With no end to the NBA shutdown in sight, Kings head coach Luke Walton held his first media scrum in nearly six weeks. Of course, it was via conference call due to social distancing regulations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Walton has been spending this downtime with his family in Sacramento. He spends his mornings homeschooling his kids and even has a trick that other parents might want to give a shot.

“I’m teaching math to my son and he kept on getting bored with math,” Walton explained. “So what we did is we turned it into, if he gets the question right, I let him, from like 10 feet away, I let him throw a volleyball at me when we’re all done.”

The pair keep score and it’s acted as both a motivation for Walton’s son to get better at math, but also to get out of bed bright and early.

“He wakes up every morning and he can’t wait to get to it because at the end of it, he gets to throw a volleyball at his dad,” Walton added. 

This is kind of where we are at. With social distancing and limited exposure to others, it’s a moment to find some sort of self-motivation to pass the time. It’s also a moment where Walton can connect, not only with his children but his players, in a more meaningful way, although they won’t get to throw anything at him from their homes.

 

“A big part of what I believe in is player development, especially in today’s NBA,” Walton said. “Part of that is developing off the court as well, and this is a great time for some of those things.”

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Walton is encouraging his players to read books, watch/listen to podcasts and meditate. The team even has yoga sessions through Zoom. 

“We can’t, and we won’t force them, but it’s highly encouraged that our players are taking their time to continue to challenge themselves and grow in different areas,” Walton said. 

According to Walton, he was turned on to meditation when he played for Phil Jackson. The six-time NBA championship coach was known as the NBA’s “Zen Master” and his alternative coaching methods. 

“At first I thought it was crazy, but as I got older and grew and embraced it, I could see the benefits that it had,” Walton said. “There was so much that he understood about the game as a whole and how one thing affects the next and momentum and staying calm and collective, for the most part, through a competition being an effective way of winning, are things that I continue to work on myself and traits that I continue to pass on to the players I coach.”

Jackson was notorious for handing out books specifically tailored to his players. He found ways to connect well beyond the game on the floor, and his motivational techniques were legendary. 

Players are searching for answers at this point. Most of the Kings are so focused on reaching the next level, that sometimes they hamper their own development as human beings. 

“Usually I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to work more, to practice more, to work on a skillset more,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said on a recent episode of the Purple Talk podcast. “It was never enough. They tell me to leave the place, to leave the gym.”  

Bogdanovic has taken up reading in the evenings and he and his sister, who lives with him here in Sacramento, binge watch shows, including some in their native Serbian language.

This is an adjustment for everyone, but it might be a good thing for some of these hyper-focused individuals, who might benefit from expanding their minds to allow for a broader reality to set in. 

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That may mean taking a volleyball to the head, or picking up a kindle and reading something new. Maybe De’Aaron Fox will take an online cooking class. Maybe Marvin Bagley will find a new groove with R&B. The potential is endless.

 

If nothing else, the coronavirus should teach players that life is fleeting and there is much more than an orange ball and a large paycheck.