It's two hours until game time, and Roy Hibbert is holding a pipe.
His teammates don't seem to notice. They're busy practicing pick-and-rolls on the hardwood in front of him. With a smile, Hibbert leans forward in his courtside chair and speaks to the man sitting to his left.
"This right here is the crème de la crème," Hibbert says.
Without another word, Hibbert stands up and places the pipe—a two-foot length of PVC tube roughly six inches in diameter—on the floor at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. He lays his body overtop, and then slides back and forth, rolling out his quads, glutes and hamstrings.
"That's for soft tissue quality," Shawn Windle, the Indiana Pacers' team trainer, tells a reporter nearby. "Improves his flexibility and mobility."
Hibbert's facial expressions alternate between purse-lipped slow breathing and the occasional grimace. After a few minutes of rolling on the PVC pipe—a more intense version of a foam roller used to break up muscle knots—he hops up off the floor and heads to the locker room to do dynamic mobility drills. Awhile later, he's back on the court, where Windle takes him through a series of assisted stretches.
A full hour passes before Hibbert does anything resembling a basketball move. He spends much of the time leading up to the evening's regular season matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers doing the little things—like stretching and performing mobility drills—that help him be a better athlete. And while his exceptional height may be the main reason why Hibbert reached the NBA, his efforts to improve his strength and stamina are what have made the All-Star center so successful in the league.
Hibbert stands 7'2" and has a muscular 280-pound build. Even from a distance, one sees that the "big man" isn't just tall. His shoulders are chiseled. His upper calves are thick (for a guy his height, at least). And are those veins on his biceps?
All that muscle didn't come easily to Hibbert. Entering his freshman year at Georgetown, he couldn't perform a Push-Up.
"In high school the tallest people I played against were 6'4". Everything came easy to me, so I didn't work hard," Hibbert says.
"I was always ashamed in the weight room," Hibbert adds. "The football guys would be in there lifting heavy weights—throwing up 275 or 300 pounds on the Bench Press and stuff like that. So I shied away."
That changed at Georgetown. It had to. After a subpar freshman season, his coach, John Thompson III, presented Hibbert with two options: improve or ride the bench. So he became a weight room regular, changing his body from a soft 272 to a solid 278 pounds, then leading the Hoyas to a Final Four appearance and becoming a sought-after draft prospect in the process.
"I was never a physical specimen," Hibbert says. "I'm still not. But I work hard, just trying to get stronger."
Today his Pacers' team plays to the big man's formidable strengths, using a coterie of quicker guards and forwards to cover the perimeter while Hibbert protects the paint. During the past regular season, he blocked 206 shots and sent countless others off-target by forcing shooters to launch the ball from less-than-ideal places on the court.
Hibbert's on-court dominance stems from a relentless work ethic off it. "What sets Roy apart is his attention to detail," says Windle. "That and his willingness to lift after games."
About a half-hour after every Pacers home game, Hibbert is in the team gym with Windle, performing a short but powerful workout. Usually, it starts with a big multi-joint lift, like Squats or Trap-Bar Deadlifts. "Then I'll do shoulder work, core and then maybe do some arms. 'Curls for the girls' or something like that," Hibbert says with a smile.
"It really is like flipping a switch for Roy," Windle adds. "When he walks in here, he's serious about getting quality work in. He takes the rest periods he's supposed to take. He doesn't try to rush the workout. He does everything you could ask for."
It may seem counterproductive for Hibbert to work on his strength after playing 35 minutes or more of intense basketball. He's bound to be fatigued. But post-game lifting gives him the best opportunity for recovery. After a 15- or 20-minute lifting session, he follows the same routine: ice down his muscles, drink a recovery shake, and see a trainer for a 30-minute massage. Only then does he leave Bankers Life Fieldhouse and head home.
Hibbert's off-season workouts are more involved. He sometimes works out three times a day. His mornings start with a breakfast planned by his nutritionist, Dr. Mike Roussell. Then he hits the gym for workout #1.
Coming off his 2012 All-Star campaign, Hibbert wanted to increase his strength and improve his footwork during the off-season, so his morning workouts focused on explosive movements like High Pulls, Clean-and-Jerks, Squats and Deadlifts. During one training session, the man who once couldn't do a Push-Up completed a 540-pound Trap Bar Deadlift three times.
"In the past few years, Roy's come a long way in terms of his strength development and body composition," Windle says. "The last couple of years we've been able to add a lot of strength and lean body mass."
Workout #2 is a basketball scrimmage. Then Hibbert drives to Streetmade Integrated Fight Academy, an MMA gym nine miles south of Banker Life Fieldhouse, for a third grueling workout session. He spends the first 30 minutes sparring with coach Nick Hyde, a trained Muay Thai boxer. Then he guts out a circuit workout of Box Step-Ups, Weighted Vest Jumping Jacks, Heavy Rope Training and Heavy Bag Punching.
"When you're playing basketball, you start off fresh," Hyde says. "Then as the game goes on, you have to reach down deep. It becomes more mental. You have to know when to pace yourself, and when to explode."
Toward the end of the circuit, Hibbert struggles to punch and elbow a heavy boxing bag on the floor. Approaching his fourth hour of working out that day, he is visibly gassed. The gym's buzzer sounds, indicating the end of the work session, and Hibbert rolls off the bag and onto the mat.
"I'm not good at MMA," Hibbert says. "You ever see a 7'2" guy kick something? It looks awkward. But it's fun to me because it's different, and it's mentally challenging.
"You push yourself to keep going. Your body tells you 'no,' but you keep fighting," Hibbert says. "That's how I feel out there on the court."
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