Thanks to a unmatched workload, injuries to teammates, and his own bruising style of play, LeBron James is doing things to his body that may be unmatched in sports. As a result, he and his trainer go through an intense and highly-detailed routine between games to make sure LeBron’s body is as close to 100% as possible.
James is playing in his fifth straight NBA Finals. Since 2011 he has put an incredible amount of miles on his body — 2,000 more minutes than any other player in the NBA during that span — a number that has been pushed to even bigger extremes in this year’s Finals due to the absence of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
Michael Young, an expert on the fitness of professional athletes from the Athletic Lab, told ESPN that the idea of playing 50 minutes in an NBA game on the day after taking a five-hour cross-country flight was “unfathomable.”
When asked for the athletic equivalent of what happens to James’ body while playing two games in three days and travelling across three time zones, the closest Young could come up with was the Tour de France, but noted even that event doesn’t have the “physical impact on your body like basketball.”
After losing Game 5 in Oakland, James will have less than 48 hours to fly black to Cleveland, get his body back as close to peak condition as possible, and then play Game 6 at home with the season on the line. This is similar to the situation James faced following Game 2 after playing back-to-back overtime games and more than 96 minutes in the games combined.
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com wrote about the recovery process used by James and his trainer following Game 2, one that will presumably be similar to what he is going through to get ready for Game 6.
After the game
The first step, according to Berger, is to replenish the fluids lost during the game. This starts by drinking a “carefully prepared combination of water and carbohydrate-rich recovery fluids” in order to replenish his glycogen levels.
He then follows this up by soaking in an ice bath up to his waist. In a segment earlier this season for Bleacher Report, James called the ice baths, “borderline torture.”
The flight home
Flying increases swelling and dehydration so James continues drinking fluids on the flight. In addition, he eats a carefully planned meal of high-quality protein and carbs. Berger describes this as “a nearly non-stop effort to flush the toxins and lactic acid from his muscles to jump-start the healing process.”
On the plane, James also receives electro-stimulation to keep his muscles contracting. He also wears compression sleeves along with compression tights and “Michelin-man-looking boots that fill with air.” He also receives a massage, possibly on the floor. All of these are designed to push blood away from the extremities and towards the heart to get rid of the toxins and lactic acid and to make room for nutrients.
Back in Cleveland
The flight from San Francisco lands back in Cleveland at 6:30 a.m. At this point, James goes home for some sleep and then heads back at the team’s training facility at 1 p.m..
With about 30 hours to go before tip-off, James works out on a stationary bike and treats his body with contrasting hot and cold baths.
Two hours later, James is back home where he is met by his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, who has been with LeBron since 2005 and whom James called “one of the best trainers in the world” following Game 2. The two go through four hours of “treatment, massage, and rehab.”
Tuesday morning is dedicated to what Berger describes as “fine-tuning,” with Mancias working on spots that may still be stiff or sore.
By noon, the recovery and preparation of his body is complete as he hits the practice floor and meets with the media about that night’s game.
James is averaging 45.5 minutes per game in the Finals and we can expect to see something similar in Game 6. But in reality, the minutes began the moment Game 5 ended.
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