Before NBA trainer Idan Ravin began practicing with some of basketball’s biggest superstars, he was practicing law in San Diego.
After graduating from the University of Maryland, Ravin attended California Western School of Law. Shortly after completing law school, he was hired by a San Diego law firm doing litigation work. However, he quickly realized that he hated being an attorney. Even though he had invested many years into becoming a lawyer, Ravin decided to walk away from his job and guaranteed salary to find a new career path.
“It happened over many years but, in a nutshell, it was because I just didn’t like what I was doing,” Ravin told Basketball Insiders. “I was practicing law and I was miserable. I guess I chose a career that I was supposed to do rather than what I was meant to do. I’m working at this law firm and I’m dying inside. I didn’t have the courage to even think [about quitting] for a very long time. It was something that kind of grew gradually.”
While in San Diego, Ravin began volunteering as a basketball coach at a local YMCA to cheer himself up, and he managed to lead a team of pre-teens to an undefeated season. He had always loved basketball, playing countless pick-up games while in college – including some with Maryland Terrapins’ players. He dreaded going to work at his law firm, but he couldn’t wait for practices and games with his YMCA team. At that point, he decided to follow his passion and started pursuing a career in basketball.
“I was volunteering there with the kids just to escape from that life that I didn’t like,” Ravin said. “I started volunteering, hoping it would bring some normality into my life. Meanwhile, I was practicing law; I hadn’t quit my day job. But it got to a point after many years where I started realizing, ‘Wow, I really enjoy this and I’m actually pretty good at this.’ Then I sort of made that switch and started committing myself to doing it more full time. So it wasn’t like I just woke up one morning and said, ‘Okay, enough is enough, I am going to do this.’ It was more like I eased my way into it, just to be able to get out of the office.”
Ravin did eventually quit his job and moved back to Maryland. This was a risky career change, but Ravin was confident he could succeed in the basketball world. First, he thought about becoming an agent to put his law background to use. However, he soured on that idea, choosing instead to focus on training.
He started working out a group of players he had known from college, who were now trying to play overseas. A number of the players in Ravin’s group were friends with an extremely talented point guard who decided to participate in the workouts as well.
That point guard was named Steve Francis.
Francis, who is from Maryland and starred for the Terrapins, was intrigued by the former lawyer with the unique training methods (such as throwing tennis balls at players during dribbling drills). Not only did he train with Ravin’s group, he kept working out with Ravin after that. The two worked together while Francis prepared for the pre-draft process, and he ended up being the No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. Francis and Ravin’s workout sessions continued after the top prospect entered the league. Suddenly, Ravin was coaching one of the NBA’s best up-and-coming point guards not long after coaching YMCA kids.
“Working with younger kids led me to older kids, which led me to taller and faster kids, which led me to even better kids, which then eventually led me to college kids, professional [overseas] kids and then NBA kids,” Ravin said with a laugh. “I never ever intended to be here; I never envisioned that I would be here. It was just more like I found something that I really loved and I was just stubborn enough to believe I could do it.
“I think sometimes people think that I just went from practicing law straight to training NBA players, but it was really not like that at all. For a long time, metaphorically, I was the zero-star chef. Then, I became a quarter-star chef, then eventually a one-star chef, then a two-star chef and then, years later, I would consider myself a five-star chef. It was just something that took a lot of time.”
With Francis as his first major client, Ravin started getting some exposure and new players. The point guard was so impressed with Ravin’s training style and basketball mind that he started talking him up to other NBA players. Soon, thanks in large part to Francis’ referrals, Ravin began working out other pros such as Elton Brand (the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft) and Juan Dixon (who was also from Maryland and starred for the Terrapins). Many other NBA players eventually followed, and Ravin became one of the top trainers in the business.
Today, Ravin’s client list looks like an All-Star team. He has trained LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard and Kevin Love among many others. He has spent varying amounts of time working out these players, but he has trained all of them at some point. In addition to his superstar clients, he has also worked out well-known players like Al Jefferson, Wesley Matthews, Eric Bledsoe, Greg Monroe, Joe Johnson, Tyson Chandler, Ty Lawson, Josh Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire among others.
