The routine is the same after every Detroit Pistons game:
Strength-and-conditioning coach Arnie Kander hands a towel to
rookie center Darko Milicic and tells him to hold on to the towel
as if his life depended on it. For 15 minutes Kander jerks the
towel in all directions, simulating the force of Jason Kidd
trying to make a steal or Jermaine O'Neal attempting to snatch a
rebound. The point is simple--to make Milicic what Kander calls
"basketball strong"--but not always obvious to passersby. Says
Kander, "People look at us as if we're crazy."
This is an article from the April 12, 2004 issue
Nicknamed MacGyver for his resourcefulness ("We don't need a
weight room," he tells his players. "All we need is a rope or a
towel and a little bit of space"), Kander, 43, is part witch
doctor, part Zen master. He's also, to many, a savior. "That man
changed my life," says former Pistons guard Dana Barros, who had
back problems for three years before meeting Kander. "He's the
best in the NBA at what he does."
What he does hardly comes out of the NBA trainer's handbook.
Kander, who is in his 12th season with Detroit, insists on:
*De-emphasizing weightlifting. Instead he puts players through
exercises to build strength in the muscles most important in
basketball. "A weight room in many cases will not simulate the
activities on a court," he says.
*No painkillers. "I want players to feel what's wrong so that we
have a better chance to correct it," he says.
*No stretching while lying down; he says it causes stiffness. The
team's pregame warmup emphasizes standing and reaching--much like
a tai chi session.
*Home remedies. Kander makes his own dietary supplements from
herbs, some of which he grows in his garden, and his own massage
lotions from such unusual ingredients as cayenne pepper and
*"Energy healing." Kander puts his hands on his players and tries
to "connect with their bodies" to draw energy to the spot of an
injury. "It's more intuitive," he says, "but I can get a sense of
where the energy is."
*Meditation. "The best way to perform at your highest level,"
says Kander, who has a physical therapy degree from Wayne State,
"is to truly be in touch with who you are."
Though Kander's methods have not gained widespread acceptance
elsewhere in the NBA, his players swear by him. When Grant Hill
moved to Orlando in August 2000, he wanted Kander to join him
there as his personal trainer. (Kander declined.) In October 2000
Kander diagnosed Barros's chronic back problems, which had all
but ended Barros's career, as resulting from an improper running
style. He revamped Barros's posture and showed him exercises that
would strengthen the abdominal muscles. "Two weeks later I was
dunking," says Barros, who went on to have two productive seasons
in Detroit. "It was crazy." Crazy. Yes, Kander hears that a