He wanted to climb Mount Everest. Or close.
To clarify, Korver and three of his closest friends schemed to ascend the steel-lined emergency stairwell of the tallest building in Los Angeles -- the 73-story U.S. Bank Tower -- enough times to equal Everest's soul-crushing 29,000 feet.
"Climb the stairs, take the elevator down, climb the stairs, take the elevator down and climb the height of the Mount Everest in a day," Korver says at a recent shootaround. "That was the thought."
This was going to be the third year of Korver's annual misogi (pronounced mih-soe-gee), a centuries-old Japanese spirit-finding ritual that requires undertaking a physical endurance challenge to push your mind and body beyond its known limits.
Last offseason, Korver and his friends came up with the idea to "run" a 5K relay, holding an 85-pound boulder, on the ocean floor. They took turns: dive down, find the rock, pick it up, and run weighted to the bottom, then surface for the next guy to take his turn. Blacking out was a constant concern, but they did it. The previous year, Korver traveled 25 miles uninterrupted on a stand-up paddleboard across the rough waters between the Channel Islands to Santa Barbara.
The natural extension was to climb Everest on West Fifth Street in downtown L.A.
"It was gonna be gnarly," Korver says.
Estimates varied, but the misogi group thought it'd take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours to complete. A business manager at the US Bank Tower said there was recently a separate event in which a team of fundraisers climbed the stairs once; Korver's crew wanted to do it about 50 times.
Exhilarated by the sheer lunacy of the idea, the friends started narrowing down a date. Late September, maybe. Korver prepared in stairwells when he could, and felt confident.
"It's a little safer," points out Korver, "than actually climbing Mount Everest."
Andrew Wiggins hit his first 3, then his second, and his coach knew right away what kind of night it would be.
It was Feb. 7, 2013, inside the gym at Marietta College in Ohio, and all Rob Fulford could do was stand and watch. For two years, Fulford, the Huntington Prep coach, had seen his star player perform any number of breathtaking feats -- plays in games or practices that left him shaking his head and looking toward his staff in disbelief. But this night was different.
Usually content to take over a game only when it was required of him, Wiggins was slashing to the hoop and sinking shots from the outside. He was rebounding and swatting balls near the rim. He was locked in like never before.
What had gotten into him?
The answer could be found hours before tip-off, when Sports Illustrated published an article placing the young basketball stars from Canada under a microscope. Included among them was Wiggins, the crown jewel of the growing crop of ballers from the north -- a long and lean 6-foot-8 wing born in Toronto and inspired during the age of Vince Carter's Raptors. Wiggins had become a local star -- and a YouTube sensation -- before traveling to West Virginia to play high school ball at Huntington Prep, a renowned basketball factory.
When the article came out, Grant Traylor, who covered the team for the Herald-Dispatch, was enjoying his day off. But it would not last. He texted Fulford about the story, and the coach replied that Traylor might want to show up for that night's game.
"Trust me," Fulford wrote.
If there was one criticism about Wiggins' game at the time, it was that he lacked a certain killer instinct. He played hard and he played smart, but some observers wondered if he had it in him to, just once, rip out an opponent's heart.
His coach knew otherwise. Before the game, Fulford tweeted he had a "strange feeling" Wiggins would go for 50 points that night. "Just a hunch," he wrote.
Fulford missed the mark. Wiggins, a senior at the time, scored 57 against Marietta College's junior varsity team, connecting on 24 of 28 shots from the field. He also grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots. Huntington Prep won 111-59.
Fulford compares Wiggins' performance with Michael Jordan's famous "shrug game" against Portland during the 1992 NBA Finals, because even Wiggins couldn't believe some of the shots he was making. "I think that was the first time somebody had publicly called him out," Fulford says. "That was just his response, like: 'Hey, kiss my ass. Here's 57 for ya.'"
The press rushed to Wiggins afterward, desperate for a juicy quote confirming the performance was his ultimate act of revenge. But Wiggins would not puff out his chest. "I thought I responded well," he told reporters.
Wiggins chose to let his game speak for him, just like he does today, refusing to boast when given the opportunity even as the Timberwolves' franchise player, the NBA's reigning rookie of the year and the 20-year-old charged with lifting Canada's national team to prominence.
"We used to make a joke saying, 'Goddang, Andrew, quit being so nice,'" says Bill Self, who coached Wiggins at Kansas. "He said: 'You know, people in Canada are polite. What's wrong with being polite?'"
Chris Bosh feels like he's getting a taste of his own medicine these days.
"It sucks," Bosh, at his locker in Miami, said on a Wednesday night. "It's not cool. I'm supposed to be the guy doing this stuff."
He should be in a good mood. Just minutes before, the Heat beat the Washington Wizards at home. Beyond that, Bosh has returned to the court after a scary situation with blood clots in his lungs that put him in the hospital for nine days and abruptly ended his 2014-15 season in January. But forget all that, because right now Bosh is miffed. Three years after he famously migrated to the perimeter during the Heat's 2012 championship run, formerly paint-dwelling big men are draining 3-pointers in his face.
Threes are way up overall. Judging from preseason numbers, the average team is shooting 11.2 percent more 3-pointers than last season, and now shoots more 3s (24.8 percent) than the 2004-05 Mike D'Antoni Phoenix Suns (24.7 percent) -- the NBA's seminal run-and-gunners. But the biggest gains are courtesy of the biggest men. Back in 1998-99, only 17.2 percent of NBA players 6-foot-9 or taller shot at least 10 3-pointers all season. In 2014-15, that number stood at 45.6 percent, up from 30 percent in 2010-11.
