December, 8, 2011
By Kevin Arnovitz
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
Shane Battier's new office will be situated at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
Almost every morning for eight months, an NBA player wakes up, makes his breakfast, gets in his car, pulls into the lot or garage, checks in with his co-workers, participates in a meeting or two, then gets down to business.
For the fan, an NBA franchise might be a roster of players, a brand they know and love, a collection of traditions and history. But for an NBA player, the team is his workplace, above all else.
Offices are funny places. Each one has its own rhythm and idiosyncrasies. You've probably worked at a place where the mood can be described as morose, goofy, toxic or just patently bizarre. NBA practice facilities and locker rooms aren't any different.
From the outside, Shane Battier's decision Thursday to join the Heat might appear as a choice based on geography or the fact that the Heat are title contenders who routinely play on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons. How much did Battier consider those factors? Who knows. But knowing what we know about Battier, it's also likely he wanted a very particular kind of work environment.
Spend enough time around a team, and all those things that make an office an office come into focus. Some teams have better intra-office communication between the boss and employees. Some have a better ergonomic flow in the locker room. Some have a frat-house feel, while others feel like a mausoleum. Some are dingy and smell funny. And some are palatial.
The Heat organization isn't perfect. They're an insular clan and can be thrifty with their employees. It's strange that Erik Spoelstra continues to work under a cloud of uncertainty as one of the lowest-paid coaches in the NBA.
Yet if you're in the business of playing professional basketball, there aren't many better places to do it than Miami -- and not just because you're surrounded by palm trees, turquoise water and skimpy dresses in a sleepless city.
Organizationally, the Heat run one of the tightest ships in the league. That insularity that can drive the press crazy has also created a stable and nurturing environment for players. One NBA coach described the Heat to me as "cultish," but religions have a way of generating loyalty from their congregants. The organization has a very low tolerance for apostasy, and Heat players rarely test that conviction. In return, they get treated like grown men and the opportunity to work on their craft in the best conditions.
When you choose a workplace, you're also choosing a boss -- and there isn't a better fit in the NBA for Battier than Spoelstra. It's not just the common appreciation for analytics and precision, particularly on the defensive end. Both men are studious, cerebral and all business. Spoelstra has had players who appreciate his obsessive commitment to schematic detail, but none like Battier.
Last March, the Grizzlies had a Saturday afternoon date with the Heat in Miami. After arriving at their downtown hotel on Friday evening, most of the Grizzlies players got dressed, then gathered in the lobby to hit the town -- a common ritual for any visiting team that lands in Miami on a Friday or Saturday.
Battier was notably absent. He'd turn up later at a nearby steakhouse, eating by himself while watching the first round of the NCAA tournament. Asked if he could name the three NBA guards who turned down screens most frequently off the dribble, Battier named two out of the three within seconds (he missed Earl Boykins).
Now Battier brings that knowledge to the Heat, where he'll get a chance to enjoy the balmy air, chase a title but, more than anything, set up shop in an office where he was born to work.