In the 2018-19 season, less than 4 percent of the league (21 players) appeared in 82 games. Injuries, personal issues, coaches’ decisions and scheduled rest can take the choice of playing every day out of a player’s hands, but those who are healthy enough to have the option to play at every opportunity know they are a rarity.
“It’s very challenging. That’s why there’s only a few that do it,” said Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, 35, who hasn’t missed a game since 2017. “You get a day off when the schedule permits.”
Their motivations vary: Some want to defy an injury-prone reputation, fulfill a sense of duty to fans and teammates, or avoid permanently losing their minutes to a replacement player. Many also cited their love of basketball and an obsessive attentiveness to their body as reasons they’ve embraced the monotony that invades the N.B.A. lifestyle.
Since he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers midway through the 2018-19 season, forward Tobias Harris, 27, has routinely checked in with team staffers to look at his performance analytics, since any decrease would suggest a need to rest to prevent injury. But Harris said that taking time off when he feels well enough to compete tends to have an adverse effect.
“I feel if I don’t play, it’s kind of like hurting me a little bit,” Harris said in an interview before the shutdown. “I’m in a routine and a rhythm. That’s the type of guy I am.” Harris was inactive for the final game of the 2018-19 regular season, but still played in 82 total games after having logged 55 with his former team, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Phoenix Suns wing Mikal Bridges, 23, has not missed a game in his first two seasons as a pro. He is disposed to a strict daily routine, and once the season stopped, he immediately mapped out a plan that could best replicate its physical drudgery while he was home. Bridges did body weight exercises and used weights already in his home, and used a nearby field for conditioning drills.