How do basketball stars cope with stress and pressure?

Even though he understood better, since he had been in this exact same scenario dozens of times earlier, Steph Curry, the consummate marksman and winner, who only 40 days before was appointed the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, could not help himself.

His response with 53 ticks left on the Game 7 clock at the 2016 NBA Finals, moments afterwards Kyrie Irving’s surgical 3-point shot had dropped through the strings, was a primal, instinctive reaction to a life spent campaigning at a cauldron of pressure and competition “I gotta go back at him.”

This, Curry would comprehend afterwards, was the wrong plan of action. But at the present time, pride overrode sensible sensibilities.

As he dribbled the ball up the ground, the stress mounting together with Irving in pursuit, Curry’s hypothalamus, a tiny area of the brain situated close to the pituitary gland, sounded the alert. After the human body and brain are under duress, the hypothalamus educates the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, both hormones.


That is exactly what triggered Curry’s pulse to quicken along with his breath quicken, sending blood racing into the places that needed it , a means to guard his body in crises.

That feeling was distinct from what Curry encounters before most big matches, when, he says, he claims with butterflies which leave his belly in chaos.

“Because it matters a lot better. It is cliché, but in case you are not worried, it does not matter to you.”

“It was like a nervous twitch,” Curry reports.

“You begin with each muscle you believe that you can command in a neutral place, then once you tighten them, I believe that your body thinks,’Well, this is as stressed as your body can be,'” Curry explains. “So once you let all that go, perhaps that is the way the endorphins kick .

From the time June 19, 2016, gathered around, Curry had strayed from this exercise. As he concentrated on fitting Kyrie tit for tat, teammate Draymond Green slipped with 44.2 seconds left to decide on a stout select Irving, forcing 7-footer Kevin Love to change onto Curry.

It was a mismatch he felt sure he could tap.

Stephen Curry admits that the choice to shoot his missed shot at the last moments of Game 7 of those 2016 NBA Finals was an answer to stress. Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
Curry pump-faked, made a sliver of separation, dribbled left, then sailed over to his right. The shot clock whittled down to four moments and Curry, capitulating to the urgency, hoisted a 3 which bounced off the rim and outside.

“I’m like,’I only need a small distance’ — and that’s where I started to rush,” Curry says today.

“That was a shot at which I wasn’t under control. Plus it cost us a championship.”

“Don’t ever make the mistake of racing like that ,” he says.

“I suppose you could say that the [2016] miss did not irritate me,” he says.

“Truly great ones understand there is pressure, so that they do not believe results,” says Heat president Pat Riley, who coached Magic and ran the front office during LeBron’s Miami tenure. “If they did, they would cave all of the time.”

“I like stress. I anticipate for it.
“Pressure to me is only a word describing anxiety,” Irving says. “And if you go through the process of figuring life out, how important basketball will be to youpersonally, and you discharge that anxiety as well as the situation and surroundings it is , you learn how to embrace stress.

Jerry West, for his role, systematically ready his body and mind over a lifetime of coaching for clutch minutes. West says that he spent his youth shooting baskets mimicking the last seconds of a match.

When West played in the NBA at the’60s, the shot clock did not exhibit fractions of a second. West did not need it. He’d established a permanent cadence within his mind. “I never had to look at the clock,” he states.

There’s no data available about clutch shooting through West’s playing times, but he claims throughout the 1969-70 season, when Wilt Chamberlain was outside with a severe knee injury, he joined on 12 match champions for Los Angeles (that the Lakers’ archives also make mention of this feat).

“It’s a different sort of pressure. Those men, when it has stripped , do not feel in themselves. They are not sure they could hit the big chance, so that they can’t. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Some men in the league at this time, their regular seasons are somewhat distinct compared to the playoffs,” Jordan explains. “Why is this? As it is a different sort of pressure. Those men, when it has stripped , do not feel in themselves. They are not sure they could hit the big chance, so that they can’t. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“If you have uncertainty or concern about a shooter, or feel that the’pressure’ of the shot, it is because you have not practiced it ,” Jordan says. “The only way to ease that strain is to construct your principles, practice them over and over, so when sport breaks down, you are able to manage whatever transpires.

