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Ball Don't Lie

Celtics coach Brad Stevens understands the importance of a good night’s sleep, he swears

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Jeff Green will get to sleep once he finishes signing all these weird basketballs (Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics went from high-end championship hopefuls to all-out NBA rebuilders in a span of a few weeks last summer, jettisoning Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and coach Doc Rivers in an attempt to clear payroll and start over. The process will be helmed by rookie head coach Brad Stevens, a bright and intelligent coach that has absolutely no experience on the pro level. Stevens’ admitted to burning the midnight oil mid-summer, talking up the work he needed to do to catch up to the NBA’s 30 teams, and 400-some players.

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This sort of flies in the face of the detailed work done by Dr. Charles Czeisler, who has advised the Celtics since 2009 under the guise of “The Sleep Doctor.” Dr. Czeisler’s work was lauded by Rivers a few years back, and he has Celtics el jefe Danny Ainge’s full blessing to change travel plans and encourage pregame naps alongside a hoped-for full night of sleep after an oddball NBA day. Thankfully for Ainge, and his players, Stevens is going against his own approach and following the advice of the good doctor.

From Baxter Holmes at the Boston Globe:

“It’s really important,” Stevens said of proper sleep. “It’s in a lot of ways, we all know it, but we don’t all know how it affects us physically. We all think we can get through on minimal sleep. The bottom line is, to be healthy, you need to have a rhythm.”

It can be hard to develop a rhythm in the NBA, given the routines. Night games usually don’t end until after 10 p.m. By the time players shower, dress, speak to the media, and eat dinner, it’s close to midnight. Most don’t fall asleep until well later, either because they’re too wired and/or out on the town. And if the team is traveling, players might not even arrive at the hotel in the next city until 3 a.m.

It’s the equivalent of working a 4 p.m.-midnight shift, and players often face 9 a.m. practices or 10 a.m. shootarounds as well. Czeisler said he learned the reason most teams follow that schedule is because it’s just what they’ve always done. But he also found that most teams considered lack of sleep as something elite athletes should be able to play through.

“It was as if you could just toss players into a plane like a piece of luggage and expect them to perform just as well after flying all night, as if they had actually gotten the sleep they need to perform at their best,” he said.

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The shootaround was created over 40 years ago by former NBA and ABA coach Bill Sharman, and it was genuinely and rightfully regarded as revolutionary back then, as a way to both work through a light practice, and prevent carousing the night before. The problem with the current iteration is that what was so right for 1971 may not be as right for 2013, especially considering the million-dollar pressures these teams are under.

I understand that the comment section with be whipping out its finest tiny violin, but the 4-to-midnight shift is a tough all regardless of the compensation, especially with strenuous competition and exercise (to say the least) are tossed into the middle part of that shift, and the expectation of a small team get-together (the shootaround) pitched for the morning after. It is too much to ask of the human body to crumple into bed just two hours after finishing participation in an NBA game, much less the dinner that follows. NBA players don’t just hit up the nightlife for cheap thrills and bottle service, they’re also doing it in a desperate attempt to wind down.

(They also hit up the nightlife for cheap thrills and bottle service, something we have no problem with just as long as they tip well and take a cab home.)

The Celtics, mired in a rebuilding process that could leave them with one of the worst records in the NBA, are a young team. And even if their disparate parts head off to other squads as the years roll on, shifting around shootarounds, practices, and travel times in an attempt to build up the sleepin’ hours is a good habit to establish.

Just as long as we’re not establishing a curfew. Because I hear there’s this place in New Orleans that …

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