Jason Terry is surrounded by water.
Sitting at his locker, three 1.5 litre bottles are dotted around him, just one of the many essentials he needs to stay NBA-relevant at 40.
“I’ve turned myself into a fish”, he says.
And this particular one is never out of water. It has instead become his natural habitat.
“Water and salmon is what I do. Man, I eat so much salmon and drink so much water, I’m no longer human.”
That is quite plausible considering Terry is only the twenty-seventh player in NBA history to play at 40 or beyond. Of that number only eleven were guards and, staggeringly, he is one of only four to do so at a height of six feet two or below. Terry, who won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and now playing in his 19th season with the Milwaukee Bucks, finds himself a guard in an era where players at that position are younger, faster and filling the role at unparalleled height.
But what Terry may have on all of his peers is hydration. Back at his locker, he is cradling a fourth bottle, tending to it as if it were his own child.
“This is not just any water”, Terry says before unleashing the chemistry teacher hidden within. “This is Eternal Water. It comes from the soul and has never been touched by man. Natural alkaline, natural electrolytes, high pH balance.
“Eternal Water”, he says with effect.
So it is that he finishes at least three of these a day, and while none of it has been touched by man, it certainly goes through as much. “At night, I find myself going to the bathroom quite often.”
Habits, though, are more ingrained as players get older. Nearing retirement, many try to find the elusive property that Terry’s water contains, but time has never lost a game in its life.
To extend the battle, the man people call ‘Jet’ spends at least two hours a day maintaining his body. He has remote recovery equipment to thank, and it goes everywhere with him. The travelling party includes a NormaTec, a unit that he places around his legs to enhance circulation and blood flow, and a Game Ready icing system that can be attached to Terry’s aching joints. Additionally, he has a personal masseuse that he flies in from Dallas three or four times a month.
Along with the water, these have played a huge role in his planning to play a 20th season. And from this conversation at least, Terry’s retirement plans do not rest solely on remote recovery and good fortune.
“I have got guys like Manu [Ginobili], Dirk [Nowitzki] and Vince [Carter] pushing me. Manu came in with me, Vince and Dirk came in one year before me, and I don’t want to leave until they do. They have got to leave first. They will have to carry me out before I stop playing earlier than they do.”
Carter is currently the oldest of the bunch at 41, with both Terry and Ginobili at 40, and Nowitzki the baby at 39.
Terry talks often to Nowitzki and Carter, who have told him they are playing one more year. “That’s going to make me play too”, he says.
What of his other sparring partner, Ginobili?
Terry calls him one of the toughest pound-for-pound players in the league and a Hall of Famer, but he also says, “I have never spoken to Manu and that’s nothing other than the fact that we are fierce rivals, going back to our Dallas and San Antonio Spurs days.”
The fire, then, still burns.
Terry and Ginobili entered the league together in 1999 and have squared off in three playoff series since - Terry has two victories - the last of which came in 2010, the year before Dallas’s title run. Considering the new millennium had not yet begun when Terry was drafted tenth overall by the Atlanta Hawks (47 spots above Ginobili), one would think such grudges had been forgotten. But alas, old habits and old rivals die hard.
That mindset suggests one would rather be with Terry than against him. Thon Maker, who was only nine when his teammate fought past Ginobili to reach his first NBA Finals in 2006, is one of the lucky ones.
“40 in my family?”, Maker chuckles. “You are talking about my uncles.”
And what might an uncle do to keep his mind and body right if he happens to be playing in the NBA? “Jet don’t do no yoga”, Eric Bledsoe snickers. “He definitely don’t do no yoga.”
No, but he has a pretty serious meditation practice.
“I probably meditate about 30 minutes ahead of our bus before we come over for the game”, he says. “I will sit there, turn the music on, and just relax.”
Terry's choice of artist for meditation music may differ compared with his pregame playlist. Nipsey Hussle, E-40 and Young Jeezy are the top three there, and this playlist is just one of the triggers that brings out the Terry who still loves all that comes with the show.
