Hornets’ Steve Clifford opens up about severe headaches that forced time away

Kurt Helin
NBC Sports

“For me, sleeping well could mean the difference between putting up 30 points and living with 15.”

That was Steve Nash, one of the biggest and earliest proponents of sleep in the league. Because of the long season and travel, the NBA is a recovery league and veteran players understand how eating right and getting sleep plays a big part of that. As teams use more and more technology, more detailed physiological tracking and science to improve their players, they have pushed for more sleep — changing around traditional travel schedules, canceling morning shootarounds, and more. Nash always got his eight hours. Kobe Bryant was big on getting sleep. Many NBA players use naps on game days to help their bodies recover.

Coaches often don’t get that time.

Charlotte’s Steve Clifford didn’t. NBA coaches are workaholics in general, especially the guys who did not come out of an NBA background like Clifford. He played Division III ball, coached in Division II, and when he got a chance on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff (and later Stan Van Gundy’s) he outworked everyone. He became a respected head coach who earned his gig, but he put in the work to get there. Sleep was the casualty.

That lack of sleep led to headaches, which is what forced him away from the team. Clifford opened up about all of this to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN in a fantastic, must-read piece.

“But this issue now, the headaches, was not even close to the heart (where he had stents put in years before). That week before I stepped away, and that morning in the office, it scared me. It was much more significant than the heart was, and I’ve never had anything physically that concerned me as much as this did….

“For the most part, the diagnosis was sleep deprivation,” Clifford told ESPN. “The headaches and the cause of the headaches were a lack of regular sleep and the stress that goes along with coaching. There were two ways to treat it: Stronger medication or stepping away from coaching, stopping the travel, getting regular sleep, diet and exercise.

“But getting on medication would only be a Band-Aid. It could get me through another day, a week, a month, but here was my decision: Long-term health versus coaching right now.”

Clifford, wisely, chose to get healthy. It took months of regular sleep — including naps — and changing other aspects of his life to get right. Not having the stress of coaching helped.

Next Wednesday he returns to the sideline, but with a management plan and a new outlook — Clifford is going to get his sleep. He’s going to take care of himself, and the Hornets — he has to do one to do the other.

It’s something a lot of us could learn from.

It’s worth your time to read the entire story.

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