How Do NBA Players Stay Motivated?: Understanding Their Driving Forces

For years, sports and athletes have consistently served as sources of inspiration and motivation for all of us. We learn a great deal from their dedication and positive attitudes toward both sports and life. Basketball, being a team sport, requires not only exceptional skills from the players but also passion, as it is passion that fuels perseverance. 

In this post, utilizing insights from the mindset of basketball players as shared in their media interactions and interviews, we will examine the factors that keep an NBA player motivated not only during the season but also in the offseason. How do basketball players maintain motivation? To address this question, we need to understand their mindset and approach toward the sport. Thus, we will explore these aspects in this post to identify the various elements contributing to their sustained motivation throughout the season.


1. Utilizing every game as an opportunity for learning.

Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


NBA seasons are lengthy, and for teams and players experiencing a slump, they can seem even longer. As professionals, NBA players cannot allow the outcomes of previous games to affect their upcoming ones. Take, for example, Steph Curry; he views each game as an opportunity for improvement. There’s a constant drive among players to enhance their performance, regardless of whether the season is unfolding as they envisioned.

I try and use every game as an opportunity to learn.” Steph Curry employs a distinctive approach to his game, which undoubtedly keeps him motivated throughout.

When a player pursues continuous improvement and maintains that mindset even when faced with setbacks, they ultimately aim to enhance their abilities and skills, learning from their experiences along the way.


2. Discipline Over Motivation: Staying disciplined and having a strong work ethic goes a long way.

Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As we know, motivation is what we all need to achieve things in life, but it’s fleeting, and many things can influence motivation adversely. Having discipline in everyday life and following a work ethic pave the way for more consistency in an athlete’s career. Professional NBA players follow a strict regimen when they are on the road during the seasons.

In professional leagues such as the NBA, one bad or good day doesn’t make a significant difference, so players need to maintain consistency in their approach. You wanna be a champion, every second that’s your step on the floor, not just when you play a good team or playoffs coming up, I think being a champion is in the habits, the work ethic, the care that you have for the game.Kevin Durant prioritizes work ethics above all else. Consistent effort and a drive to constantly improve oneself are what keep professional basketball players motivated.

What you do as a daily routine, regardless of what has transpired so far in your league games, is what makes a champion from a player, and staying consistent with those habits is key. A championship mindset is not something that can be achieved in a matter of a few days; it requires habit-building and dedication, which can be attained through a structured work ethic on the part of players.


3. Maintaining your focus on the process rather than the results.

When participating in a major championship, the athlete’s motivation is always to win the championship. However, over time, one must realize that to attain that ultimate goal, it is necessary to focus on the process and what is happening in the present.

Kevin Durant is one of the most successful NBA players in history. Through numerous interviews and post-game press conferences, Durant has emphasized the importance of intrinsic motivation in developing skills and focusing on the process. …my view on this game is really about development. Like, how good can I be? It’s not about, you know, let’s go get this championship. I appreciate that stuff and I want to win to experience that stuff, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of why I play the game.” – said Durant in an interview with ESPN.

When an athlete prioritizes self-improvement over the desire for accolades, the motivation they need is always present because self-improvement is a continuous activity. Giving preference to it over results is a motivational factor in itself.


4. Find motivation in assisting your teammates in pursuit of their goals.

Richard Giles from Perth, Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to team sports like basketball, coordination with your teammates and coaches both on and off the court plays a crucial role. The camaraderie among team members can be further enhanced by maintaining each other’s morale. In professional basketball, Kobe Bryant was arguably the best player when it came to assisting fellow and upcoming basketball players in any way possible.

The most important thing is to try and motivate people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.” – Apart from focusing on his own skills, Kobe Bryant was equally dedicated to helping fellow basketball players in whatever capacity he could. This is clearly reflected in the quote above.

