Sometimes when we see NBA players entertain us with their talent and athleticism, we can forget that they are human beings, too.
But in these unprecedented times, they are as susceptible as anybody else to the physical problems that COVID-19 can present.
And the mental toll it can take.
Many NBA players have lamented that living in a portable bubble, which essentially is what teams do on the road now, is making their lives and their jobs that much more difficult.
That’s where a guy like Don Kalkstein comes in. He’s the Mavericks’ director of sports psychology and has been with the team for 20 seasons.
He’s the sounding board and the thought processor when any Mavericks are feeling confused or just plain down about life in its present state.
If there was any doubt about his contributions, coach Rick Carlisle put them it in perspective before the Mavericks’ visit to Milwaukee Friday.
“Don Kalkstein is a huge part of our organization, a huge part of our day-to-day operation with basketball, the mental health with sports psychology,” Carlisle said. “He’s been enormously influential to the success of our franchise. He’s a guy that’s helped every single person on the staff, as well as all the players that have come through.”
Carlisle then rattled off Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry among the Mavericks who leaned heavily on Kalkstein in the past.
In today’s NBA, players deal with having to sequester in their hotel rooms on the road. Leaving the hotel is forbidden, except for games and practices. Even going from room to room is not allowed.
As Tim Hardaway Jr. said: “This COVID thing is really messing with some of these teams.”
And staying strong emotionally is a big part of getting any job done, which is where Kalkstein comes in. He has a way with people and he is well-versed in talking players through whatever personal issues they may be dealing with.
“There is no blueprint for how to mentally navigate a global health crisis,” Kalkstein said. “I work on the same techniques with the players and coaches as I would work on with anyone who might be having a difficult time.
“We talk about mindfulness and staying present. It’s important to concentrate on the things you can control and do your best to not burden yourself with the things you cannot control.”
It’s not always as easy to do as it is to preach. But the Mavericks have done a decent job so far of keeping their eyes on the ball. They are 6-5 while Kristaps Porzingis missed the first nine games and five other members of the rotation have missed the last three games because of coronavirus safety protocols.
“He’s just a very special guy,” Carlisle said. “The situation we’re in right now, we talk about it as a group, particularly with the increased restrictions per the players association and the league. It’s important to communicate the reasons why and let guys talk about it.”
Initially, there was some venting, Carlisle said. But players have realized as they watch teammates and peers across the league come down with the virus that there are reasons why the Mavericks and the NBA are doing what they are doing.
“It’s a matter of keeping themselves safe, their teammates safe and their families safe,” Carlisle said. “And to continue with the opportunity to work and play and coach and be part of the game we love.”
Home-road disparity: The Mavericks are playing a road-heavy schedule to start this season and that apparently is a good thing with most teams having no fans in the stands because of the coronavirus.
Through Friday’s games, 10 Western Conference teams had .500-or-better records on the road. The overall road record for West teams: 54-36.
The Eastern Conference has six teams over .500 on the road and a 37-51 overall road record.
Still, the comfy confines of home are hard to beat, Carlisle said.
“I think it’s an advantage to be home,” he said. “You’re not traveling, you’re in your own bed. There are definite advantages there.
“One of the things about this summer in Orlando – a lot of people were complaining about what was going to be going on down there. My thing was, hey, we’re talking about playing games and not having to travel . . . what’s wrong with that. That’s a pretty good deal.”
The NBA has tried to minimize time on the road as much as possible, scheduling a few consecutive games against the same team in the same city.
That helps. But the biggest overriding factor in the road success is that fans aren’t there. Teams have to find artificial ways to create a home-court advantage.
“Not having fans is definitely different,” Carlisle said. “Even the arenas that have them have so few that it’s not nearly the same as having a full house.
“You look at the Western Conference, it’s super deep. It’s going to be a slugfest. Even though you don’t have fans in the seats, mentally, you have to make a home court advantage.”