‘Yoga for Jocks’ Keeps Golden State’s Kevon Looney Grounded
SAN FRANCISCO — Early Sunday morning, Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney took refuge in the quiet atrium on the fourth floor of the Chase Center. Floor-to-ceiling windows provided expansive views of the San Francisco Bay. The sun was starting to burn in the hazy sky as Rooney leaned his iPad against a small metal pole, unrolled his black yoga mat, and greeted one of the most important figures in his professional life.
A voice emitted from an iPad. It belonged to Jana Webb, creator of . self-proclaimed yoga brand Known as Joga, this yoga was originally conceived as “yoga for jocks”. Webb, 47, attended the video conference from his home in Toronto, wearing his backward-facing baseball cap. She is on Rooney’s phone as “Jana Joga”.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“It was really good,” Rooney said.
One of Rooney’s teammates, Moses Moody, was also dialing in from his apartment near the arena. It was 8:30 a.m., about four hours before Game 4 of the first-round Golden State playoffs against the Sacramento Kings. Over his next 40 minutes, Webb guided both players through a series of movements designed to loosen his joints, activate his muscles and focus his mind.
“Reach, reach, reach,” she said. Six-foot-nine Rooney stood on her toes, arms outstretched. A small pool of sweat formed on the mat below. “Like reaching for a net.” Get your fascial tension, great.
(Webb was referring to the fascia, the connective tissue throughout the body, but not the fascia. facethough Rooney seemed nervous there too.)
Early in his career, Rooney seemed unable to escape injury. However, over the past two seasons, he has appeared in every game for the team and has emerged as Golden’s toughest player in his state. He practices his Joga before every game whether at home or on the go.
After Sunday’s session, against the Kings, Looney had 8 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists to help the Warriors win their second straight home win and two-game series. In Game 3 on Thursday, he tallied his four points, 20 rebounds and nine assists to make up for Draymond’s Green absence due to suspension.
Game 5 takes place on Wednesday in Sacramento.
“He always sticks to the game plan,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said of Rooney. “He never makes mistakes. He rebounds like crazy. He makes the right decisions.” The game is much easier when Loon is there for our companions.”
Rooney, a three-time champion with the Warriors, said working with Webb helped him cope with the physical and mental demands of the NBA.
“It’s pretty brutal,” Rooney said. “Every possession is intense. After the game, you just get tired.”
Game day routines become even more important as players get tired and stressed towards the end of the season. Especially this year, with injuries to stars such as Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo contributing to many series, players are looking for the edge they can get. Some players prefer naps. Some even lace up their lucky sneakers. Rooney does his Joga.
“I love being in my body for 30 minutes and seeing how I really feel,” he said.
Rooney got a head start in yoga as a senior in high school in Milwaukee. One of his trainers in his early basketball years, Lou Chapman introduced him to Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, when a new studio opened. Rooney recalled barely making it through his first class.
“I lay on the mat a lot,” he said. “I thought I was a top athlete, but they knocked me down.”
Rooney’s competitiveness didn’t stop him from coming back. Also, Chapman was offering them a discounted membership and wanted to make sure they could take advantage of the deal.
“I think we went 90 days in a row,” Chapman, 42, said.
During his lonely season at UCLA, Rooney succumbed to his hectic schedule and stayed away from yoga. He missed most of his rookie year with a hip injury after Golden State selected him No. 30 in the 2015 NBA Draft — he underwent two surgeries to repair a right and left labrum tear. He suffered a broken collarbone in the 2019 NBA Finals and had trunk surgery in 2020.
“It didn’t work as well as it used to,” he said. “I didn’t have that kind of burst or coordination.”
After the season, Looney approached Golden State’s director of sports medicine and performance, Dr. Rick Celebrini, with specific questions.
In fact, Dr. Celebrini had someone in mind. He linked Rooney with Webb, a fellow Canadian who has worked with other athletes for years. Their first virtual session was a huge success.
“I can’t say I liked it,” Rooney said.
Webb spared no expense in an initial assessment she sent to Kyle Barber, Golden State’s head performance coach, citing several areas where Rooney’s mobility is limited. , Rooney experienced a kind of post-session soreness — especially in his glutes and abdominal muscles — showing him there was room for improvement.
“We don’t do a lot of long static holds,” said Webb. “It’s about replicating the biomechanics of movement in sports.”
Rooney worked with Webb several times a week that summer before suspending sessions at the beginning of the 2021-22 season. At the time, Rooney wondered if Joga was just part of his offseason routine.
“But after six or seven games, I felt like my body was back to where it was before,” he said. ‘Can we do this on the day of the game?'”
By the middle of last season, Rooney had organized Joga sessions and wanted to learn more about the players, coaches, and staff involved in running basketball. As usual, Webb led the class remotely. Even from thousands of miles away, she could sense varying levels of interest.
“Draymond cut his toenails in the middle of it,” she said with a laugh. “I wonder if this is actually happening?”
Moody’s general conclusion was confusion. As a teenager, he was in Little Rock, Arkansas, attending yoga classes at his local LA fitness. However, Webb may have spoken a foreign language.
“She was talking really fast about all these muscles that we were supposed to be activating,” Moody said. I just don’t know what I’m doing.”
But Moody was also intrigued. Over the next few weeks, after bombarding Rooney with questions about Joga and human anatomy, Moody called Webb. “She gave me an overview,” he said.
Rooney invited Moody to attend the next pre-game Joga session and paid for all classes for the rest of the season. Since then, they have been inseparable Joga companions. If the team’s shootaround is scheduled for 11am, Rooney and Moody will typically meet on the mat at the team’s practice court at 8:30am to stretch, lunge, twist and breathe for 40 minutes.
“I can actually tell the difference please do not Do it,” Moody said. “I just feel smoother in my movement. When that ball comes off the rim, I feel like Spider-Man.”
After over 200 remote sessions with Looney, Webb finally First meeting with both players when the Warriors were in Toronto to face the Raptors in December. “It was very special,” he said Webb.
On Sunday, Webb started the session by performing a series of breathing exercises.
“Let your jaw relax for four minutes,” she said. “Soften three ribs. Start squeezing her lower abdomen for two seconds. Now take a full breath and empty it there. Notice what you’re thinking.”
Eventually Webb let them do one dynamic move after another. She was careful to keep her fingers spread when Moody was in the plank position. She urged Rooney to lift her “pelvic floor.” She referred to her hips and femurs, lateral intercostals and adductors.
Finally Rooney lay on his back, closed his eyes and exhaled.