Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Hoops Whisperer — Idan Ravin

Hoops Whisperer

Idan Ravin, a personal trainer who calls himself the Hoops Whisperer, has so many clients in the N.B.A.—LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard—that the league’s playoffs have become a time of confused allegiance. “I always say, ‘If Steph scores a hundred and Chris scores a hundred, I’m happy,’ ” Ravin said last week, when asked whom he was rooting for in the matchup between Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors and Chris Paul’s Los Angeles Clippers. Both players are clients, and Ravin had been texting with them throughout the series, during which both had been dealing with fallout from the release of a tape in which the Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, expressed his distaste for African-Americans—twelve of whom are members of his team. “People like to imagine they live in this golden palace on the top of the hill, that they’re insulated from all of life’s struggles,” Ravin said, of the players. “That’s not the case. These guys have had to struggle their whole lives.”

LeBron James and Idan Ravin
Ravin, who is the son of Russian and Israeli immigrants, rejects any comparison between himself and the Clippers’ players—“It’s one thing to be an outsider; it’s another to feel discrimination”—but does see himself as an interloper in the world of professional basketball. Born into a Conservative Jewish family in Maryland, he was cut from his seventh-grade basketball team—an indignity that he blames, in part, on his father, who installed the family hoop nine inches too high. Ravin went on to law school, and worked for three years as an insurance litigator—a job he hated—before moving back in with his parents and running informal basketball workouts at local rec centers. One session caught the eye of Steve Francis, an N.B.A. all-star from Maryland, who gave Ravin the nickname Crouton, because he was “cooler than a regular cracker.” Francis became Ravin’s first N.B.A. client.

With the Dream Catchers still in-season, Ravin was spending much of April working with Skylar Diggins, one of the best young players in the W.N.B.A. “It’s important to have somewhere private to take them,” he said one morning, standing outside the private Manhattan gym where he holds his workouts. “No cameras, no fans. It makes them vulnerable.” After Diggins arrived, Ravin bought a Gatorade from a vending machine and left a quarter in the change slot—a practice that, he says, he got from LeBron James, who deems one-dollar bills too small to bother with.

“Shit, I’d take a dollar,” Diggins, who last year made less than James does in a single game, said.

“Those guys are just on a different planet,” Ravin said.

“That’s why some of them go broke,” Diggins added.

Inside the gym, Ravin handed Diggins a jump rope and ordered her to hop in different directions by pointing like an over-caffeinated airport marshal. Ravin is known for high-intensity, unorthodox workouts—in one, featured in a Nike commercial, he tosses tennis balls at Carmelo Anthony while Anthony dribbles a basketball. Twenty minutes into the session, Diggins started to tear up, a regular occurrence among Ravin’s clients of both genders. (“Tears were like the bread crumbs in the Hansel and Gretel fable,” he writes. “They led me to the source of vulnerability.”) Ravin mentioned that J. R. Smith, of the Knicks, has thrown up in front of him on four separate occasions.

If the Clippers saga had a silver lining, Ravin said, it was to remind fans that professional basketball players are human beings, too, subject to off-court forces. (After the recordings were made public, Los Angeles lost a game by twenty-one points.) Ravin has come to see his job as part therapist, part life counsellor, and he mentioned that, as a side gig, he’s working on a suite of online dating sites. “We’re JDate, but for all the other ethnic communities,” he said. The company’s offerings include,, and Ravin jumped at the suggestion that he might create such a service for his players. “They definitely need some help,” he said. “They meet so many women, but how do you know if she’s authentic?” Potential mates would be screened to determine whether they’re interested in love or in money. If it gets off the ground, Ravin said, he might call it — Reeves Wiedeman | The New Yorker

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