.The Trainer Behind Those Improbable Plays
Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Idan Ravin, called the Hoops Whisperer, devises workouts that make tough situations routine.
The Nike sequence ostensibly has to do with hand-eye coordination, but for Ravin it represents more. He wanted the drill to create a sensory overload and simulate what it feels like when a player prepares for a last-second shot and, Ravin said, “you have a defender on you, your coach yelling, you worry about the shot clock, you have fans, you have television cameras, your wife is in the stands.
“If you can deal with a situation where there’s so many things going on, that’s N.B.A. life,” Ravin said. “It has nothing to do with whether you can catch a tennis ball with your hand.”
Around the N.B.A., the 39-year-old Ravin is called the Hoops Whisperer because of his ability to connect with players — many of whom are stars — with methods that are a little different.
These days, two of his prominent clients are Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Together, as Knicks teammates, they are engaged in an uphill battle against Boston in the first round of the N.B.A. playoffs — Stoudemire, who had back trouble in Game 2, is hoping to play on Friday — and they can only hope that whatever Ravin has done will help.
N.B.A. players often employ personal trainers to enhance aspects of their game and maintain others. The top trainers are spread out geographically. Tim Grover, who came to prominence for his work with Michael Jordan, is based in Chicago. Rob McClanaghan spends summers in Los Angeles working with Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and others.
Ravin is from Maryland and may be the most unlikely of the bunch. He is a former lawyer who carries no business cards and did not play basketball past high school. He does not recruit; instead he waits for players to ask for him after hearing about him by word of mouth.
“If you’re in the business of trying to sell, you’re in the business of trying to convince,” Ravin said.
While establishing himself as a trainer in Maryland, he connected with Steve Francis, an N.B.A. guard at the time, who began directing others to him. Ravin’s reputation soon blossomed, and he has since worked with, among others, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Rudy Gay. All those players already had talent, but it was Ravin’s goal to extract the most from it, using some ingenuity, psychology and whatever else that works.
“Idan knows skills work,” said Stoudemire, who began working with Ravin two summers ago. “He knows how to get you versatile.”
Ravin has a longer relationship with Anthony, first working with him to prepare for the 2003 N.B.A. draft after his one-and-done season at Syracuse.
“I’ve been with him since I was 18 years old,” Anthony said. “He was a guy that I know could just focus on my game and the things that I needed to work on, get better at. I’ve been with him ever since.”
Ravin also had to gain the confidence of LaLa Vazquez, Anthony’s wife. At a Fourth of July cookout a few years ago, Vazquez, a high school basketball player, was fishing at a lake near Anthony’s home and started talking basketball with Ravin.
“We worked on her jump shot for a half an hour and then she was making a lot of shots, and Melo could look down on the court and he just started laughing,” Ravin said.
There is no blueprint for Ravin’s sessions. He says he decides when he meets with a player whether the player is in the mood to work out intensely or whether it should be a shorter session. Some workouts are group sessions with several basketball players, and others are just him and a single player. Ravin’s approach is to always stay cool and never raise his voice.
Each of Ravin’s drills — like one aimed at improving peripheral vision, in which he stands to a dribbling player’s side and holds up numbers for him to call out — are designed to make the difficult routine. Ravin compared the drills to a student trying to take an SAT in half an hour.
“If I score almost as good as I did in three hours, then I would get nearly a perfect score if I have more time,” Ravin said. “That’s kind of my philosophy in terms of training.
“It’s a subconscious man’s game. You don’t have time to process information and go: ‘What should I do? Should I do this or that?’ Everything moves so fast, you have to use your subconscious a lot in order to act. That only happens when you go through so many situations and know how to pair things.”
Along the way, Ravin has become a confidant to Stoudemire and Anthony. He accompanied Stoudemire on his summer pilgrimage to Israel (both of Ravin’s parents were born there). He attended Anthony’s wedding, where Chris Paul, another client, made a toast to a hopeful Knicks union between Paul, Anthony and Stoudemire. And Ravin mourned with Anthony at his sister’s funeral in December.
When Anthony was traded to the Knicks, Ravin knew that harmony with Stoudemire would not bloom overnight. But his theory as to why differs from most. The concern over chemistry, Ravin said, is overblown in sports. N.B.A. players are used to playing with strangers, having done so since they were young. They immediately know the ball hog, the one with the bad hands, the one who can be trusted, Ravin said.
“If anything, it’s kind of more getting the bigger picture,” Ravin said. “You’re changing the routine that you followed for so long. It’s no longer that I’m driving down the Denver highway to get to the arena. It’s no longer that I know when my coach scratches his head that I know that he’s irritated. There’s so many pieces to the organization, to the culture, that players have to adjust. Not just having a feel for a player on the court.”
Ravin is keeping a close eye on the series with Boston. He says he knows when Anthony is about to get hot and when Stoudemire is readying to shoot his improved jumper. Although they are now paired with the Knicks, Ravin has not worked out Anthony and Stoudemire together. The chance may arrive this summer.
“I hope to,” Ravin said. “It’ll be fun.”
Almost as much fun, perhaps, as Stoudemire and Anthony finding a way to beat the Celtics.