“It was just sort of a word of mouth thing, where one player would recommend me to another player,” Ravin said when asked how he built his client list. “I wasn’t soliciting; I didn’t have relationships with people [around the NBA]. I don’t come from that world. My parents teach Jewish history! They don’t know the NBA world or professional sports. My uncle isn’t an agent – he doesn’t work in the league office. I don’t have those connections, so I just continued to try to do a good job with everybody and then that person would tell another person who would tell another person and then, eventually, you have a good player. With each person, the most important thing is you have to help them excel. [Players came] because the proof was in the pudding. So if I did a really good job with X and then people see X’s growth, they would ask X, ‘What did you do?’ And then X would share a little bit and that led to Y and to Z [coming to train with me too]. That’s how it grew. That’s kind of how it went, very slow and organic.”
Ravin’s workouts are known for being intense and exhausting – as well as unorthodox – with the idea being that actual games will be much easier if a player’s training sessions are rigorous. Another one of Ravin’s specialties is designing different workouts to fit each of his players’ specific needs.
“He is able to put you through a workout that suits your game,” said Blake Griffin, who has only worked out with Ravin a few times but came away impressed. “He’s a good motivator and he has a good understanding of the game.”
When asked what separates him from other NBA trainers in the business, Ravin admits he doesn’t know much about how others operate as he has always just stuck to his own methods. But there are a few things he feels strongly about. For one, he limits the number of players he’s training at one time so his clients can get individual attention. Second, he plans out unique workouts for each of his players based on what they need to work on rather than training all of his players the same way.
“I guess I’m just more customized,” Ravin said. “I wouldn’t take on 40 players; I wouldn’t have 50 people in the gym. Everybody does their work differently, but that’s just never been my approach. I just try to create a more unique experience for the athlete and try to find ways to help them in terms of developing them physically and mentally. I can’t actually speak to what other people do, because I have no idea what other people do. I just really try to give an unconventional, customized approach to every particular athlete. I watch the Food Network a lot to try and learn how to cook. Now, imagine one of the Iron Chefs lets you go into his house and he’ll make an awesome dinner for you, but you get to pick all of the proteins, the veggies, the fruits and all of that. Well, I hope to give that kind of [customizable] Iron Chef experience to the athletes that I work with.”
Over the years, Ravin developed the nickname “The Hoops Whisperer” (which is also the name of his memoir). He has received rave reviews from some of the biggest stars in the NBA. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony among others offered testimonials for Ravin’s website, praising the trainer and his methods.
“Idan inspired me to see my full potential, to become more than others had ever expected of me and challenge myself to do more than I had even expected of myself,” Curry said. “He showed me the importance of resilience and determination, and to capitalize on all my opportunities I had coming out of school and even to this day. His challenge to never become ‘regular’ stuck with me and kept me fierce in my determination to be committed to who I am, what I stand for, and to leave my lasting fingerprints on the game I so dearly love.”
“Idan is the first guy that I’ve worked with that brought something different to the workouts, who pushed me past my limits, who made me think of the game on a different level,” Durant said. “He pushed me with his words, encouraged me and built my confidence as the days went on. Truly one of a kind and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from him.”
“I never imagined that when I first worked with Idan before my rookie year, our relationship would extend more than a decade,” Anthony said. “He has influenced me tremendously and I am very grateful for his loyalty, friendship and guidance. He is passionate about everything he does and, while some may consider his methods unorthodox, the end results for me have been remarkable.”
While Ravin now has the respect of many superstars and people within the basketball world, that didn’t come right away. Initially, people were skeptical of him due to his unusual training style and the fact that he was a former lawyer with zero high-level basketball credentials. Today, he’s largely accepted by the basketball community, but says he still faces his share of doubters and skeptics.
“Well, I mean, everybody still looks at me funny because that space is filled with a lot of judgment and a lot of prejudice; [The belief is], ‘If you don’t come from that world, how could you know that world?’ Ravin said. “That will always exist and I’m okay with that. It’s alright for people to be skeptical. I don’t work for them and my priority is to be happy. But yeah, it takes a long time to be good at anything [so I had to improve early on and then showcase my ability]. But at the same time, I think I have a gift with people, I think I have really good intuition and I think I can just figure out stuff sort of on my own [so I didn’t need to come from the basketball world].
