The Heart of Rebounding

Part 5

What about experience? Don't NBA players rebound better as their careers progress?

Abdul-Jabbar says the importance of experience is obvious: "After seeing a couple thousand rebounds, you get a better idea where they're going to go."

Daly saw Rodman improve in his six seasons with the Pistons: "Rodman wasn't the rebounder he is now when he first came in." Under Daly, Rodman's rebound average climbed: 4.3, 8.7, 9.4, 9.7, 12.5 and 18.7.

One edge of experience is knowing when teammates will take their shots. Another is the shooting tendencies of opponents. In rebounding, a fraction of a second can make the difference.

Parish says, "It's like anything you do in your life. I think experience is the best teacher. I became a better rebounder because of maturity and experience. I think I've definitely gotten better over the years."

Yet while experience can help, rebounding, ultimately, is reduced to a simple exercise: relentless pursuit of the basketball.

"The great rebounders, when there's contact, they roll off. They make a reverse spin. They don't stop," says Willis Reed, the Nets' General Manager and a hall of Fame player. "Oakley is good at that. He'll get inside position away from the ball. The guy who's the great rebounder is the one when he sees the ball going on the weak side, he still gets there."

Like Barkley. He led the NBA in 1986-87 with 14.6. So far this season, he is matching his career average of 11.7 rebounds.

"He's just an amazing athlete," Reed says. "You shake your head. He defies description. I worked at the Olympic Trials in '84. I was amazed how he'd go up between all those big guys and rebound. I was just flabbergasted by the skills this guy had. He had such great quickness."

Abdul-Jabbar says of Barkley: "He can hold position. If he's got you on his back, you're not going to be able to reach over or around him to get the rebound."

In "Outrageous," Barkley did indeed say, "Rebounding is a battle for turf ... I've got a technique. It's called Just Go Get the Damn Ball!"

Of course, there is a price. "You have to be able to spin off guys, get up and down the court, take the bumps and bruises to get to the ball all the time," Willis says.

"When the shot goes up, you step and make contact with your man no matter where he is on the floor," Reed says. "That's a fundamental thing you do all the time." All the time, and time after time. "For a guy to get one offensive rebound, he has to go up 10 times," Karl says. "That's like going on 10 dates and only getting one kiss."

Great rebounders accept the odds. You can't measure character by vertical leap. "You've got guys who jump out of the gym, but they're not great rebounders," Oakley says. "It's just determination and hard work."

What separates the good rebounder from the great? "Heart," Parish says. "It's that simple."

NBA rebounding champions by season

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