Imagine seeing the game before it happens. Absorbing the buzz of the crowd, listening in on huddles, high-fiving during substitutions, calling out help defense, envisioning plays you plan to run or passes you plot to steal.
Now envision using what you’ve just created in a video game, recording it, pairing it with your game notes, and using it at as a visual to help prepare you for the game.
All the while, using it as an extension of your meditation habits.
“I haven’t heard of nobody doing this,” Trey Burke smirks, before getting ready to divulge his inventive game preparation. “I’m sure a lot of people are probably going to start doing this in the league.”
The night before the Sixers played the Oklahoma City Thunder, Burke did what he does the night before every game.
He loads up his season on NBA 2K, he chooses his team — the Sixers, of course — and precisely customizes the audio settings to his liking. Player chatter volume is turned all the way up, crowd volume up, and commentary volume down — as realistic as he can get to simulating the live sounds of the NBA arena he’s preparing to play in the following day. Next, he changes the camera setting to focus on one player — himself, and wherever he is on the court, even if say, he’s on defense, and far from play action.
Burke then sets up his cell phone to record the game that he’s about to play, including the audio and commentary of his own voice, while he plays.
“I am actually talking as if I’m on the court, and I use our terminology, I get real descriptive with it,” Burke said.
“If my man is off the ball, I’m yelling out, ‘I’m off the ball, I’m off the ball!’ … And I know my minutes and when I’m going to be in, so I won’t sub myself in until that time. I try to be real precise with it.”
“I think it’s a great way to see yourself in the moment,” Burke then corrects himself. “Or see yourself before you get in the moment.”
Sensing my curiosity, Burke pulled out his phone and proceeded to show me snippets of a 30-minute recording of Sunday night’s NBA 2K session. As Burke scrubs through, I can hear his voice yelling out things like "Got your help," "Got your back," or really anything that he would naturally say during a game. He shows me a play where he gambles on a steal, and in real time, thanks the "big fella" (Joel Embiid) for having his back.
"Stick to the game plan," Burke says when he messes up on defense. But when he does something good, he makes sure to replay it, reiterate it in his mind.
Burke has a tab for each game in his notes section on his phone, where he pairs the video with his game notes.
“It’s like game visual, with the game plan, the real game plan … and all the way up to the game I’m watching that, watching that, seeing myself be successful with my time.”
Burke uses the recording as visualization imagery, something he has practiced since he was a sophomore in high school.
“All visualization imagery really is, is tricking your subconscious mind,” Burke said. “Your subconscious doesn’t know the difference between what you’re looking at and when you actually get out there.”
Burke also has a Bluetooth stereo system in his bathroom, and remember that NBA2K recording that Burke takes with his phone — a mixture of NBA2K sounds and his own voice? Sometimes he’ll put that on while he’s in the bath, close his eyes and visualize the game.
“A lot of people, they talk about being able to visualize and imagery and all that is weird, and if you’re a fly on the wall watching it, it does look weird,” Burke said. “But it works. I know it works. I’m a true believer that it works.”
Mindfulness and tapping into your subconscious is something Burke has been fascinated with since he was a sophomore in high school. When Burke was a teenager, his cousins introduced him to The Secret, a movie about the "law of attraction," using your thoughts to influence events and attract certain outcomes, which he says changed his whole perspective on life.
By his junior year, prior to his high school varsity basketball games, Burke could be found sitting in the corner of the locker room, eyes closed, legs crossed.
“My teammates would be like, ‘T.B., what are you doing??’ And these are my boys that I grew up with … And I would tell them, I'm visualizing, I'm trying to meditate. Trying to calm my mind before I go out on the court, trying to see the outcome that I want to see before I do it physically. I can explain it better now, I'm sure I wasn't explaining it like that back then.”
Other times, Burke would ignore them.
“A part of me wanted to get through to them that I am serious about my preparation, so I'm not going to giggle with y'all and laugh with y'all like I usually would, because I am really trying to clear my mind from all the clutter and focus in on what I want to see. And I would get results.”
By his senior season, Burke was on his way to becoming Ohio’s Mr. Basketball, and his teammates were even more curious about this whole meditation thing.
“My teammates are coming to me like, how do you do that?”
It was the night before a big basketball game and Burke was at his teammates’ house around the corner from Northland High School, where he grew up in Columbus, Ohio.
Burke suggested they all try to meditate together.
“Remember, visualization wasn't big at the time … not when I was in high school.”
“So we turned on some meditation music, and I kind of instructed them through it. Imagine me being the teacher … I’m telling them to literally think about nothing and while you're doing that, control your breathing as best as you can … inhale as long as you can, exhale as long as you can, while you are doing that, focus on your breath and that helps you think about nothing.”
While Burke relives the moment, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath himself.
“Once you get into the quiet silence, it's easy to think about all the bad things that are going on in your life, but I feel like the easiest way to think about nothing is to focus on your breath, listen to it, try to become your breath, as weird as that might sound,” Burke said, eyes still closed.
