Right now, the Atlanta Hawks practice in a no-frills gym inside Phillips Arena, not far from the arena’s main court.
As practice facilities go, it’s outdated. No high-tech video room, hydrotherapy pools or high-end kitchen. No massage room or players’ lounge with pop-a-shot and HDTVs. Just one full-sized court. Some big-time college basketball programs have nicer practice facilities and more amenities.
That’s about to change.
In the fall, the Hawks will move into a 90,000-square feet facility that cost nearly $50 million. But it’s more than just an NBA practice facility.
The Hawks are teaming with Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center and P3 (Peak Performance Project) to create a center that not only includes modern amenities but one that incorporates the best of sports medicine and science.
The strategically-planned convergence is aimed at preventing injuries, keeping players healthier and extending careers.
“We want to be the benchmark that everyone strives for when people talk about a professional sports team and an academic health-care partnership in terms of the quality of the medical care, healing and recovery and the science of injury prevention and nutrition,” said Dr. Scott Boden, director of Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center.
NBA teams are opening new practice facilities year after year. With a salary cap and luxury tax system limiting money spent on players, teams look for other ways to support players. Practice facilities are front and center in the NBA’s arms race.
In the last three seasons, the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings have built and opened facilities.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards are building new practice centers, and the Detroit Pistons plan to build one in downtown Detroit. The Golden State Warriors will have a new practice facility when the team moves from Oakland to a new arena in San Francisco.
But the Hawks believe incorporating Emory and P3 in their building is a game-changer.
“It gives us competitive distinction in the NBA,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said. “From a business, brand, franchise standpoint, it distinguishes us in a world that is uber-competitive. Anything you do that makes you stand out is a good thing. We couldn’t be more excited about the accomplishment.
“If our players are healthy and our players have fabulous experiences and our players’ careers are extended, then it is an asset to the organization.”
Koonin said the new ownership group led by Tony Ressler committed to a new practice facility the day he took over. Koonin, partial owner Grant Hill, five doctors from Emory and Hawks executive director of player performance Keke Lyles toured new NBA practice centers, combining what they like around the league with what they envisioned.
“When we talk about player health and prolonging careers and allowing them to reach maximum potential, what is it that we can provide for the player?” Lyles said. "We tried to create a place that has a bunch of different things, and it’s all in-house so we can address and provide services for each athlete that can cover a broad spectrum.”
P3 is the leader in sports science, sports data collection and elite-athlete optimization and is based in Santa Barbara, Calif. They have assessed hundreds of basketball players with the goal of identifying weaknesses and strengths in the body and improving performance while reducing the chance injury.
Based on data and medical science, they create workout programs to help athletes achieve their goals. Nearly every NBA team has had a player evaluated at P3, which has turned into a summer hotspot for NBA players.
There's another component to the new facility. With at least 50 high-level players – NBA, D-League, college – spending time in the Atlanta area during the summer, the Hawks want their facility to become a site for quality pickup games in the offseason. The center will have a visitor’s locker room, too.
P3 founder Dr. Marcus Elliott had resisted expansion until this opportunity.
“We saw Atlanta as an East Coast hub that would allow us to assess athletes up and down the coast,” Elliott said. “We have as many East Coast athletes as West Coast athletes. We have a lot of European athletes, too.
“Getting more data is important if you want to get insight into human systems. The more high-quality data we have coming in, the more insights we’re going to be able to glean.”
P3’s office in Atlanta will expose the company to more athletes, and relationship with Emory could help P3 publish findings in journals where “we can bring these insights to a larger audience,” Elliott said
Emory’s Boden looks forward to working with P3. “Marrying P3 and what they already do with a group of academics and sports medicine physicians, we think not only are we going to raise each other’s game,” Boden said. “We’re going to marry that science with our clinical science and develop rehab protocols and prevention protocols at an even higher level.”
Emory is moving its entire sports medicine division into the practice facility. That includes 13 doctors, who specialize in sports medicine, including a sports cardiologist, and high-tech CT, MRI and X-ray scanners. Boden called this endeavor an unprecedented integration of sports medicine.
“We think this will be a platform to help us do better research in a way that’s going to make a difference in sports medicine,” he said.
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