“People did not believe me when I informed them I practiced more difficult than I playedbut it was accurate. That is where my comfort zone was made. From the time the match arrived, all I needed to do was respond to what my body was accustomed to performing.”

Jonathan Daniel/Allsport
“Now, in the event that you thought about it, then that was a fairly big miss,” Jordan says today. “It had been my first match in the Finals. I might have folded.

“But I had no trouble bouncing back because I knew it was a good shot. I didn’t rush it or short-arm it or anything. I just missed it.”

Jordan went on to ordinary 32.9 points and take 55.8 percent from the floor in the sequence. The Lakers did not win another match.

“I believed every time out I was the best. And the more shots I hit, the more it reinforced that,” Jordan says. “So, when you miss — because no matter how great you are, you will miss — you don’t waver, because you’ve built yourself a nice little cushion of confidence.

“Now, we have seen lots of men go another way. They overlook one shot and they can not appear to make one. That is the type of negative reinforcement which destroys guys.”

WHEN LEBRON JAMES signed with the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010, he declared that he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would win not one championship, not two, not three, not four, not five.

Then, the 2011 Finals happened. The heavily favored Heat built a 2-1 series lead over the Dallas Mavericks, but imploded over the final three games.

“We could have won that show had we never blown Game two,” Riley says. “We were ahead by 15 with half an hour to go and our men were celebrating like we had won the championship, LeBron added”

In that series, LeBron’s struggles in the final quarter were telling. He averaged just three points a game in the fourth quarter, missed eight of the nine 3s he took and shot 33.3 percent overall. Most distressing was his unwillingness to take the shot, averaging just 3.5 attempts in that final frame. It left him open to criticism that he was shying away from the moment.

LeBron James has hit seven buzzer-beaters in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Joe Johnson, who hit eight, has more. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
“LeBron is a good player,” Riley says,”but until he came to us, he had been banging his head against the wall like all excellent players who can not win. His first season [in Miami] was somewhat overpriced, from the perspective of chemistry. Just as these men talked about it, you’d three major players that never actually got to precisely the exact same page. They never allow it to fester, but they never talked about it way they ought to have.”

The fallout from the Heat’s collapse was vicious. James heard it all: choker, head case, front-runner.

“In our departure meeting, LeBron was quite bleak,” Riley recalls. “He did not want talk whatsoever about anything.

“He was paralyzed in his own depression. But I wasn’t worried. I could have said,’Hey, big man, phone Magic Johnson. Tell him how it feels to listen to folks say you choked, which you did not do the job'”

In his HBO series”The Shop,” James declared the 2011 Finals collapse felt”like the world caved in.”

“I left that Finals like,’Yo, Bron, what the f– was you , man? Like, you had been overthinking everything. You did not show up. You did not do what you’re supposed to perform.’ You know? And now you can’t even sleep at night because you didn’t give it all that you had.”


While outsiders announced James had a consultation with a psychologist, Riley allow his celebrity stew. He felt convinced that James’ advisers, Rich Paul and Maverick Carter among them, would help their friend navigate this critical crossroad in his career.

“They were enormous,” Riley says. “They knew how to appreciate him and lift him up”

To quiet his mind, James eschewed social media, nightclubs, the spotlight. He began reading more, devouring the entire Hunger Games series on road trips. He sat down for a candid conversation with his friend Wade and informed him he was done deferring.

He found solace in the gym, and like so many before him — Magic in the mid-’80s, Jordan years later — began building scar tissue to protect himself from the mental scars of 2011.

How that transpires is fascinating. There is a fatty substance formed in the central nervous system called myelin that enables nerve cells to transmit information faster and allow for more complex brain functions.

Consider the first time a right-handed player tries to dribble with the left hand. It’s awkward, clumsy. Initially, the nerves that fire off signals to complete that task are controlled in the front cortex of the brain. Over time, with countless repetitions, those nerve firings become more insulated. The myelin sheath builds up. Eventually, less effort is required to use that left hand, and the brain processes it as second nature.

