How Kevon Looney turned into the Warriors’ most durable player

Only one player has appeared in all of Golden State’s 60 games: Kevon Looney, closing in on a goal he set before the season

By EVAN WEBECK | | Bay Area News Group – PUBLISHED: February 27, 2022 at 7:15 a.m. | UPDATED: February 27, 2022 at 3:26 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — With 22 games to go, freshly rested from an All-Star break spent on the beaches of Mexico, Kevon Looney can see the finish line. The goal he set at the start of the season, one he never thought was realistic until this year, is this close to materializing.

The lessons learned and adjustments made after a trying past two seasons, including a series of trials and errors, left Looney feeling confident in himself entering this season: He wanted to play all 82 games for the first time in his career.

Sixty down, 22 to go.

“I spent a lot of time being hurt. I don’t want to do that again,” Looney told the Bay Area News Group. “I don’t want to have that feeling. I want my teammates to know they can count on me. I want my coaches to know they can count on me. I want the fans to know I’m going to be there. I’ve missed so many games and so many big moments. It’s something I take pride in, something I hope to accomplish.”

It’s increasingly rare in this day and age for a player to notch all 82 games. Michael Jordan did it seven times; LeBron James just once (and Steph Curry never). Looney is one of seven players league-wide who has yet to miss a game this season — one of two to start them all.

Coach Steve Kerr called Looney’s streak of games played his “favorite stat of the season.”

“Loon has always been a favorite in our organization for so many people based on who he is,” Kerr said. “The last couple years were really tough on him health-wise. To see him healthy and playing night in and night out brings everybody a lot of joy.”

After last season, his second straight hampered by injuries, the Warriors training staff approached Looney with a suggestion. There was a program, they told him, that could help with his mobility, which Looney admits, “is something I struggled with in the past.” So he gave it a shot over the summer and has since incorporated it into his game day routine.

It’s called JOGA. That’s right — yoga for jocks (and a trademarked workout that boasts testimonials from three NBA strength and conditioning coaches on its website). Looney goes through the sequence of neuromuscular exercises before every game. When he took a pause during the preseason, he said, he felt the difference.

“It’s different in that it’s less about flexibility and more about mobility, you know, building strength in different positions, stuff like that,” Looney said. “So it was something that helped with my core and my hips, my two major injuries that I had throughout my career.”

In his seventh season, Looney’s role has swollen. He was a member of previous championship teams but rarely started. This year, he has been a fixture in the starting five, hearing his name boom during introductions before all 60 games so far.

The last time Looney was close to this reliable, his role wasn’t nearly this large. He played in all but two games in 2018-19 but made only 24 starts, making way for DeMarcus Cousins and Andrew Bogut on most nights. Still, he posted career highs in almost every statistical category, earning a three-year contract extension.

Then came the injuries.

The following season started off on a bad note and got worse. Looney missed the preseason with a strained right hamstring and appeared in only 22 games before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and shut down the Warriors’ season. Soreness in his hip kept him out six games; his abdomen an 18-game stretch.

But most importantly was his diagnosis with a rare nerve disorder, called neuropathy, that can make a person’s arms and legs go numb and, in Looney’s case, doctors believe, also lead to severe stomach problems.

Even doctors were flummoxed at first.

They recommended Looney scale back his diet to the extreme.

Chicken. Fish. Rice. Spinach.

“Kind of a bland diet,” Looney said. “Not a lot of seasoning on it.”

They took away eggs. And oranges.

“I like breakfast,” he said. “That’s something for breakfast I ate everyday.”

But, slowly, he was able to expand his palate back to a place where, now, he says, he’s able to enjoy a wide array of food again, while keeping his neuropathy in check. A healthier diet brings added benefits, too.

Looney turned 26 earlier this month, but his newfound health has him feeling — and playing — better than anytime since he entered the league. Back then, he said, “I couldn’t play 20-minute games back to back, 30-minute games I’d need a day off.”

This season, he is averaging 20 minutes per game for the first time in his career and has logged two games with more than 30 (and another four with at least 28 minutes). As the Warriors’ only true big man, he is also on track to set career highs in scoring (6.4 points per game) and rebounding (7.5).

The number Looney cares about, though? Eighty two.

“For me,” he said, “it started off with getting to 70 games, getting to 60 games, to get in the rotation. Now I want to be at the point where I can play in all 82. And I feel like my body’s ready for it.”