Pat Burke, the only Irish-born player in NBA history, thinks that eight seeding games will be needed for players to get back to their best.
“These are the fastest, biggest human beings on earth with this high skill level, so you have to try and get them ready for that and say what’s acceptable in terms of energy and what’s not acceptable. I mean if they just started, I would say a lot of guys would be shocked and embarrassed going on live TV, if they just started right up. Again, not to get to deep into this, I am sure with the current pandemic that we have just gone through, they do show these guys working out in their gyms at home. I guarantee you, there’s a couple of guys who have a beer belly and they need the eight games.”
The Florida-based Burke, who played 62 games with Orlando Magic and two seasons with Phoenix Suns, says locals haven’t really noticed the fact the NBA Bubble is on their doorstep.
“It’s not on your radar. Everybody knows the magnitude of that league, being a world-class league all these franchised teams, but they also know the security around that bubble. You know those guys are not intended to come out of it and no one is intended to get in, so it is so far removed from here that I don’t think you would have people busting up to the changeling fence asking for autographs. You can tell even through the videos that you’re watching, whenever they are walking through the resorts, it’s very secluded, it looks like its only them, referees and medical staff.”
Burke, who shared locker rooms with the likes of Tracy McGrady and Steve Nash, believes that the NBA games and experience for the players and audience will be different in these unprecedented times.
“I’d say it is yet to be determined. I know that the fans and the crowd really add to the sensationalism of the game, so you would have more of a theatrical performance. Like I don’t think you are going to see as much chest pounding. I haven’t even seen if LeBron (James) has done the whole powder and throwing it up in the air because there is nobody there to see it. So it’s almost like when you take that element out of it, I think it will be more intimate with conversation, if that makes sense. So the two opposing teams will probably talk quite a bit more about what’s going on, because they are the only ones experiencing it outside of the live TV audience. So I’d say that the game will change in terms of its theatrics. It will probably be very hard for the cameraman to find that little teaser at half-time, of somebody showing their tattooed back, because there’s nobody to show it to. It’s a little bit awkward.”
There is no doubt that the fans at games add a huge element to the atmosphere and influence the players, Burke said when speaking to Basketball Ireland’s ‘Bench Talk’.
“For sure the crowds make a difference. You know there is a little bit of a vice, pressure inside that. Not only do you want to, but the audience almost demands your best efforts, so imagine now when you get a little bit tired and you’re going for that second, third rebound of a steal, instead of going down to neutral, you have got to always put it back up because the fans are always watching. You got ten, twenty, thirty thousand people watching you, you can’t drop a level inside of that and that’s what really brings that level of excitement. Someone gets the tip dunk, or someone makes that big three and all of a sudden you can feel the atmosphere change in the room. It’s going to be interesting to see when it’s not there, how they respond to that. Even listening to the announcers, what do they do when they are trying to capture that and articulate the energy in the room when it is the guy at the end of the bench clapping, you know, times two.”
Burke experienced guarding Michael Jordan and the conversation moved onto discussing the documentary ‘The Last Dance’ and how the series put a magnifying glass on the office/agent environment between players and management.
“Everybody in the locker room, they have some sort of understanding of what’s going on because you think about it, we’re all being represented by agents and those agents are on the phone all the time, so that network is feeding the rumour mill of what’s happening. So, any player who is not performing or on that trade block, they’re going to know about it. A lot of times you would have moments inside the season where you’re getting ready for practice and one or two guys are little bit quiet and they are walking in and they probably have their go-to guy that they talk to on the team or you know, or some guys who are at such a high level financially, they’re just openly blurting it out. F bombs, this that and the other and you’re like ‘wow’. It does come with the logo and a lot of that does happen.”
Burke has experienced the expectations of being an NBA player versus actually being an NBA player and a part of the whole set up. He discussed how it’s not just a sport that there’s so much more to it.
“It’s wearing on you. You know you come in with the best intentions because you know, you’re not complaining, you’re playing professional basketball at the highest level, it’s exciting. Every day, something new is happening. You know, there’s a celebrity walking into the room, you’re travelling to a really cool city, there’s just so many things but there is that underlying, it’s a business. Whether you are having the greatest moment, there’s still all these other things, these phone calls that kind of take you away from being on the court. Then there’s the politics of your team, who’s playing, who’s not, who’s in the rotation? You don’t look to complain about it, but it is always there. At the end of the day though, you’re loving it, because where else are you going to be in that position and how long are you going to be there?”
Burke was a EuroLeague champion with Panathinaikos in 2000 and also helped the "Greens" to win three consecutive Greek League titles from 1999 to 2001. Burke also played with the Spanish clubs Tau Ceramica, Gran Canaria and Real Madrid, Maroussi in Greece, Khimki in Russia and Asseco Prokom Sopot in Poland. He explained that there were differences when playing basketball for European teams compared to the NBA when speaking to Bench Talk host, Conor Meany.
“First of all, you got to find your niche. Are you a post guard player? Do you shoot soft jump shot 15ft out? Are you a 3pt shooter on the defensive end? Are you a post stopper? Are you a rebounder? Do you block shots? On offense, are you a stretch 4 or 5? I had to initiate and find who I was and I think that was more understood in the NBA than it was in Europe. In Europe it was like, ‘hey we need a 5 and we need you to work as hard as you can’. In the NBA, they are like ‘look Pat, they are going to know who you are after 3 games, because everyone is going to scout and you’ll be on a board in every locker room saying ‘hey, he shots a 15ft jump shot, he’s left handed, he’s probably going to go on the left side, probably 90% of his post ups’. So, everything is understood. So those were the things you had to think about all the time in the NBA. They are always looking to make you counter what you want to do. I say this to the listeners and the viewers, the NBA, the fastest, biggest human beings every night. So you’re not getting a night off, where you’re bumping into a soft body. Everyone is as big as MAC truck and they are all looking to compete at the highest level. In Europe, some guys can be slower, some guys can be not as big. They are good players but there not as big, huge guys with athletic prowess where you’re like wow was this guy created in the laboratory?”
Episode 9 of Bench Talk featuring current Fr Matthews Basketball Club sisters and international stars Niamh and Grainne Dwyer, takes place on Wednesday, 5th August. You can watch it on Basketball Ireland's social media channels.