DALLAS – For those attending any of the Dallas Mavericks’ practice sessions, there’s a competitive game being played at the end of those sessions by guard Jalen Brunson and center Dwight Powell that goes on almost unnoticed.
The game not only challenges the players’ brain power and intellect, but there’s a degree of difficulty involved that makes it even harder to master. That difficulty involves Powell and Brunson having to not only make a 3-point basket, but to make it without the ball making any connection with the rim.
So how does it work?
“We’ll pick a topic, the first guy shoots, and let’s say the topic is kids’ TV shows,” Brunson said. “I would say ‘SpongeBob,’ and I’ve got to shoot. If I miss it, it’s Dwight’s turn. If I make it without swishing it, it’s still his turn. If I swish it, Dwight has to say a TV show and he has to swish it.
“If he makes it but doesn’t swish it, he has to think of another (kids’) TV show, and he gets another shot. He can keep shooting as long as he keeps making it. But once he swishes it, then it’s even. Until, he misses it, I win.”
The list of topics the players chose ranged from a litany of possibilities spanning the globe, including rivers, mountains or flags.
“We did one that was Christmas topics – things specially related to Christmas,” Powell said. “We’ve done countries, cities, residents, cars.
“We’ve done beverages, sandwiches, we’ve done fast food menu items. We’ve done items that can only be found on an appetizer section of the menu at the restaurant.”
Brunson and Powell started the game earlier this season. Then, something unusual happened.
“They ran out of topics, so that’s how I got involved,” said Don Kalkstein, the director of sports psychology for the Mavs. “So, every day when we’re ready to shoot I’ve got about 10-15 topics that I have, and they’re allowed to throw the red card, meaning they don’t have to take that topic.
“Each one of them has one red card and we go from there. They play five spots, and that’s why I bring 10 (red) cards.”
Asked if the questions are as difficult as the ones on Jeopardy, Kalkstein said: “It’s more like Scattergories, where I give them a title and they have to just come up with something that we all know. So, if they were playing for United States capitals, the other person has to know that it’s available.
“But that’s an easy one, because everyone knows capitals.”
Indeed, every now and then a topic would stump Brunson or Powell.
“We’ve done towns with the states that begin with the letter ‘A’,” Kalkstein said, while having a conversation with Powell, who was sitting nearby. “Remember, we solved the easy ones in Arkansas? Little Rock.
“Remember, I had to give Brunson the hint about Fayetteville? That DA was from a town that. . .”
Kalkstein was referring to Mavs assistant coach, Darrell Armstrong, who played his college basketball at Fayetteville State University.
Powell: “DK is very involved.”
The sophisticated system obviously gets the players’ competitive juices flowing. And, of course, there’s the technical issue of whether the basketball actually swished nothing but net, or did it manage to barely graze a portion of the rim?
“It gets very competitive and it gets you thinking a lot,” Brunson said. “You see us sometimes just standing out there for like two minutes thinking of something.
“It kind of gets your mind away from — not just basketball — it gets your mind away from focusing on the shot. It’s like a game where there’s a lot going on and then all of a sudden you have the opportunity to shoot a shot, so you have to be mentally ready.”
Of course, any time there’s any kind of game that involves NBA players, a measured amount of trash talking is naturally part of the equation.
“We try to get each other off each other’s game a little bit,” Brunson said. “So, it’s pretty cool.”
No one will admit if there are any side wagers taking place. But they will admit that a good time is had by all.
“They all have their own challenges,” Powell said. “The purpose is to serve as somewhat of a distraction.
“It’s a good way to get some shots up. It’s focused shots. It’s not just makes. You have to get a perfect swish in order for the shot to count.”
And whenever there’s an issue involving an answer to a particular question, the players have that covered, too. It’s called the cell phone. . .and Google or Wikipedia.
“We have our rebounders or our interns basically check it,” Brunson said. “If it’s a seriously questionable thing, we’ll look it up before we shoot it. So usually guys know, and we just have people always making sure we have the right answer.
“One day we did cities below the equator. That was very tough. You think you know a lot, but you don’t know all of that.”
Kalkstein admits the game is partly a cerebral experience and partly fun. And he said it could help Powell and Brunson in other areas of their life – not just on the basketball court.
“We were just talking about different cruise lines,” Kalkstein said, referring to another topic Brunson and Powell pursued. “You can’t just make up a cruise line without somebody knowing it.
“They’re thinking at the same time, but while they don’t notice, they’re not focusing necessarily on the outcome. And that’s really what we try to teach the athlete is work to the process, the outcome is either going to be in or out.”
For Powell and Brunson, they’re certainly all-in. And when the games begin, they definitely put on an intellectual sharp-shooting show for those who are watching.
“We did coffee table games like board games or card games, and we did kids’ TV shows and then kids’ games,” Brunson said. “It’s a pretty nice little ritual we do.”