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NBA exec: 'It's the dirty little secret that everybody knows about'

this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; IT'S THE AFTERNOON of Feb. 26, during a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, and Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside is on a roll. Tomorrow night, his Heat will host the Golden State Warriors, then fly to Houston to face the Rockets on Feb. ...

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Old 10-15-2019, 05:08 AM   #1
 
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NBA exec: 'It's the dirty little secret that everybody knows about'

IT'S THE AFTERNOON of Feb. 26, during a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, and Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside is on a roll. Tomorrow night, his Heat will host the Golden State Warriors, then fly to Houston to face the Rockets on Feb. 28. But now he's rattling off what time the Warriors game will end (10 p.m.), when they'll board their flight (11:30 or later), when they'll land in Houston (2 a.m.) and arrive at the hotel -- he figures it'll be 3 -- before playing the Rockets later that day. "And that's just what we've got tomorrow," he says.

Sleep matters, Whiteside says -- it matters a lot. It "could be the difference between you having a career game or playing terrible." But therein lies the conundrum of NBA life. For something so important, it's remarkably elusive. As Whiteside says: "It's just so hard to get the sleep that you need."

To fight back, he says he hopes to grab a few hours of sleep on the plane to Houston. He hopes the hotel bed there is OK, though that's never a guarantee. He hopes the melatonin he often takes will help him snooze, though that isn't easy after games. But even with that, is it possible within the current NBA schedule to obtain consistent, quality sleep?

"Nah," Whiteside says. "It's impossible. It's impossible."

Fatigue has long been a reality of life in the NBA, a league with teams that play 82 games in under six months and fly up to 50,000 miles per season -- roughly 20,000 more miles each season than NFL teams and far enough to circle the globe twice. Over the 2018-19 season, the average NBA team played every 2.07 days, had 13.3 back-to-back sets and flew the equivalent of 250 miles a day for 25 straight weeks.

Some in the league, from players and coaches to training personnel, have begun to suspect that the toll extracted by the NBA grind -- the combination of the sport's physical demands, the circadian disruptions, the six to eight months of travel across time zones -- is not fully appreciated. Some of those specialists have begun compiling data. And that data suggests that sleep deprivation is the NBA's silent scourge -- a pox on the bodies and minds of NBA athletes, with impacts both wide and deep.

One NBA GM calls it a "very big issue." Another GM adds, "We have a large population of vampires as it is -- add in the travel and it's more so. We all want better solutions to this." Says a third, "It is a real problem for the entire league."

When asked to address the issue, the NBA provided a statement that declared that "player health and wellness continues to be a major focus for the NBA" and noted its "significant game schedule changes, an investment in a new airline charter program, a focus on mental health and wellness, and the advancement of wearable technology. ... Sleep is an area we look at closely as part of this effort."

Still, despite the league's best efforts -- lengthening its schedule in recent years, reducing back-to-backs for five straight seasons (down to an average of 12.4 per team in the coming season), eliminating four-in-five stretches, reducing the nationally televised games that tip off at 10:30 p.m. ET, creating more rest days -- sleep deprivation remains what one high-ranking league source intimately involved with player health calls "our biggest issue without a solution."

"It's the dirty little secret that everybody knows about."

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