The same is possible with pressure, according to neurologists. With repetition, stress can be transformed into fortitude. James accomplished this in the wake of his biggest disappointment.

“I was wearing a hat that I wasn’t used to,” James said on”The Shop.” “And I bought into it at the time period in my entire life I was caring about what others thought. That instant shaped me who I am now.

“After that 2011 Finals, man, I was just like, that’s never happening again. I may lose again. I may not win everything. But I will never fail at anything.”

When the Heat won in 2013, the very renowned shooter was Ray Allen’s killer from the corner. In 2016, if the Cavs eventually became winners, it was Irving’s thrilling jumper that lurks. Nonetheless, it’s incorrect to imply LeBron has not come through with large shots of their own.

Considering that the Finals loss to the Mavericks, James has struck five buzzer-beaters, leaving him seven complete in his career. Just Joe Johnson (eight) has struck on more, per ESPN Stats & Information, which notes that this information only contains performances since 2002.

Additionally, James leads all players in game-tying/go-ahead field goals (10) at the last 24 minutes of the fourth quarter/overtime because analysts began tracking the data in 1996. His former teammate Allen (seven) and Kobe Bryant (seven) will be the only others that are close.

FOR THE 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Justin Rao and Matt Goldman wrote a newspaper analyzing the Effects of pressure on NBA performance. They used data from 1.3 million possessions to examine two aspects of this sport: offensive rebounding, an effort-based ability, and free throw shooting, which is based on psychological tenacity and concentration.

Rao and Goldman found that gamers shooting free throws in house matches did worse in clutch situations than they did on the street because of exactly what the authors called”detrimental self-focus.” Their analysis concluded that if players try free throws at a hostile environment, they are more inclined to rely upon their instincts and muscular memory to finish the endeavor. However, when requested to take the exact same clutch free throws from the snug confines of their own arenas, where hometown fans, family and friends are relying on them to succeed, players have a tendency to overthink the shooter, and that, the authors assert,”disrupts the automatic ability to perform.”

“‘What happens when I miss? What happens when I create it? Will everyone adore me’ You weigh the pros and cons. Nothing felt right. All I could think of was if I missed. I knew those feelings, and I knew I would drown in them. “Kevin Durant, about the strain of free throws as a sophomore in high school.
Kevin Durant could associate. He had been a sophomore in National Christian Academy at D.C. plus a blossoming celebrity after being relegated into mop-up responsibility the prior season.

“I wanted to see my name in the paper,” Durant says. “But when the time finally came, I wanted it so badly, I robbed myself of the moment.”

Durant’s group was down by 2 to Montrose Christian (Durant would move as a senior) at the last minutes of the match when Durant was fouled.

As he stepped up into the lineup, he had been suddenly lightheaded. His adrenaline was on overdrive, and nobody had taught him that a few deep breaths could be useful.

“My mind was racing,” Durant says. ” ‘What happens when I miss? What happens when I create it? Will everyone adore me’ You weigh the pros and cons. Nothing felt right. All I could think of was if I missed. I knew those feelings, and I knew I would drown in them.”

Durant, who moved on to develop into an 88 percent profession NBA free throw shot, understood the second he published the free throw, there wasn’t any prospect of it moving in. He had been overly focused on the wrong things.

“I was so upset with myself,” Durant says. “You dream about those moments, but when you dream about them, you always make the shot. And it’s never a free throw.

“You need to work on creating that little little tweak on mind where your ideas are free and empty. However, you only find out that moving through the hard times along with also the declines and the misses.”

Steve Kerr and Kevin Durant both name overthinking as something that has negatively affected their performances ahead of big moments. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Golden State coach Steve Kerr believes both Durant and Curry are presently unmoved by pressure, something he could not say about himself as a complementary NBA player.

“I was an overthinker,” Kerr says. “And when your ideas get in the way, you are screwed.”