"It used to be, 'I'm the 4, I'm the low guy and the 5 is out [in the mid-range],' " Bosh said. "Now they're all over the place."
Bosh had better get used to it. And fast. More and more teams are following the Golden State Warriors' blueprint by pushing the tempo and playing at least four shooters at all times.
NEW YORK -- For the first time, some of the more forward-looking people around the NBA are having thoughtful -- if very preliminary and still somewhat theoretical -- conversations about the length of the schedule.
Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday following the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting that the league’s younger owners are more open to innovation, and because of it, there’s a newfound sense that few issues are off the table.
“I’d say the new generation of owners who have come into the league are incredibly open-minded on all issues,” Silver said of the composition of the 82-game schedule. “We’re open-minded on it. It’s something we’ll continue to look at.”
There are plenty of qualifiers here, and Silver enumerated them at length.
“We haven’t had a discussion as to a different number of regular-season games, and a lot of the economics of this league and the investments that go into our arenas are built, are predicated on the current regular season we have now,” Silver said. “And same for the players, by the way, because they’re sophisticated as well, and they understand that if you reduce the number of games in the season, there will be an economic impact on us both.”
Money is still the driver in the NBA, but in 2015, both the league and its athletes are cognizant of fatigue and player well-being as more than peripheral factors in the health of the product. The NBA is consulting with specialists to glean data about how denser elements of the NBA schedule impact performance and injury. The players union has hired a full-time sports scientist, Joe Rogowski, formerly of the Houston Rockets, and the league formed a 20-person injury prevention committee in early July headed by Dr. John DiFiori, the NBA director of sports medicine and a former president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.
The union was long thought to be a natural opponent of any reduction of games, the thought being that fewer games would inevitably mean smaller paychecks. Players may rue the wear-and-tear of an 82-game schedule, but the grind becomes a lot more tolerable if the alternative is a pay cut. However, in February, union chief Michele Roberts told ESPN’s Kate Fagan that, “The schedule is ridiculous. Now I know that decreasing the number of games decreases potential revenue, but if, at the end of the day, players are too tired or too injured to play, how does that affect the game?"
Roberts’ opinion is shared by future Hall-of-Famers. Last October, LeBron James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, "The minutes doesn't mean anything. We can play 50-minute games if we had to. It's just the games. We all as players think it's too many games.” Dirk Nowitzki suggested a slate of games in the “mid-60s.”
Many coaches who, on a daily basis, have to manage the injuries and exhaustion of their players, agree. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said “everyone agrees” there are too many games packed into the NBA schedule. Prior to the Grizzlies’ preseason matchup with the Hawks in Atlanta on Wednesday night, Memphis coach Dave Joerger was asked whether 82 games is too many. “Depends on what you want to accomplish,” he said. Told the criteria was the best product, Joerger replied, “The best product? No question.”
But the best way to gauge sentiment is to look at behavior, and with each passing season, more and more star players are taking DNPs in order to rest. James was out of action for two weeks last winter. The nominal reason was to cope with back and knee injuries, but it was the NBA season’s most open secret that James was conserving his energy in the spirit of his October comments. The best player of his generation understood that 74 regular-season games was his maximum.
From the commissioner’s office on down, the practice of deliberately keeping the best talent off the floor is not only accepted, but applauded as best practice. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is widely applauded for his prudence, and coaches all over the league have followed by strictly managing the wear-and-tear of their key players. Fewer than three years after the league hit the Spurs with a $250,000 fine for resting their core starters on a night when they’d appear on national television, Silver praised the league’s “sophisticated teams” who follow this practice. He sounded the same refrain again Friday.
“As a result that’s why you see much more sophistication, minutes-management by coaches and general managers in this league right now,” Silver said. “So the league has taken a new approach to the schedule.”
Just to clarify, the intelligent thing to do is deprive the audience of the main attraction. It’s also the right thing to do, because there’s a growing body of sports science that shows a regimen like the current NBA schedule is not conducive to world-class performance and, more importantly, puts players at a greater risk of injury.
Owners who are impervious to the player-health argument should consider that a reduction in schedule would create greater scarcity. This translates into more meaningful games, with fewer stars in street clothes. When games are important, NBA players can hit an otherworldly level of performance. Fewer games would allow for more randomness over the course of the season, which would conform to the league’s precious desire for competitive balance. Middling teams would linger in the playoff race longer, which would undoubtedly contribute to more robust viewership numbers and gate receipts. All the while, the national broadcast slate wouldn’t change, except that those games would be more eventful and feature heightened intensity.
The issue of the schedule will remain sticky, largely because it will require concessions from the league and the union, as Silver pointed out from the podium Friday. Both sides will need to be convinced that any reduction of games won’t come with a significant reduction in revenue and salary. Would players accept raises in the coming years that are sizeable rather than enormous if in return they could extend their careers with Tim Duncan-like longevity and reduce debilitating injuries? Would owners sacrifice a small handful of home dates in order to create an even better product in which the league’s elite talent played at peak levels in more meaningful games?
Perhaps those unconvinced by rhetorical arguments can be persuaded by results. The Spurs are the NBA’s model franchise, and much of that success can be attributed to a commitment to rest, recovery and, in effect, shortening the schedule of their key contributors. Meanwhile, the NFL has ruled the North American sports landscape for a generation, with every autumn Sunday practically a national holiday because of the scarcity of games. Maybe there’s something to learn here?
What makes some of the league’s stronger advocates slightly optimistic about the casual conversation about schedule reduction is the confluence of new revenue and the emerging focus on health and performance optimization. There will never be a more advantageous moment for sensible reform, where both sides could gain so much while giving up less than they could ever imagine.