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NBA Pre-Game Rituals: Common Basketball Pre-Match Routines

Publish Date: 28.05.2024
Fact checked by: Emily Carter

Professional athletes are some of the most skilled people on Earth. They also tend to be superstitious and put a lot of stock into routines. As such, many conduct pre-game rituals, where they perform an act before a game to help them get into the proper mindset.

Such rituals, while not necessarily unique to the NBA, are more prevalent in basketball than in any other sport. That’s because many league stars have specific routines they follow in every contest, which adds to their spectacle and brings in extra media attention.

There have been a wide range of unique and interesting pre-match routines over the years. Some are a part of NBA lore, some are more subtle, and others are just plain strange. Either way, they all happened for the same reason.

Iconic Pre-Game Rituals of NBA Legends

Pre-game rituals are not extremely common in the NBA, but many big stars adopted them in one form or another. The most well known comes from LeBron James, who would take some chalk and then toss it into the air over his head before every contest.

That move stems from Michael Jordan, who used to playfully throw chalk at the announcers before games every now and then. However, unlike James, Jordan also had a few extra rituals. He wore his UNC shorts before each game and would always drink some coffee.

A more modern, and much more subdued, pre-game ritual comes from Stephen Curry. The Warriors’ guard always sprints up and down the court before a game. That not only warms him up for the coming contest, but it increases his focus.

Beyond that, Bill Russell was known for having one of the more unfortunate pre-game rituals in basketball. The center got extremely nervous before games. So nervous, that he would throw up in the locker room before each and every one.

That may sound like a negative, but it was something that he used to calm his nerves and keep him focused for the game. It became so important that Red Auerbach used to ask him if he threw up to make sure he would play at his peak level.

Unique and Unusual Rituals

The above rituals are more well-known or iconic ones that most fans are familiar with in some way. However, not all pre-game rituals are as simple as tossing chalk or running up and down the court. There are some out of left field as well.

For instance, Kevin Garnett used to walk over to the bottom of the basket before games and place his head against the padding. After a few seconds, he then would pull his head back and slam it into the padding as a way to get him into the right mood.

Monta Ellis also had a strange ritual where he would dip his hands in wax. That helped improve his circulation and literally warmed him up. However, Ellis also believed it made his hands softer in a way where he could dunk, pass, and shoot much more easily.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has developed another odd ritual where he wrestles with some of his teammates before the game. That warms up his body, and has an added bonus of creating better chemistry within the team by keeping everyone loose.

While Doncic does not have a set ritual that he does before every game, the Mavericks star has also been known to play a little soccer before the game by either kicking or headbutting balls at or into the basket. It’s one of the more fun pre game rituals in basketball, and something no one else does.

Rituals for Mental Preparation

Pre-game rituals may seem silly from an outside perspective, but they play a pivotal role in helping players get focused and stay ready for two key reasons. The first is that they build a routine, which itself creates focus and subconsciously gets the body ready for high level play.

That’s why some players also incorporate mental repetitions or visualization into their routine. They might imagine the upcoming game, go over plays, see themselves shooting or defending at different spots, or even imagine a specific outcome.

By doing so, that allows them to integrate their mind even further into the task at hand. Getting ready for a game is both a physical and mental exercise. Going through the same motions at the start of each contest strengthens both of those ends.

Physical Warm-Ups and Exercises

Looking at what NBA players do before a game, the above rituals typically focus on mental fortitude and mindset. There are more than a few different ways athletes prepare physically as well. Curry’s pregame sprint is one such example, but that’s shorter than most.

Another superstar who put a lot into their pregame routine was Kobe Bryant. The Lakers guard had a long and extensive pregame shooting routine. That allowed him to go through the motions, hit his shots, and build up some muscle memory before tip-off.

Dwayne Wade had a similar physical pre-game ritual, although it was a bit more unorthodox. The Heat guard would jump up, grab the basket, and then do a few pulls up on the rim.

He got that idea from watching Vince Carter as a kid. Before each game, Carter would go through a whole dunk routine and then end by pulling himself up on the net. Wade thought that looked cool, and incorporated it into his routine during his entire career.

Role of Coaches in Pre-Game Routines

Coaches also play a role in developing what NBA players do before a game. While not as critical as the players themselves, a good coach can push or encourage a strong pre-game ritual as a way to help players center themselves in the right way.

They often shape the pre-game shooting or warm up drills. If they find a certain routine works for one player, they might encourage that player to continue with that drill. On top of that, if they find a certain routine helps an athlete focus, they might reinforce that as well.

Fan Interaction and Its Impact

Of course, some NBA pre-game rituals are for the fans. The above benefits will always be present, but there is a level of showmanship and flash as well. Fan interaction, especially in the age of social media, can be extremely important in shaping why an athlete acts the way they do.

Not only that, but a big pre-game ritual can pump up a crowd or better involve fans at the stadium. That then builds the general atmosphere and further increases home field advantage.

A good pre game ritual comes with plenty of benefits. One of the biggest is taking a crowd full of fans and pumping them up even more.


Pre-game rituals are an important part of basketball, especially in today’s media-focused league. Many big time players have used them in the past, and with the increased focus on athletes they have only garnered more attention as of late.

There is no doubt that a strong routine helps athletes both physically and mentally. Getting into focus is a big part of playing at the top level, and a ritual helps with that. However, it also grows a player’s individual legacy and can raise their popularity as well.

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