Kerr, who played alongside Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Tim Duncan, says that after short-arming big shots with the Bulls, and having to absorb Jordan’s ire, he took coach Phil Jackson’s advice and turned to meditation to allow his natural shooting motion to dominate his mind, instead of all the apprehensive “what ifs.”

“I eventually reasoned, F– It. Should I get this chunk, it is going up,'” Kerr says. “I went to an’I do not care’ approach instead of dwelling on all the repercussions.”

Kerr went so far as to compose”FI” on his sneakers. It had been there in ink that the night that he struck the winner to the Bulls in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals, and afterwards chronicled by Sports Illustrated writer Chris Ballard. Kerr says school coaches from throughout the nation approached him to tell him their children had embraced his methods. Kerr chuckled when he saw a newspaper photo of Butler celebrity Shelvin Mack with”FI” scrawled on his shoes.

Kerr envies players such as Jordan and Bird, who maintained they never suffered from uncertainty. Bird tells the story of his sophomore year in high school, when he broke his arm and has been languishing on the seat upon his return. Unexpectedly, his trainer bellowed,”Bird!”

“I wasn’t ready to play,” Bird recalls. “But I go in and I come off a screen and I hit a shot. I’m thinking to myself,’I have not played in five months and now I could score ‘”

From the time Bird went into the line to get a 1-and-1 with 13 minutes left in the match along with the score tied, his confidence was soaring.

“I walked up and hit both shots,” he states. “Never fazed me a bit. I always felt bad for the guys who stepped up there and lost their nerve.”

ELITE BASKETBALL PLAYERS are not resistant to stress — they have just mastered the way to channel it. Today’s players gain from state-of-the-art assistance in their teams, such as superior training centers, extensive medical staffs, nutritionists, sports scientists, mental health counselors, sports psychologists, sleep specialists, yoga teachers and meditation professionals.

Yet the very precious tool stays the inherent optimism that gamers understand they have the abilities to excel.

“Great players know it’s OK to fail,” Riley says. “They don’t succumb to the pressure, but sometimes they succumb to the narrative, especially today when it changes game to game, even quarter to quarter.

“Look in the Boston Celtics. They beat Milwaukee in Game 1 of the show and they were the best. They then dropped four straight and they suck.

“It’s what I call’peripheral competitions.’ If you allow yourself to succumb to that tremendous stress and anxiety, it’s going to get in your head.”

Durant admits it’s occurred to himafter winning back Finals MVPs at 2017 and 2018. It is, he says, a struggle to block the sound and keep appropriate attention.

“It’s dreading that embarrassment in front of all these people,” he clarifies. “We have such huge egos in the NBA because everyone has catered to us our whole life. When you fail in front of all these people, you get stuck on those who say,’I told you ,’ instead of the people who love and support you.

“You can drown inside rise above it”

When Giannis Antetokounmpo begins to feel stressed, he rubs his wrists for comfort. Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images
The NBA’s brightest new star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, experienced his own healthy dose of stressful playoff basketball once his team fell behind 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals to the Toronto Raptors, and the onus to save the Bucks’ season landed directly on his broad young shoulders.

“It was never a topic for me when I came into the league because nobody expected much from me,” Antetokounmpo states. “Pressure is earned.”

Antetokounmpo has developed his own calming practices. When he begins to feel helpless, he remembers his dad’s calming words, that there is no need to worry about a game he’s been playing his whole life. If he wants extra relaxation, Giannis states, he squeezes his wrists.

Curry has found it useful, when he is sitting on the seat, to imagine what he expects to achieve if he returns to the ground. He’s also discovered that deep breaths slow him — and the game — down greatly.

“What happened in 2016 was a hard lesson to learn,” Curry says. “Kyrie had confidence before that shot, but that will live with him forever. Now, whenever he gets in a stressful situation, he can draw back on that.”

Durant brings back into the 2017 Finals, when he did his own share of deep meditation and breathing about the way to discovering peace — and excellence. He also learned to block the strain by turning his phone off, putting the Do Not Disturb sign on his door, disengaging from the majority of people away from the staff and focusing on a singular goal: winning despite himself.

“The last thing I want when I play,” Durant says, “is to be in my own way.”