LeBron James's body is a shrine to humanity. It says, "This is what you could be, this is every human being's potential." Although you know that transforming yourself into a perfect human specimen is nearly impossible, James's physique reminds you and gives you hope that it's feasible.
His legs are tree trunks, fully formed and in the prime of their existence. His arms are tentacles with biceps. His shoulders are as wide as a mountain range pressed against the horizon. Seeing James in person is like watching a sleeping giant stir and rise right before your eyes.
I am none of these things. To use any analogy to describe my body would be to engage in hyperbole. I am 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, and though I go to the gym three or four times a week, I am far removed from the days of playing competitive sports. The last time I played basketball in a truly organized fashion was in middle school, when I looked like what a child might come up with if he or she were asked to draw a stick figure.
Which is why when I signed up for a one-on-one, private basketball training session with Nike Basketball during NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, I thought it wouldn't amount to anything more that a casual jaunt in the gym. In reality, the signs of the pain it would inflict on my body were there from the beginning.
I was informed I'd be testing some of Nike's "Royalty Collection," which includes signature shoes for James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, none of whom have taken it easy in the gym one day in their lives. After getting picked up from my hotel in downtown Toronto, I found a pair of LeBron 13s waiting for me on the floor beneath my seat. Caught up in their beauty, I failed to realize that this meant my workout would be inspired by a 6-foot-8, 250-pound behemoth.
I asked the driver how others before me looked when they returned to the car after their workouts. He paused.
"Exhausted," he said in a thick Russian accent before chuckling. It was like I had been inserted into the plot of a low-budget horror flick, and this was the moment my character realizes he is about to be snuffed.
Still, out of the car I jumped and into the locker room I strolled, blissfully ignorant of everything that lay ahead. As I got dressed in my gear, a nearby iPad spewed Future, Beyonce and Drake as my soundtrack. I bobbed my head, still unaware of the dangers to come. When I was done getting ready, a Nike rep ushered me down a few stairs to the doors of a dingy practice gym, opened them, said "good luck," and was gone. It was then, finally, that I understood my fate.
Inside the gym stood two men dressed in black, and though they were only wearing training gear, not executioner's masks, it felt ominous. Behind them lay an assortment of medicine balls, speed ladders and resistance bands.
One of the trainers put me through a brief warm-up, which went fine, and then my true hell began.
The workout focused on explosiveness, a word often associated with LeBron James and rarely associated with anything I do aside from maybe vacuuming my living room. To become explosive on the court, you need both your legs and core to be strong, so we began with my core. With one end of a resistance band pulled taut by one of the trainers, I stood on the baseline and performed 12 reps of Standing Resisted Chest Presses, attempting to keep my arms straight and pushing them directly out in front of my chest. Then I had to perform 12 reps of Resisted Core Rotations on each side of my body. Then I repeated that circuit.
Not dead yet.
Next, one end of the band was looped around my waist, and a trainer held the other end behind me to provide resistance while I did a series of dribbling drills through the ladder. Once I was through, I had to sprint to the hoop and complete five layups, alternating between my left and right hands, while my trainer pulled me backwards like he was Dwight Howard tossing me out of the way. I then went through the resistance band core circuit again, followed by a repeat of the resisted dribbling drills, this time from the left side of the hoop.
At this point, the difference between being in shape and being in basketball shape became abundantly clear, as did my realization that I was nowhere near the latter. I had to pause during my reps of the second circuit of the band resistance exercises. My form suffered. So much sweat was rolling off my body I thought I might cease to exist as a person. I took the offer of a two-minute break and a swig of water as quickly as a man who had spent 48 hours straight trekking across the desert.
As I began to regret ever getting out of my hotel room bed, I was informed that we were not done. And not the "hey, you just need to stretch it out and then we're finished" kind of not done. More like the "hey, we have another set of exercises that will probably break you" kind of not done. I took a deep breath, wrote a letter in my head to my parents telling them I loved them, and walked gingerly back to the baseline.
Facing my other trainer, Cedric Carter, with the resistance band wrapped around both our waists, I was instructed to backpedal to the free-throw line while holding a med ball above my head. Once I arrived at the charity stripe (a cruel name for it in this scenario), I passed the ball to Carter and performed five Bodyweight Squats. Getting the med ball back, I continued on my path to halfcourt, where I performed 10 Bodyweight Squats. Once I reached the opposite free-throw line, 15 Bodyweight Squats, then 20 more at the opposite baseline before sprinting back to the start. I then repeated the entire circuit.
I don't remember much of this part. I think I blacked out. I could hear my body screaming at me, wondering what I was doing to it and why I wasn't eating doughnut holes at Tim Horton's. I think I swore out loud several times. I told the trainers they were ruining my weekend, which was only half in jest. By the time I completed my 100th Bodyweight Squat, I couldn't feel my legs. I don't know why I didn't topple over or storm out in protest, but I didn't. I had one more dribbling drill to go before my session ended, but that felt like nothing compared to what I'd just done.
When the carnage was over, I shook my trainers' hands and resisted lying face down on the floor until I got back to the locker room. I showered, changed into some after-workout gear Nike had left for me and got back into the car to head back to my hotel.
"How was it?" my driver asked. I paused before answering. I wanted to say it was excruciating, and that my legs felt more like overcooked noodles than human extremities. But I didn't say that. I am not LeBron James, but for one hour, I worked out like him and made it out alive.
"It was good," I replied, as we sped off back toward the city.
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