The NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets centre recently met aspiring youth basketball players at Dubai Stars Sportsplex. Jay Summers catches up with him
You’ve been in Dubai encouraging kids to get involved with basketball. How did it go? They were receptive. One thing that I try to do when I spend time with kids is, I try to connect with them, even though I’m a lot older than these guys. I just talk to them about how I got to where I am, what I did to be successful, what kind of training I did and how I mentally prepared myself for the next level, and also just be a leader. That’s what they want to see; someone who is a leader and who cares. Everybody has that dream of making it to the NBA or being super-successful and sometimes they don’t know how to get there, how to train or how to talk to people. That’s something they have to learn over years and that’s why it’s something I like to share with them.
You’re off season now until the NBA starts up again at the end of October. How are you spending your time? I’ll be training. Since I’m a lot older now, the main thing for me is not to over-train. There have been years where I trained so hard that I might not have had a chance to grow and also I’ve just put so much stress on my body that it wasn’t smart. This season I took a lot of time off not just to heal, but also to mentally strengthen myself. Now, I’ve got back into training and I have my trainers everywhere with me. They are here [in Dubai] with me now and every morning we train and really work on my body.
How do you feel about how the Houston Rockets’ season ended? Last season was pretty good considering the fact that we had a lot of injuries; to myself and some other players. I thought we had a very successful season from that standpoint. It’s very tough to win the NBA Championship. I thought that we grew from the first series of the playoffs to the time we got defeated by Golden State. We learned a lot about ourselves and also about the team, how much we can accomplish if we all come together.
What’s going to be most important for the Rockets going into the 2015/16 season? Being consistent as a team and really sacrificing whatever we can for the greater good will be the biggest thing next season. You have to be very strong mentally to do that for 82 games and the playoffs because you’re going to have those times when it’s super-hard. There will be times when you may not be hitting shots; when everything seems to go the other team’s way, and you have to learn to fight through it.
Do you plan to stay involved with youth programmes? I don’t want to wait until I retire, I want to do it while I’m playing. Basketball has opened a lot of doors for me and other NBA players so [it’s important] to have educational centres and buildings for kids to come together to learn about basketball, learn how to take care of their bodies and take care of their minds, and just to be successful in life.