Other coaches, however, dismiss Ravin because he is not part of the basketball fraternity. (Ravin says the Bobcats' Larry Brown in particular challenged him about his credentials.) True, Ravin has not played for or apprenticed under a legendary coach or paid his dues as an assistant. But the players don't care. They see him as a welcome alternative to the hierarchical player-coach relationship in the NBA. The Nuggets' Anthony flies Ravin in for workouts during the season (and calls him Crouton because "[Idan] rhymes with crouton, but he's a lot cooler than a regular cracker"). Suns guard Jason Richardson swears by Ravin, and the Wizards' Arenas used him for almost all of his knee rehab during the 2008--09 season.
If high school and college coaches teach fundamentals, Ravin is the final step in a player's development. His is a business of refinement. His training methods can be exotic, but what sets him apart is the way he relates to players, particularly those like Anthony who have a history of being difficult to reach—at least to more traditional basketball types. "He knows the game so well and in turn knows his clients so well that he knows exactly how to get into their heads," says Anthony. "Especially mine. Not only does he push me physically but he also pushes me psychologically."
This ability to reach the unreachable is why Ravin got the half-joking nickname the Hoops Whisperer. "People say, 'What you do is not rocket science,' and it's not," says Ravin. "But you get Carmelo on the plane, get him to fly to L.A., get him to show up at 8 a.m., get him to run through a wall, get him to pay you? Now, that's rocket science."
RAVIN OFTEN works out clients in Potomac, Md., at the house of Andy Gold, a friend of his who works in finance. But house doesn't do the place justice. Deep in the woods of D.C. suburbia, Gold's estate has, among other amenities, a spacious indoor gym. Built in 2000, the basketball floor is roughly three quarters of regulation length and features breakaway rims, glass backboards, a scoreboard and a booming sound system. Ravin uses the gym because it's private, it's motivational ("The players are trying to make the kind of money Andy has," Ravin says) and it's free.
Gold used to play in the games himself, living out every fortysomething guy's fantasy. (This is a dude who's been to five Michael Jordan fantasy camps, at $15,000 a pop.) But one morning last April, Gold stayed upstairs in his office—"trying to pay for this house," he joked—while Ravin skipped down a spiral staircase to the gym followed by the day's clients, collegians Sam Young of Pittsburgh and Jack McClinton of Miami. Both players had been sent to Ravin by their agent, Lance Young at Octagon Sports. They were early in their preparations for the 2009 NBA draft and were eager and optimistic. Young was hoping to be a lottery pick—in mock drafts he was pegged as a late first-rounder—and McClinton, who was projected as a second-rounder, was trying to move up to the first round.
As the players put on their gear in silence, Ravin walked the court arranging a couple dozen small orange cones. The trainer has a shaved head, a prominent nose and large, hangdog blue eyes. He wore a Dallas Mavericks workout shirt over a Washington Wizards sweat suit, none-too-subtle reminders of both his credentials and the goal at hand.
Ravin was raised in the D.C. area in a traditional Jewish household. After graduating from Maryland and from California Western School of Law, he joined a New York City law firm. But he soon soured on the field, and during his 20s, after moving to San Diego, he began coaching kids two nights a week at a YMCA, using unconventional drills of his own creation. Soon enough, as he recalls, all the kids wanted to be on Mr. Ravin's team.
A few years later, back in the D.C. area, Ravin used those same drills while casually running some workouts for college-level players. His big break came when Steve Francis, then a star at Maryland, showed up at a workout and got hooked. He in turn brought a friend who was also NBA-bound, Elton Brand. One referral led to another, and Ravin's client base grew. Before arriving at Gold's home gym last April, both Young and McClinton had heard about Ravin's techniques from Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay, so they knew what to expect. Or so they thought.
The workout began without a warmup. Going one at a time, Young and McClinton dribbled the length of the court through staggered sets of cones and finished with layups. Each time up and back they performed a different move: crossover, then behind the back, then hesitation. As they worked out, Ravin ran in front of them, commanding them to call out the number of fingers he was holding up (to ensure that the players kept their heads up), then behind them doing the same thing (to make sure they were aware of defenders). He had them finish with jump shots.
It's an elementary drill, but Ravin's process can seem counterintuitive. For starters, his workouts rarely last longer than an hour. Rather than subject players to hours of running or repetitive drills, Ravin focuses on applying lessons to game situations (remember, the players are already accomplished), using exercises designed to provide both conditioning and skill development. When Richardson first hooked up with Ravin, he was a bit bewildered. "It was only 45 minutes, but it felt like two hours," the Suns guard said. "It was weird. It was basketball, but at the same time it was conditioning. It was a whole bunch of things mixed up into one. I was like, I don't really know what all this is, but it helps."