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Ball Don't Lie

The Suns are healing players by freezing them

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Steve Nash gets normal, non-cryogenic help from a trainer (Barry Gossage/ Getty).

The training staff of the Phoenix Suns has a near-mythic reputation in NBA circles. Not only have they extended the prime of Steve Nash beyond what used to be considered reasonable, but they've also healed the brittle ankles of Grant Hill, returned Amar'e Stoudemire to stardom after microfracture surgery, and generally keep their players in good shape. They're good enough that many people have suggested the Suns would do well to sign ghost center Greg Oden to a new deal, if only because they have the only training staff that could possibly keep him relatively healthy.

These are people who look for any edge to help their players stay on the court. They must also be huge fans of the 1993 blockbuster "Demolition Man," because they're now freezing their players to rehabilitate them (clarification: their injuries, not their bloodlust). From Paul Coro for The Arizona Republic (via RealGM):

Yet, every Suns player this season has subjected his body to a temperature of minus-274 degrees while standing dry in a padded chamber.

The Suns are freezing their players off the court so that they will move more freely on the court. Cryotherapy has entered the NBA vernacular, and the Suns are one of four teams to have a cryosauna in their facility for a chilling training approach.

With the franchise's $50,000 investment in the equipment, Suns players are stepping into a nitrogen gas cylindrical chamber that accelerates and intensifies a process previously left to 12 minutes in an ice bath. [...]

Players, while standing, rotate every 30 seconds. Bursts of gas blow from the interior sides of the unit to surround the player's body, starting out at minus-166 degrees and quickly cooling to between minus-256 and minus-274. The machine is capable of dipping to minus-320.

The hyper-cold temperature shocks the body, sending it into "survival mode," Suns head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson said. The immune system prompts blood to rush away from the extremities to protect the vital organs in the player's core, where the blood is oxygen- and nutrient-enriched. Once the three minutes in the chamber ends, the body relaxes from the stress and sends the enriched blood to areas it is needed, such as fatigued muscles.

The article does not note anything about healing players' minds through needlepoint, but we can only assume that Marcin Gortat is now able to knit a throw rug with his eyes closed.

The effect of the cryosauna is similar to that of an ice bath, just with a shorter length of treatment. The idea isn't so much to improve the care itself, but to make it more efficient, freeing players up to work on other parts of their games (or just relax) while also increasingly the likelihood they'll seek out help. It's an obvious choice for everyone on the roster.

If the cryosauna continues to prove itself effective, it's likely that the other 26 teams not using it will follow suit, at which point it'll be standard rather than an innovation. But given the methods of the Suns staff, by that time they'll have found a different edge. Their strength is in continued innovation, not standing pat with a few tricks.

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