You can actually achieve your goals in sports or life in general if you are supportive of others in their journey as well, especially in a team environment where even if one individual struggles to deliver the expected performance, it hinders the team’s chances of winning.


5. The players’ motivation throughout the season is sustained by their love for the game.

Chensiyuan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t play for fame or attention, I play for the love of the game.” – Kawhi Leonard, NBA player.

The words above, spoken by Kawhi Leonard, convey not only his mindset but also that of many other NBA players. Reaching the level where you are regarded as a professional in the game requires not only hard work and persistent effort but also a genuine passion for what you do. Players who compete at the professional level set themselves apart from others in many ways, and their childlike enthusiasm and approach are definitely significant factors in why they remain motivated throughout their journey and never tire. 

For many athletes, having the opportunity to play basketball holds greater value than fame and monetary gain. The satisfaction of contributing to one’s team on the court and working toward a shared goal, aiming to bring smiles to the faces of fans, serves as motivation for players like Kawhi Leonard and many others.


6. The desire to be the best among the best is what drives you forward.

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, LeBron James, and many other basketball players have a lot of things in common, but one that stands out the most is their desire to be the best version of themselves every time they step on the court. Whether it’s a practice session or pre-game warm-ups, these players have always stayed ahead of others and led from the front.

He was motivated to be the best and I don’t mean the best that he could be. You never had to motivate him to do anything. He came to practice ready to go.Former coach Del Harris on Kobe Bryant’s dedication to the sport. 

Bryant used to practice basketball shooting day in and day out, never concerned with how much time he was spending. He continued to do so even when the facility where he practiced experienced electricity failures, shooting in the dark. Such stories are common among many NBA players, and Bryant’s is one of them


7.Reminding yourself of the reasons why you started in the first place plays a crucial role in maintaining motivation.

Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The story of basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo, rising from a humble background and overcoming numerous obstacles to reach the NBA, serves as inspiration for countless young basketball players, particularly those from similar circumstances. Like Antetokounmpo, numerous basketball players have encountered significant challenges and endured periods of struggle on their journey to the pinnacle of the sport.

Often, when you become busy with your daily activities, the journey you had to undertake to reach a particular destination can become blurred. Reflecting on those memories and taking a moment to contemplate them can provide you with an instant boost of motivation, something that we often lack in our daily sporting routines. 

So, just growing up and going through life and how tough life was for me and my family, I’m always going to stay humble.” – Over the years, Antetokounmpo has not lost sight of his beginnings. Even after achieving so much success, he never forgets that period in his life. (Source: espn)

NBA players like him, who come from such difficult circumstances, do tend to keep themselves aware of the past and all the efforts they made to reach the professional level.


8. Prioritize the interests of your team ahead of your own.

One of the prominent qualities we see among great basketball players like Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Draymond Green, and even some former players like Bill Russell is their selflessness. These basketball players have consistently prioritized their team’s interests ahead of their own. When a player adopts this approach to the game, they naturally focus on how they can contribute to the team’s success rather than solely on their personal goals and statistics. 

You have to bring your egos, bring your full identity of who you are at the table. But you also have to know when to sacrifice for the betterment of the group.” – Stephen Curry is well known for his selfless nature among NBA players and fans. With this attitude, he has won many championships for his team, the Golden State Warriors. 

The selfless approach of playing a team sport like basketball provides motivation and energy to the player on the eve of every game. Players with this positive attitude towards the game don’t need to rely on external motivation, as their selfless nature naturally gives it to them.


In conclusion, there are numerous personal, or should we say internal and external, factors that impact the motivational levels of athletes. Being professionals, they have to take a balanced approach when dealing with various aspects of the sport. Whether it’s a win or lose situation, they always strive to maintain the right headspace. External motivation is fleeting, but your years of dedication and passion for the sport are something that stays with you forever and contributes to your overall motivation.


Also see:

Why is basketball the most skillful sport?

Stats That Explain Why Basketball Is Considered a Fast Game

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