“There are plenty of amazing chefs who never went to the French Culinary Institute, but when you taste their food, you aren’t asking them where they went to college. There’s plenty of amazing screenwriters who don’t have a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Columbia, but when you see their film, you don’t say, ‘Hey, where did you study?’ I find that with the athletes – and the athletes are really, really smart – they don’t ask you about your playing credentials or your PhD in Exercise Science. They are just saying, ‘Wow, I have access to a lot of different people and this has been the most helpful thing for my career of all the people I’ve ever been around.’ So I didn’t find myself having to prove anything to anyone; it was more like I just had to do my best and give the athletes the best that I could. Over time, you gain experience and you obviously become better. I’m sure the first time you wrote, you were just okay. Now, you’re considered brilliant. It just takes time to kind of get better at your craft.”
Even though Ravin has established himself as an elite trainer, he continues to work extremely hard and put in the necessary time to continue being great at his craft. His daily schedule is brutal. He wakes up shortly after 4 a.m. on most days and gets his own workout in around 4:45 a.m. Then, he’ll train his first player of the day around 6:30 a.m. After the workout, they’ll typically get smoothies and some food. Later in the day, he’ll work out additional players in the afternoon and the evening. He lets players decide when they’ll train, since their schedules can be equally packed. And in addition to his training with players, Ravin also has a number of side projects that take up his time. He owns some businesses, invests in a number of others, and has a partnership with Dove Men+Care as a fitness expert. Even though his planner is often packed, Ravin couldn’t be happier with how he’s spending his time – mainly because he never has to step foot in a law firm.
“I don’t mind the schedule,” Ravin said. “It’s just like you: you found something you really love to do, so you just try to give as much time to it as you can. We’re both kindred spirits in that respect.”
This summer, in addition to working with his normal cast of veterans, Ravin has been training three of the top rookies in the 2015 NBA Draft class: Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor, Sacramento’s Willie Cauley-Stein and Miami’s Justise Winslow. Ravin has enjoyed working with the prospects and insists that all three players have star potential. While he’s a bit biased since they’re his clients, Ravin has worked with many stars behind the scenes and knows what to look for when projecting how a player will develop.
“They have just been terrific,” Ravin said of Okafor, Cauley-Stein and Winslow. “It’s a really scary time in their life, going from that sort of cocoon in college to this world of grown men who are all tall, fast, strong, rich and successful with an amazing résumé. It’s a very scary place, but their ability to handle it all has been very impressive. I think they are all going to be terrific.”
Ravin gave his scouting report on each individual player and how they’ve looked.
Okafor: “I think Jahlil could be Rookie of the Year and eventually the best big man in the world. Like the others, he is just amazingly awesome, diligent, strong, super bright and thoughtful.”
Winslow: “I think Justise could be an absolute motherf***er. When you’re around Justise, you feel like you’re around a college professor because he’s just very mature, bright, thoughtful and hardworking. But it’s not just that he’s hardworking – he’s also very, very, very talented.”
Cauley-Stein: “I think Willie could be revolutionary. You know what’s interesting? I think Willie’s versatility is extraordinary and I don’t think people even know it yet. I think he’ll eventually be able to shoot it very well, he puts the ball on the floor well and he runs well. He’s incredibly versatile. I think it would be a shame to just put him underneath the basket and have him run up and down the court blocking shots. I think that wouldn’t be taking advantage of his gifts and I don’t think that’s what he’s destined to be. I think it would kind of be putting him in handcuffs if that is his role and that is what he is limited to, because he could be very special.”
If Okafor, Cauley-Stein and Winslow reach their full potential and do indeed become stars, they’ll join the long list of franchise players who have worked out under Ravin.
Many fans don’t know Ravin since he does all of his work with players behind the scenes (and typically during the offseason). But, without question, he has worked out a player from your favorite team. It’s even quite possible he helped your favorite player develop. Ravin’s training has had a huge impact on the NBA and many players have him to thank for their progress and success.
Not bad for a litigation lawyer and volunteer YMCA coach.
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