NBA Rituals and Superstitions

by Andy Stitzer

The world of sport is riddled with superstitions, from players and coaches to fans and commentators, there are hundreds of rituals that people believe will bring them success. The NBA is no exception, and there are plenty of unusual and unexpected traditions that have become a big part of the game, such as:

 LeBron James's Pre-game ritual

A man who has enjoyed as much success as LeBron James should be confident in his own abilities by now, but even the G.O.A.T of the NBA isn't immune to superstition. The LA Lakers have had a disappointing, they’re a long way down the Championship odds in the sport betting, but despite this, he has persisted with throwing chalk in the air and clap his hands before every game.

A slightly more elaborate ritual is the secret handshakes that he shares with his teammates. Each player has their own routine that they must go through with James before they take to the court, and who in their right mind would ever consider refusing?

 Michael Jordan's shorts

One of the best-known rituals in the NBA is Michael Jordan’s belief in his lucky shorts. When he played for the North Carolina Tar Heels, he came to believe that the shorts he had been wearing during the championship-winning game were lucky.

Throughout his career, he wore the same North Carolina shorts underneath his various NBA uniforms to bring him good luck on the court. This became a trademark look for him as he opted for longer shorts that would cover up his Tar Heel training shorts.

Decades later, this fashion trend born out of a player's superstition continues, and players still wear shorts that give them enough coverage for a second pair. Whether there is another pair that can produce results like Michael Jordan is another matter.

 Boston Celtics pre-game snack

Simple and sweet - the team all have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich together before each game. The superstition is thought to have been introduced by Kevin Garnett but has probably persisted because it's a great snack to prepare for a game.

 Jason Terry's short-sleeping superstition

As one of the weirder superstitions from the NBA, this one requires a lot of cooperation and sporting spirit to pull off. Jason Terry, for reasons only known to himself, is convinced that the only way he can take to the court is if he sleeps in his opponent's shorts the night before a game.

That's not even the weirdest part: he doesn't just buy the shorts from the NBA store (although presumably he'd get a discount). They have to be game-worn shorts that he sources from his fellow players and kit managers all over the country.

While this may seem like an elaborate joke, Terry is serious about ensuring that he completes his ritual whenever he has a game. The image of him donning enemy shorts for bed makes Michael Jordan's shorts-based ritual seem sensible in comparison.

 Russel Westbrook's game-day protocol

Widely regarded as one of the most superstitious players in the NBA, Westbrook can often be seen performing elaborate dances and handshakes with his teammates in the run-up to a game.

 Monta Ellis's wax hands

In order to keep his hands in perfect dunking condition, Monta Ellis dips them in warm wax before a game. He peels it off just before heading to the court, ensuring that his hands are soft and smooth and reducing the friction between his hands and the ball as he dunks.

 Bowled over by Shaquille O'Neal

Some players like to do a warm-up on the court before a game, but Shaquille O'Neal just needs an imaginary bowling alley for his pre-game ritual. He and his teammates do a little 'air bowling' in the run-up to a game, and it appears to be a winning strategy.

 Kyrie Irving cleansing the court

Before taking to the court, Kyrie Irving 'smudges' the whole area on game day by burning sage.

He does it to promote positive energy and has said that his routine is inspired by native tribes that use sage as part of their cleansing rituals.

 Caron Butler's series of unfortunate rituals

It started with Mountain Dew in high school. Caron Butler would drink half of a two-liter bottle of

Mountain Dew before each game and finish the rest at halftime. This tradition continued throughout his career until he started playing for the Wizards.

The coaches there, probably correctly, thought that chugging large amounts of sugary soda before and during a game probably wasn't the healthiest move. So they asked him to stop.

Butler took it on the chin and replaced his beloved Mountain Dew with a straw-chewing habit. He would cut them up and chew them on the bench but, again understandably, this was banned for health reasons.

Sometimes superstitions have to give way to common sense, but some of the more harmless rituals are a fun way for players to bond and energize themselves.

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