While each and every move that LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have made this offseason has been reported, Joel Anthony has been spending his time in a sweltering hot college gym sweating away the pains of the season as he trains with the Canadian national team. After a whirlwind season with a level of media scrutiny that had never before been seen in professional sports, Anthony can breathe again. Unlike his superstar teammates, he gets to have basketball back, without all of the things that were inescapable when you have the perk of playing alongside James, Wade and Bosh and he’s been enjoying it.
Just how low key are things right now? After a recent practice at Ryerson University, I sat down with a sweat-drenched Anthony as he motioned around the empty gym, smiling at the lack of media presence. There was Cory Joseph getting in extra shooting work, guys getting tended to by trainers on the training tables and head coach Leo Rautins talking with son Andy while two guys who had made their way into the gym had taken over the court and were shooting around opposite Joseph. A far cry from the Heat practice courts, home and away, that had been stalked by media members all season. There was zero hype in this gym, but perhaps even more importantly, zero pressure.
Talking with Anthony, I asked him to take me through his season, the media, the journey and what it does to a player when they are thisclose to winning an NBA Championship.
Holly MacKenzie: So…How different has training for the national team been than the insane season you’re coming off of?
Joel Anthony: Definitely a lot different (laughs). Looking at it, it’s still basketball, but it’s obviously a different situation playing with some of these guys for years, all of my years in the national team. It’s different when you’re representing your country and international competition. It’s a different change of pace, after the season I had, it’s not going to be as crazy with media and all of the attention. If anything, we’re the team that’s going to be under the radar coming into the tournament. The whole goal is to surprise some people and try to continue to make a name for ourselves internationally.
HM: What’s it like coming back here and seeing all of these guys again and just getting to play basketball away from the hype?
JA: It’s a really fun experience. These are guys that I’ve been around for a lot of years. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving with the family. You get back together after you haven’t seen everyone in too long. This month everyone gets back together and it’s a lot of fun. You’re here with a goal of trying to compete. It’s a really good time playing basketball.
HM: After your season ended, how long did you take for yourself, how long did you step away from the game?
JA: It was a pretty long time. I took a good month just trying to rest, getting away from everything. Just trying to let my body heal. It was a long season, but you know, eventually it was time to get back and get with the team. I’ve just been trying to slowly work my way back into things.
HM: Is it as important to rest mentally as it is to physically let your body heal?
JA: Yeah, definitely. Even though some of the things are still fresh when you get back on the court, especially in this setting here where I’m training every day in this gym, when you get into practice, some of that mental memories of what it was like, just before the season ended in June, have started to come back. The mental aspect is probably the biggest challenge in basketball. Getting away from the game mentally was good. Taking that time off to recharge and be able to refocus.
HM: How nice is it to get to be here without a million eyes on you?
JA: Like I said, look around here (motions around the empty gym), after practice here, there’s maybe one or two people around. It’s a lot more quiet and it’s peaceful. The last year, there was always a pretty huge group (laughs) just waiting to burst through those doors as soon as they were allowed to so they could talk to those guys on our team. It’s definitely a lot quieter. There’s obviously a bigger focus just on basketball, on the guys here, nothing extra with the media and everything like that. It’s definitely a nice change of pace.
HM: Could you ever have anticipated things getting as crazy as they did this past season?
JA: Yeah, you could never predict how it was going to be. You knew it was definitely going to be a special season. Obviously, going into it, there were so many expectations, talks, speculation of what was going to happen, how things were going to turn out. You obviously weren’t going to know it was going to be like that, but it was definitely a special experience I’ll remember for the rest of my career, this past year that we had.
HM: Athletes always talk about shutting out the media, they say they don’t read the paper, check the internet, but when it’s the level the team was on, how do you stay away from it when it’s everywhere?
