SAN FRANCISCO — Early Sunday morning, Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney retreated to the quiet atrium on the fourth floor of the Chase Center. It had floor-to-ceiling windows with expansive views of the San Francisco Bay. The sun was beginning to light up 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, she originally devised yoga for athletes. Ms. Webb, 47, wore her backward-facing baseball cap and appeared in the video conference from her home in Toronto. 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, also called from his apartment near the arena and was on the phone. It was 8:30 a.m., about four hours before Game 4 of the first round of the playoff series between Golden State and the Sacramento Kings. Webb spent the next 40 minutes guiding both players through a series of movements aimed at loosening joints, activating muscles and focusing the mind.
“Reach, reach, reach,” Rooney, 6’9, said as she stood on her tiptoes and stretched out her arms. A small puddle of sweat had formed on the mat beneath her. “Train your fascia like you’re reaching for the net. Great. Now wait.”
(Webb was referring to the fascia, the connective tissue throughout the body. faceHowever, Rooney also seemed nervous there. )
Earlier in his career, Rooney seemed to be plagued with injuries. But over the past two seasons, he’s emerged as Golden State’s toughest player, appearing in every game for the team. He practices Joga before every game, both at his home and on the go.
After Sunday’s session, Looney tallied eight points, 14 rebounds and six assists against the Kings, helping the Warriors to their second straight home win and two-game series win. He had four points, 20 rebounds and nine assists in Thursday’s Game 3 to make up for Draymond Green’s suspension.
Game 5 takes place on Wednesday in Sacramento.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said of Looney, “He’s always got a solid game plan.” “He never makes mistakes. He rebounds like crazy. He makes the right decisions. The game is much easier when Loon is there for our pals.”
Rooney, a three-time Warriors champion, said working with Webb helped him cope with the physical and mental demands of the NBA. His demands only increase in the postseason.
“It’s pretty brutal,” Rooney said. “Every possession is intense. After the game, you just get tired.”
Game day routines are even more important in the late season when players are tired and stressed. Especially this year, with injuries to stars such as Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo contributing to many series, players are looking to gain as much advantage as possible. Some players prefer naps. Some even lace up their lucky sneakers. Rooney plays Joga.
“I love the time to get inside my body for 30 minutes and see how I really feel,” he said.
Rooney got a head start in yoga as a high school senior 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 remembers barely surviving 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,” said Chapman, 42.
During his lonely season at UCLA, Rooney succumbed to his hectic schedule and stayed away from yoga. After Golden State drafted him with the 30th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, he missed most of his rookie year with a hip injury that underwent two surgeries to repair left and right labrum tears. After that, he suffered from chronic neuralgia. He broke his collarbone during the 2019 NBA Finals and underwent trunk surgery in 2020. He returned for the 2020-21 season, but felt disappointed in his own play.
“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, Rooney approached Dr. Rick Celebrini, director of sports medicine and performance at Golden State University, with specific requests: “Does anyone know a yoga teacher?”
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 was relentless in his initial assessment sent to Golden State head performance coach Kyle Barber, pointing out several areas where Looney’s mobility is limited. But she saw potential, and Rooney let him know after the session that she was sore, especially in her glutes and abs, and that 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 enough faith to organize a Joga session for the players, coaches, staff involved in basketball operations, and anyone else who wanted to learn more. 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 Joga session before the game and paid for all classes for the rest of the season. Since then, they have been inseparable Joga companions. If the team schedules an 11 a.m. shootaround, Rooney and Moody typically hit the mats on the team’s practice court at 8:30 a.m. to stretch, lunge, twist and breathe for 40 minutes.
“I can actually tell the difference please do not Go for 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.