Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter, rarely tight-lipped on any subject, stiffened up at the mere mention of the topic.
“We’re not supposed to tell anyone about this,” he said.
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The Celtics have been holding frequent Zoom video conferences for players to gather and maintain chemistry while everyone is social distancing with the NBA season suspended. In those sessions, the team has invited some A-list celebrities to tell stories to the players. But players were told not to reveal any details to prying reporters.
That list, Danny Ainge confirmed Wednesday, includes everyone from Hollywood stars Mark Wahlberg, LL Cool J and Ken Jeong, to former Harvard Business professor James Cash Jr., to former NFL safety-turned Boston-based neurosurgeon Myron Rolle.
Ainge had mentioned the presence of motivational speakers in a conference call with Celtics reporters on Wednesday and then turned coy when pressed on the matter, noting he didn’t want the team's guests to “get bombarded,” by others about their visits.
But then Ainge spilled the beans.
"We’ve had Mark Wahlberg, he was great. He was a lot of fun, had some really good stories,” said Ainge. "LL Cool J, his story is pretty fascinating. Jim Cash, who is always magnificent to listen to, had some great wisdom and knowledge for the players. And we had Dr. Myron Rolle, who has a fascinating story here at Mass General. So, yeah, we’ve had some very inspirational speakers.”
Celtics players have noted how the virtual huddles have helped players keep in contact and maintain the chemistry since the season paused last month.
Just don’t ask them to offer many details about those celebrity visits.
“I’ll say this, it has been amazing,” said Kanter. “I think [the guests] are just giving us so much motivation, so much joy that reaches you because, those conference calls, that’s where we all get together and share our new routines and what we’re doing. I think it’s been so much fun.”
As for keeping players engaged, Ainge said that quarantine life has put the onus on the players, with the team offering as much support from afar as possible.
"This is a time for the really self-motivated that are going to be able to take advantage of this opportunity in their career to get stronger, to get in greater condition,” said Ainge. "We’re approaching this like we’re going to return to play and we’re going to be playing playoff basketball. So we are staying in touch, we are having conference calls where we have guest speakers, motivational speakers who address all of our guys on Zoom.
"We are doing workouts with the coaches and with the strength coaches via Zoom and so forth. So we’re trying to do all we can. Some players are better than others at doing things on their own and doing extra work, and some players are more compliant than others, some are harder to reach than others, but for the most part, I’ve been impressed with how our players have bought in and the work that’s going on behind the scenes.”
When a reporter suggested at the tail end Ainge’s 20-minute call, that it was unfair that players were getting the likes of LL Cool J and we were stuck with Ainge, the general manager playfully fired back.
“Next time, can you get me some inspirational people? Like, these questions are horrible,” Ainge (half?-) joked. "I’d like to have some inspiration on the other side of this call.”