The Golden State Warriors are 47-4, which is the type of record you usually can compile only while playing NBA 2K at the “rookie” difficulty level. The Warriors do everything not just well, but exceptionally well. They score 115.4 points per game and dish out 29.3 assists per game, both good for tops in the league. They take 30 3-pointers per game and make a whopping 42 percent of them. As a team, they shoot almost 50 percent from the field. We could go on, but you get the point. The Warriors are god-like at everything they do on the basketball court.
So what’s their secret? How do they continue to perform, night in and night out, at a level matched only by the iconic 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls? Is it because Stephen Curry is morphing into the best player in the league? Is it because Draymond Green is racking up triple-doubles like they were free throws? Is it due to their precise and elegant ball movement, which always seems to leave defenders several steps behind?
Yes, it’s all of the above and more. But the Warriors have a secret weapon, a pitch dark place where gravity fades away and magnesium sulfate is absorbed into their bodies. A place where members of one of the NBA’s most elite teams ever can visualize swishing 3 after 3 with no distractions or noise from the outside world. A place that provides an incubator for basketball greatness.
That place is Reboot Float Spa in San Francisco, and the popularity of its service among the Warriors, specifically Curry and Harrison Barnes, makes it poised to become the next big trend in fitness and recovery.
“Floating,” as it’s commonly referred to, is a type of sensory deprivation that puts users in a “float pod” measuring 8 feet long by 5 feet wide. Inside the pod is a foot-deep liquid concoction that is part water and part Epsom salt—a thousand pounds of Epsom salt to be exact. Once you step in and close the pod, you begin to float in the liquid in pitch dark and total silence.
Sensory deprivation tanks were invented by a man named John C. Lilly in 1954. Fascinated by the brain and human consciousness and looking for better ways to study it, Lilly set out to isolate the brain from outside stimuli. To do so, he built a soundproof tank filled with salt water and let subjects float while their senses were taken away.
The use of floating as a recovery and relaxation technique didn’t gain steam until the 1980s, but in recent years it has become a phenomenon, first in Australia and now, slowly but surely, in the United States. Reboot, like many other float spas, opened its doors less than a year ago.
According to Reboot’s director of business development Leah Domenici, the benefits of an hour of floating are twofold, especially for the modern athlete. She says, “You’re essentially taking pressure off your joints, decompressing your spine, and then your body is also absorbing all the magnesium sulfate, which is the Epsom salt. That’s really good for muscle relaxation and recovery.”
Stephen Curry floats inside one of Reboot’s float pods
There’s also a mental and meditative side of floating. Because your senses are deprived, you are essentially left to your own thoughts during the hour-long float session. While you float in a balmy 93.5-degree bath, you can clear your mind of any clutter that has occupied it. For NBA players like Curry and Barnes, whose non-stop schedule allows little to no downtime, the float pod has become their liquid sanctuary.
“It’s an opportunity to just relax,” Curry told ESPN. “Get away from all the stresses on the court and in life, but it also has some physical benefits as well, with the salt.”
Domenici echoes Curry’s point. “Steph is the No. 1 player on the best team, and he’s being bombarded every single hour of the day,” she says. “This is his hour to come in and just have to himself. There’s a lot of mental benefits to cutting out all stimuli and having time to focus on what he wants to focus on.”
Photo courtesy of Reboot Float Spa
The Warriors were introduced to floating by Lachlan Penfold, their Australian head of physical performance and sports medicine, who joined the team at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season. Given the popularity of the technique in his home country, Penfold was already familiar with its benefits for athletes.
Domenici says Curry and Barnes are the most frequent users of Reboot on the Warriors, though Festus Ezeli has also been known to swing by every once in a while. Curry tries to get a float in once every two weeks, though the NBA’s travel schedule doesn’t always allow it.
As floating’s popularity grows, NBA players aren’t the only athletes taking advantage of it. Domenici says members of the Oakland Raiders, San Jose Earthquakes and L.A. Galaxy, and MMA fighters, come through Reboot, as do marathon runners, triathletes and pro cyclists.
If Golden State ultimately breaks the ’95-’96 Bulls regular season record of a 72-10, it will highlight the impact of floating on their performance.
Besides helping Steph Curry and his teammates stay healthy, floating seems to create a certain aura around the Warriors, as if they were physically glowing. “There’s what we call a post-float glow,” Domenici says. “Most people come out [of their float pods] and they are totally euphoric.”
In a season already full of euphoria, the Warriors’ secret weapon is another thing to add to the list.