A couple weeks back, the good folks at Nike asked if I would consider participating in an intensive, month-long, basketball training program surrounding the launch of the new LeBron X+ Sport Pack — the first signature basketball shoe to implement the Nike + digital technology — with a select group of my journalism peers. Immediately, I felt inclined to confirm my membership into the Swoosh’s exclusive club, because in reality, an opportunity like this doesn’t arise often.
I consider myself to be a quasi-athletic individual, but in recent months, work has trumped my scheduled outings to open-runs across the city. Like many who were inspired by the Wieden + Kennedy helmed ‘Find Your Greatness’ commercials over the summer, I too became motivated to shed the sedentary lifestyle of a freelance writer. I became a privileged member of Nike’s private Rivington basketball court in NYC’s Lower East Side and was on my way back to being in shape. My rededication was short-lived, however. After a month of breaking sweats, the court was dismantled, and by summer’s end I returned to my daily routine of building muscles in my fingers.
So, when my new LeBron X+’s arrived in the mail last week from Portland, I decided to fully commit myself to the month-long training program. That meant waking up at 6:30 a.m., every Tuesday in October, and getting transported to Manhattan’s newly minted Basketball City. A black duffle bag —which contained the full Nike BasketballPlus uniform (shorts and jersey), a pair of Nike Elite socks and a warm-up jacket with my last name embroidered on the front chest—sat in front of my locker. After greeting ten of my esteemed colleagues from various publications and outlets, I quickly changed clothes, and laced up my LeBron X "Crown Jewels" and began the inaugural session.
The X+, revealed this past summer, syncs to an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad Tablet, and breaks down an individual’s game. It allows one to interactively track, analyze, and socially share their in-game activity. Designed by the creative minds behind Nike’s Innovative Kitchen –the same creators of the Nike+ FuelBand– the X+ sneakers measure how high, how hard and how quick users play the game. Information is then sent back to the player, giving them a basis from which to improve.
While we were shooting around, waiting to be introduced to our trainer, I recognized some familiar faces: Ben Osborne, editor-in-chief of SLAM; Collin Orcutt, senior producer at SI.com; and the homie Rich “Maze” Lopez, founder/publisher of KiX and the City. For a moment, there’s a bit of a reality check when you happen to be amongst a group of magazine and digital editors. Easily, one might assume that these desk jocks — who report on all-basketball-everything 24/7 from a cubicle — wouldn’t even be able to shoot, let alone handle with the rock properly. But in fact, the majority of this group of journalists had game. Although, most of my colleague’s shots from the field veered towards a low percentage, for the most part, I was able to decipher who was on point and who wasn’t.
Once suited up, we were introduced to our trainer— Daryl “D-Train” Smith. For the last several years he's served as a featured trainer for Brand Jordan and Nike. He’s also a coach/trainer for many of the nation’s elite high school, college and professional basketball players. After initial group introductions, D-Train walked us through a series of warm-up basketball drills to get the blood flowing and the body stretched out to prevent injury. Following a light regimen (which included jogging, high-knee kicks, walking-push ups, squats, hip-flexors and groin stretches), the tempo accelerated to rapid paced footwork, where a makeshift ladder was spread across the gym floor. The intense five-minute drill is designed to strengthen leg coordination and balance.
When D-Train divided the group into two teams of five for full-court action, I was confident that my squad, comprised of Ben and Zach McCann (of ESPN.com’s Playbook) would have a decisive advantage against Maze and Collin’s team.
As we awaited the opening tip-off at mid-court, I received a hip-check from Maze suggesting that this would be a competitive outing. After we controlled the tip, Zach knocked in a corner baseline 3-pointer. Cash. Next time down the floor, I cut back door for an easy layup for an early 2-0 lead. Although, Maze's team made it competitive, we stayed away from the collective clumsiness and flailing elbows. Both sides missed a lot of shots. We dribbled the ball off our feet and made our errant out-of-bounds passes appear as if it was someone’s fault other than our own. After a stretch of truly embarrassing plays, Ben, Zach and I began to sync and started moving the ball as a real team. The points started to pile up on our side, but our lack of defense kept the other team close. After three spirited games, the teams ended up splitting victories. And the final game ended in a tie.
After that, we were instructed to reset the ‘Track My Game’ mode on our iPhone’s and iPod’s to track our performance. In the combined 28 minutes of play, I accumulated 558 Nike fuel points, my vertical peaked again at 22.8 and my fastest time was 6.9 seconds on the court.
Not bad for the first day.