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Right off the bat Ravin noticed an edge to Chris Paul as he walked onto the court. His Hornets were down 1--0 in the series. Ravin noted the way Paul was chewing his gum, as if he were trying to crush walnuts.
Paul is perhaps Ravin's most intense client. The two began working together in 2005, after Paul left Wake Forest to prepare for the NBA draft, and Paul is so familiar with Ravin's drills that he does the workouts by himself when he travels. "For six weeks," says Ravin, astonished. "It's a Navy SEAL type of attitude. He has an inexhaustible spirit."
Paul, in turn, appreciates that Ravin pushes him. "When I get tired, he'll motivate me to push through," Paul says. "He'll say, 'Gilbert Arenas ain't resting right now. Steve Nash isn't resting.'"
Ravin compiles a mental dossier of sorts on each client. He quickly learned, for example, that Arenas is very inquisitive and needs validation—"You're great doing this, but you could be greater or the greatest," Ravin says by way of illustration. Anthony, on the other hand, is emotional and needs to be persuaded to do certain things; with him, says Ravin, "there has to be more dialogue."
Paul, for his part, needs neither validation nor persuasion. "He has a natural chip on his shoulder, so all you have to do is remind Chris that just as he has evolved, so will other people," Ravin says. "There's always another kid out there who's just as hungry. He may be in high school, but he's coming."
On the TV at the hotel bar, Anthony hit a pull-up jumper on his first touch. After the first game of the Nuggets-Hornets series—which Denver won even though Anthony played poorly, shooting 4 for 12—this shot was a good omen. "Gonna be a long night for the Hornets," Ravin said. "He didn't rely on the catch-and-shoot. He put the ball on the floor. And believe me, that's an important first bucket for 'Melo. When you're the star player and you play poorly and the team still wins, part of you says, 'I want to be a part of this.'"
It was a pivotal time for Anthony, in Ravin's eyes. After five years as an NBA wild child, he was trying to be taken seriously. He'd never taken the Nuggets past the first round of the playoffs, but this looked like the year he would. He'd even recently cut off his cornrows. "That's the evolution of 'Melo," said Ravin. "We're seeing him mature in front of the world."
That, Ravin said, is a side of NBA players that fans rarely understand. Despite the stereotype, money is not the driving force for the great ones. "All these guys have a certain ambition," Ravin said. "They've made generations' worth of money. Motivation is no longer money. You can only have so many bedrooms in your house that you can sleep in. Instead, these guys are consumed with being the absolute best at what they can do."
In some respects Ravin sees money as a demarcation line. "The average player may talk about girls or cars," he said. "You give me the great players, and money's never part of the discussion. The great ones want to win a ring, want to make an All-Star team. They're motivated by each other. [Paul] is wondering what Kobe is doing right now. Gilbert is thinking about LeBron."
Now it was the middle of the first quarter, and Anthony passed for the second consecutive time out of isolation. "That's the evolution on the court," said Ravin. "He's making the pass there. Count his touches per shot—that's how you know how well he's playing." A minute and a half later Anthony hit a catch-and-shoot from the right side after one pump fake. "He's the most efficient wing scorer in the NBA," said Ravin. "Watch, and you'll see that he takes limited dribbles on everything. No more than three dribbles."