“When I got them into that state, that's when I transformed it into, OK, who do we play next?” Burke said. He would tell them to visualize the opposing players, the colors of their jerseys, the layout of the gym. “Picture us running out of the tunnel, picture us getting hyped to the music.”
Burke instructs them to stay in that moment as if they are really there. Go through the warmup line, shake your teammates' hands, go through the starting lineups.
Most importantly, stay patient, don’t skip steps and try to be as “descriptive as possible because that’s how you get the most out of it.”
“After that I could feel how empowered they felt. They were all so intrigued by it. It brings a different type of confidence. You get on the court now with your opponent and you've already seen the game the way I want to see it. Now all I need to do is just play.”
“We were seeing results, we were going far, guys were getting scholarships and I feel like visualization had a lot to do with the confidence we played with as a team.”
Through the roller coaster of Burke’s professional NBA career, visualization has been a constant.
“I think it's more precise now,” Burke said. “There is more pressure in the NBA, more you've got to deal with on a day-to-day basis and more responsibilities off the court, so I've got to be way more precise now,” which is why he’s so diligent about setting aside the 60-90 minutes to visualize the night before games.
In addition to using NBA2K as imagery, he often sits with his headphones on, listening to “NBA crowds” or “NBA music,” that he’s cued up from YouTube searches.
DEE-Fence! *clap *clap
Or sometimes, he’ll just search meditation music.
“It's not as easy as it sounds because a lot of people get impatient with it. I'm one of those guys that used to get impatient. I want to see the results right now, but it takes time of messing up, failing at it a few times, and the more you stay consistent with it. I've seen some miraculous things happen just because I stay consistent with it.”
And staying patient is something Burke has had his fair share of practice with throughout his seven years in the NBA.
After Burke was traded from the Utah Jazz to the Washington Wizards and struggled to find a consistent role, he was caught second guessing himself, and his love for the game.
“I had multiple days (in D.C.) where it's like man, I don't want to go through this anymore, it's not for me, I'm not having fun with it, and if I'm not having fun with it, why would I keep doing it?
But, Burke’s high school sweetheart, and now wife, De’Monique, was there to encourage him, and with his son, TJ, in the picture, he had all the motivation to keep pushing.
“All of those factors play a big part in me not just diving off the deep end, but man, did I have those days.”
“There was times where I lost sight of the big picture, and my purpose in playing basketball and when that happened in D.C., going into that offseason, I'm searching now, what team is next?”
The next summer, Burke was about to get an ego check. He knew he wasn’t going back to D.C. and he wasn’t getting anything other than training camp offers.
He woke up at 5 a.m. every morning that offseason to train with his long-time trainer Anthony Rhodman. Running the sand dunes in Santa Monica and following that up with work in the weight room.
Oklahoma City came to him with a training camp offer.
“My agent at the time was telling me, you're ready to take it, right?” Burke remembers, before declining. “He was like what do you mean? You don't have anything else.”
Burke wanted to be in a bigger market, and he was ready to do something out of his comfort zone to get there.
Burke knew Scott Perry, the general manager of the New York Knicks, during his collegiate career at Michigan and throughout the draft process.
So, Burke picked up the phone.
Perry said there weren’t any roster spots open, but they were having open gyms and told him to come by.
Burke played well, but in his words, not well enough where “it was like a no-brainer, like we have to have this kid. I was disappointed because my expectation was to leave them with a different type of impression, like we need what he brings.”
Shortly thereafter, the former lottery pick agreed to a G-League contract with the Westchester Knicks.
“At that time, I never saw the G-League as being an option and that's why I said it’s an ego check. … When I had to go that route, it helped me block out anything else that wasn't important, social media, opinions of others, I had to put that to bed, to rest, literally look at myself in the mirror and see what the issue was. What was it that was stopping me from being the best version of myself? What do I need to do to get back to the top of my game?”
After excelling in the G League, and on his way to the G-League showcase, Burke got a call that he’ll never forget.
“We're calling you up,” Burke remembers of the call. “I remember like it was yesterday.”
“It's just a big part of my story,” Burke said of the ups and downs he’s faced throughout his career. “And I still believe my story is getting written, even here.”
Now in Philly, Burke gets the chance to rep the jersey of his childhood idol.
“That heart he played with, easily,” Burke said of what drew him most to Allen Iverson. “I feel like I have that same heart. It's just figuring out how to (channel it), and he did it so effortlessly, every game. I feel like I show it in flashes, that still bothers me. How do I show that every game?”
Burke says his edge has always been playing with a chip on his shoulder, like Iverson.
“I think growing up watching Iverson and the emotion and passion that he played with, I'm trying to channel that and I'm still trying to figure out how to do that the best way for me.”
“We come into the league and we look at the guys that got it right away, and you want it to be like that. But everyone’s journey is different, and that has stuck with me.”
“I feel like I've got so much more to bring to the table, but I'm patient, I know that it's a process and this is just my journey.”
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