OKC practice facility has much for Sixers to admire

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks shouts in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. Los Angeles won 125-117. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks shouts in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. Los Angeles won 125-117. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Posted: June 24, 2014

For a basketball person walking in the Oklahoma City Thunder's practice facility, Dan Leibovitz said, it was something like walking in the corporate offices at Apple or Google.

Not in the scale of the place, but in the attention to detail.

"The amount of thought that went into what they did, everything had a great functional purpose," said Leibovitz, the associate commissioner for basketball in the American Athletic Conference. "Even in the flow of the building - the way they tried to control the traffic in the building."

The Sixers, the last NBA franchise left without its own practice facility, are looking at the Thunder and several other NBA franchises as they design their 120,000-square-foot practice facility and team headquarters in Camden. New Jersey awarded the franchise $82 million in tax credits over 10 years to build it on the waterfront.

None of this should be surprising if you think about what the Eagles have done with the NovaCare Complex. That's the type of facility that most NBA teams have. Those days when Charles Barkley worked out at the St. Joseph's Fieldhouse, sharing the place with the Hawks, are long gone.

In Oklahoma City, there are a heated lap pool, a car detailer, and a barber on site. Sure, they have a restaurant. Most of these places have cafeterias. But their goal is to have the best restaurant in Oklahoma City.

The idea is to make the practice facility a place that players will go to year-round. And if you can get a haircut just steps off the playing court, you're more likely to step on that playing court. Or maybe get your leg iced while you're getting your hair cut. Same for the restaurant. At the least, you get a nutritious meal. Best case, it gets you on the court or looking at film for a few extra minutes.

Every part of the Thunder's operation is housed right off the practice court, so players don't have to take more than a step to see the coach, general manager, trainer, PR staff, community services, etc.

"They have this thing about clutter - there are no ball racks, they're built into the walls," said Leibovitz, a former Temple and Penn assistant who visited the Thunder after spending a season as a Charlotte Bobcats assistant.

This isn't a recruiting device, NBA people say, since most franchises now have bells and whistles. You think LeBron James is making a decision based on a practice facility?

Sixers president Scott O'Neil said the team has visited Oklahoma City, Cleveland, San Antonio and Chicago, looking at their facilities. He pointed out that GM Sam Hinkie comes from Houston, coach Brett Brown from San Antonio, and he came from the New York Knicks, so they're very familiar with those operations.

The basic goal for the new facility is simple, O'Neil said: A building where the business and basketball operations are together (as they are for the Eagles). Also, he said, it should be a place where Sixers players "will feel comfortable coming 24-7."

The design of it, O'Neil said, will reflect "a place that is kind of made for and designed for 25- to 35-year-olds."

He's not talking about making it a playground. It will be a work environment.

"With how important sports science is, we certainly want to make sure that we're at the cutting edge of how best to take advantage of that," O'Neil said. "We've been really public about how important player development is. We've got our head coach who lives and breathes player development."

If it still sounds like spoiling athletes, look at it from this angle: The franchises do it to see if they can gain the smallest of edges on the court.

"Everyone is just trying to get inside the mind of the pro athlete: What are his specific needs?" Leibovitz said.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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