t happy about it, but to this day I’ve never asked either one what happened. I try to stay in my lane.
There are all kinds of potential for conflict if you’re not careful. Take the shoe companies. I know a lot of people who work for those companies, and often I know they’re trying to sign one of my clients. Let’s just say I’m never wanting for gear. But they all know I’d never try to use my relationship with a player to steer him one way or another. If I just did that one time, it could be the end of me.
The main thing I’ve learned from KD is the importance of working with a purpose. I don’t have to stress to him the idea of perfect reps. He lives that. If anything, he taught me how to raise my standards. I can’t think of a single workout we’ve had where I felt like it didn’t matter to either one of us. Everything he does is detailed and purposeful, with the intent of improving and translating our drills to an NBA game.
With KD, I always need to have my mind ready and active. Often, during a drill, I’m thinking about what I want to do next. He’s not big on water breaks. I can come up with any kind of creative shot, and he’s going to make a bunch in a row. But I better have somewhere to go when each drill is over.
It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. I don’t know that there’s ever been a more purely gifted offensive player in the history of basketball. I’m talking about all the different ways you can score with the ball. Yet every time we’re together for a summer, his only thought is, how can I get better?
He’s a real fan of the game. A lot of players don’t necessarily watch a lot of basketball. And that’s fine. They eat, live and breathe the game all day, so the last thing they want to do is watch more basketball when they’re relaxing at home. But KD wants to watch everything and know what’s going on in the league. We’ll gossip about who likes who, and what trades and free-agent signings might be coming.
KD is an all-around sports nut. As you can see, I tend to get along with guys like that. We’re both huge football fans. One day he took me on a private jet and we flew to a Cowboys-Redskins game. We hung out on the field before kickoff. I’ll never forget the time I accompanied him on a trip for a sneaker tour that took us through Paris, Milan, Rome and Barcelona, among other places. We were scheduled to depart from New Jersey, but there was a problem with the private plane. We ended up dealing with a six-hour delay and had to take a different plane. Throw in the long flight to Paris (I know, I know, poor me) and we were exhausted by the time we landed.
It was late at night, and by this time Kevin was pretty annoyed, mostly because it had now been two full days since he’d had a workout. Two days! I told him it was cool, that we would get our work done in the morning, but that wasn’t good enough for him. “We’re gonna do it right now,” he said.
So there we are in Paris, it’s after midnight, and this crazy dude wants to find a gym. But where? Fortunately we had a bunch of Nike guys with us, and they scrambled to find us a place. They told me it was some school where Tony Parker once played.
We were both frustrated and jet-lagged. And you know what? It was one of our best workouts—one of the best workouts I’ve ever been a part of, in fact. The gym was totally empty, and right away KD wanted to get started. His energy was off the charts, especially given the circumstances. And that gave me a ton of energy, too. I was charging at him, guarding him, shouting at him, talking smack. The dude did not miss. I stopped a few times so he could get something to drink, but each time he shook me off and said, “Nah. What’s next?” So I kept coming up with another drill, another round of shots with hardly a miss, and then asked him if he wanted a break. “Nah. What’s next?”
It was one of those nights where I had to stop and say, "What the heck is going on in my life?" Private jet across the ocean, awake for almost 24 hours straight, after midnight, empty gym, just me and one of the greatest ever to play the game. That night is all you need to know about Kevin Durant. Nothing comes between him and his net work. It was also great for our relationship. Whatever happened from then on, we’d always have Paris.
From Net Work: Training the NBA's Best and Finding the Keys to Greatness by Rob McClanaghan. Copyright c 2019 by Rob McClanaghan. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Click here to purchase.
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