JA: It’s not too hard. You just focus on the team, on the people in the locker room and in the organization. It’s a lot easier when you just put your focus on that and block everything out. Obviously you’ll hear different things just because everything, there’s such a huge focus and so much attention being put on the team, but for the most part it wasn’t that hard to stay away from. You really have to. You really have to because there’s so many different people that want to say different things and have their own basic opinion. Everyone has their own opinion that they feel is right, but if you have 10 different opinions, not everyone can have the right answer to things. You just have to stay away from that, focus on what we know, on what we have to do on the court and continue to stay together. We did a pretty good job of that. We were able to overcome at least that obstacle.
HM: Is that one of the things you guys took pride in, being able to block that out and stay tight within the locker room?
JA: I don’t think it was the biggest thing, but it was definitely something that we understood was extremely important. Those type of things can weigh on people if they don’t handle it well so I feel all of the guys on the team definitely did a good job of it. It’s tough because even with the guys that were extremely high profile, like LeBron, Dwyane and Chris, that situation was something that no one has ever dealt with. Everyone handled it very well. That’s what helped us continue to push forward.
HM: When you look back on the season, was there any one moment where it hit you how crazy all of the attention was going to be?
JA: You saw from the start. We tried to get away from everything and had training camp all the way out at a base and there were still … everyone was still there. Regular things you did, you might be on, you might watch things like ESPN and you realize that it was always about the team. No matter what was going on, they could have been having their hour session of hockey or something, but they were still going to find a way to bring the team up. You started to realize what that media attention was going to be. I don’t think one thing stood out, but there were definitely a lot of moments when you realized, this is something that we have to stay away from. Just focus more on the team and if anything I feel it brought us closer together. Just the fact that there was so much extra attention with guys realizing we had to stay together a lot more.
HM: I’ve never seen anything like that in my life so I can’t even imagine for you, what it’s like looking back on some of the moments. That game in Clevelan–
JA: Yeahhhh. Yeah. There’s definitely a lot of special moments. Like I said, I remember, just seeing a poster of the team this summer, there was a poster that I saw and it brought back a whole bunch of memories. I’ll always remember that past season because it was something special. There’s still a lot more that we wanted to accomplish, finishing it out, trying to win a championship, but the entire journey of that year was something special I’ll never forget.
HM What’s something about your team that we didn’t get to see this past season?
JA: I don’t know. That’s tough. People didn’t realize how close the team was. How much we were able to bond as individuals coming together, you know? Obviously with the type of work and sacrifice that people put in to be able to come together like that, to try to give ourselves a chance to compete for a championship, those are things that behind the scenes, some of the stuff you see on the court, but there are other things similar to that that people weren’t able to see.
HM: Every team has a goal of winning a championship, but it was interesting to me that everyone seemed to expect this to happen immediately with this team. Obviously, you fell short of your ultimate goal, but do you feel good about getting as far as you did in your first year together?
JA: I don’t know. It’s tough. Obviously, you feel good about what you were able to accomplish coming together as a team. A brand new team with only a few players that had played together, there’s definitely a lot we could have been proud about, but when you lose an opportunity to win a championship, and when I say an opportunity to win a championship, when you are literally that close, just a few games away from winning it, it definitely is something that is tough to deal with. That’s something else that I’ll never forget. That missed opportunity. Even though people said, even though certain people expected it and others said that this is something that might take time, when you are that close it’s tough to not expect that of yourself because you got that far and you just want to be able to win. It was definitely something tough to deal with. I think the biggest thing now is just focusing on the future and continuing to get better as a team and knowing that now we have that year under our belt and we’ll be that much better going into the next season.
HM: When you get that close, how does that change you as a player? Does it intensify the hunger that you have as a player, knowing you were right there?
JA: Yeah. Yeah. I think it makes you better as a player. It makes you that much better as a team to be able to go through that, go all the way, that deep into the playoffs all the way to the championship. That’s an experience that not many people are able to go through. I think it’s going to make our team that much better because now we’ve been there and guys understand what it’s like to be there. It’s not going to be something new for us. Not just to get there, but the whole journey going through, going through the season, understanding what all of those games mean and how we’re supposed to play. It’s an experience that will help to make everyone on our team better.