The legend has been passed down by NBA generations. Bryan Doo, Celtics strength and conditioning coach recalls how, before a game in December of the 2007/08 season, an unnamed Celtic -- his identity lost to history, like the other horsemen on Paul Revere's midnight ride -- complained to Doo of incipient hunger pangs."Man, I could go for a PB&J," the player said. And then Celtic, Kevin Garnett, uttered the now-fabled words: "Yeah, let's get on that."
Garnett ate a PB&J, then played ... and played very well. Afterward, from his perch as the Celtics' fiery leader, Garnett issued the following commandment: "We're going to need PB&J's in here every game now."
And so a sandwich revolution was born.
At the time, Doo notes, the Celtics not only didn't provide lavish pregame spreads, they didn't offer much food at all. But he soon found himself slapping together 20 PB&J's about three hours before every tip-off, the finished products placed in bags and labeled with Sharpie in a secret code: "S" for strawberry, "G" for grape, "C" for crunchy. Of vital import: Garnett was an "S" man, and woe unto he who did not deliver him two S's before every game. But as the Celtics steamrolled to a 66-win season and an NBA title, the secret to their success, so cleverly disguised between two pieces of white bread, was eventually leaked.
Boston started doing it at a mass-produced level and other teams caught the fever. As visiting teams passed through Boston they caught wind of the PB&J revolution and realized a new day had dawned. They all got their strength and conditioning coaches working overtime making the gooey sandwiches.
There was no putting the jelly back in the jar. And nothing would ever be the same.
The Trail Blazers offer 20 crustless, halved PB&J's pregame -- 10 of them toasted.They're composed of organic fixings, save for white bread, which Portland's assistant performance coach Ben Kenyon notes is a high-glycemic carb that easily digests to provide a quick energy jolt. Typically, all 20 vanish well before tip-off; sometimes the Blazers double their order.
The Rockets make sure the PB&J is available in their kitchen at all times, in all varieties -- white and wheat bread, toasted, untoasted, Smucker's strawberry and grape, Jif creamy and chunky -- and offer 12 to 15 sandwiches pregame, with PB&J reinforcements provided at halftime and on postgame flights.
The secretive Spurs, it has been confirmed, indulge in their own pregame PB&J's. The Clippers, at home and on the road, go through two loaves of bread, almond and peanut butters, and assorted jellies from Whole Foods. The Pelicans offer PB&J everywhere: hotel rooms, flights, locker rooms. The Wizards had some "minor uprisings" from players, one source says, when management tried to upgrade team PB&J's with organic peanut butter on whole grain bread -- but peace was restored when each side compromised to include all options.
The Bucks might boast the NBA's most elaborate PB&J operation: a pregame buffet featuring smooth, crunchy and almond butters, an assortment of jellies (raspberry, strawberry, grape, blueberry, apricot), three breads from a local bakery (white, wheat and gluten-free) and Nutella. The team scarfs 20 to 30 PB&J's per game and travels with the ingredients, which rookies prepare on the plane and in visiting locker rooms. They've even offered their players PB&J-flavored oatmeal, PB&J recovery shakes, PB&J waffles and PB&J pancakes. Bucks team chef/dietitian Shawn Zell won't rule out one day making a PB&J burger.
The Cavs eat 20 artisanal PB&J's prior to tip-off, with homemade grape and raspberry jelly, as well as almond butter-and-banana and peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches.
No matter how you slice it, it's hard to swallow: The NBA is covered in experts, obsessed with peak performance -- and still this pillar of grade-school cafeteria lunches is the staple snack of the league. A sandwich whose standard ingredients boast a street value of roughly 69 cents.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT PB&J's In dozens of interviews with players, coaches, executives, nutritionists, trainers and others in and around the NBA, the most common explanation offered was the most obvious: PB&J is comfort food, and countless players, like countless other humans, grew up on it. "It's a soothing memory from childhood," Shanahan says. It's "peace of mind," says Brett Singer, a dietitian at the Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute, who adds: "You feel good, you play well." Brian St. Pierre, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition, who's consulted with the Spurs, says it's not so much a placebo effect but "almost more than that. They just simply believe." Lakers coach Luke Walton has a theory: NBA players are superstitious nuts, especially when it comes to routines. "Athletes are strange people," he says. "We've got weird habits." Walton, now 36 and in his first season leading the Lakers, still downs a PB&J before every game.
WHY DOES IT WORK??
The smell of these bread and goo sandwiches-- even the mere awareness of their proximity -- triggers a release in humans of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which once provided our ancestors with an energy boost for the hunt, along with serotonin, the "happiness hormone." At first bite of a PB&J, receptors detect the food's chemical composition and report back to the brain -- fats! sugars! starches! proteins! salts! -- where reward centers release opioids and, after a few minutes, endorphins, which briefly reduce stress. It's an effect, St. Pierre notes, that's similar to sex. They also lower the body's heart rate, a bonus for an anxious hunter or a player just before tip-off. "These are the exact same pathways that make heroin addicts chase their next fix," says Dr. Trevor Cottrell, director of human performance for the Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute.
Heroin, sex ... peanut butter and jelly. You can see why players might revolt if someone tried to take away their PB&J.
So are they actually good for you -- or good enough for the physical demands of the most physically taxed athletes on the planet? The typical PB&J contains roughly 400 to 500 calories, 50 grams of carbohydrates, 20 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein. Not good if you are not an athlete, and are trying to lose weight. Athletes work off most of the calories and fats during the game.
Basketball players ,actually, are not very demanding when they arrive in town for a game. But if you don't have tons of PB&J's on hand, heads will roll.