Before the Bucks’ final regular season game in Philadelphia this season, he spotted ESPN’s Doris Burke during shootaround and asked aloud, “Are we on TV tonight?”. That was followed up before tip when, noticing Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson clutching the Lombardi trophy under the basket before an on-court ceremony, he ran over to him before the anthem, kissed the trophy and said to Pederson of the Eagles’ Super Bowl success, “good job baby”.
Terry wants to add to his own trophy haul, and that is why, even at this stage, he is working on his game with more thought than previous years. His on-court activity has become ultra-specific with a view to fully capitalising on his 16-minutes-per-game bench role. Terry’s job is, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Matt Velazquez says, “to knock down threes and do the jet”.
Terry goes into every workout knowing exactly where he has to make shots before he is done, obsessive with regards to repetition of mechanics and seeing the ball go through the basket. He focuses solely on the shots he will take in a game; corner and angle three-pointers and attempts on the move.
“I don’t keep a log of ‘oh, I’ve made 20,000 jumpers’. I know every workout I am going into I have got a set number at each of my spots; I knock that number out and then it starts over at the next workout.”
Terry believes in the Floyd Mayweather and Tom Brady approach, “only training when I feel 100%.” While he runs through his shooting drills, simultaneously he is working his body through specific movements, keeping him supple and, crucially, fast to his spot. That is why, at nearly twice Maker’s age, Terry is still the first player on the Bucks to reach the opposition’s free throw line during a fast break, quick to react to loose balls or oncoming passes while he plays wing denial.
“I really appreciate the steadiness of his game”, Bucks center John Henson says.
It is so because of the way he lives his life.
The road to success is always under construction
Terry's favourite quote was told to him by a former high school coach. He takes these sayings and writes them into his journal, a possession given to him by former head coach and teammate Jason Kidd at the beginning of last season, someone he played with for four years in Dallas.
“Jason [Kidd] was regimented in the way he took care of his body; pre- and post-game, pre- and post-practice, and that has bled into my longevity”.
Inside the journal he writes personal thoughts and quotes, draws, and diagrams basketball plays. His latest scribblings come from the book he has just finished reading, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, works that remain the most influential strategy text in East Asian warfare. It also serves as Terry’s latest formula for gaining a mental advantage on his opponents.
His journal has a big brother in the form of a scrap book, which resides at his home in north Texas.
Within it lies another story.
“One of my coaches back in the day was an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks, Eric Musselman. He found an inspiring quote within an article and he circled it. Next to the quote he had a little paragraph where he wrote, ‘if you prepare and train every day like it’s your last, you’ll be in this league a long time’. Every now and then I will look back at that and be like, ‘damn, he was right’. I am still here, so …”
As impressive as Terry’s run is, it would carry even more significance in six year’s time. In 1948, Nat Hickey of the Providence Steamrollers was two days short of his 46th birthday when he stepped onto the court for the final time as a player. He remains the oldest competitor in NBA history.
Back in Hickey’s day, smoking was accepted in locker rooms and strict diets were an afterthought.
As for Terry, habits have changed considerably.
“I definitely cannot eat no chicken fingers these days”, harping back to a time when he used to order fried food before games. Chicken is still on the menu in that particular time slot, but it is not fried and instead accompanied by pasta, not dipping sauce.
“I try not to eat any fried food and I have cut out dairy”, but before creating the impression that he lives on plants - popular amongst the NBA fraternity these days - he adds, “I am by no means vegan. I still need high protein to keep my energy up.”
Terry is not one for hipster eats, either. “Not on the kale hype at all.”
His pre-workout energiser drink, Vega Sport, is a dairy, soy and gluten-free powder that he mixes with Gatorade. It comes in second behind water, while he no longer drinks alcohol, “unless it’s champagne after winning the championship”.
Terry, though, is not without his vices.
Above his locker at a game in New York this season, a box of Underwest Donuts stared down upon its rival, Eternal Water, a couple of packs resting on the top shelf that Terry grabbed and walked out with later that night.
“I’m a donut guy. If I’m in Portland it’s Voodoo Doughnuts, if I’m in Dallas it’s those little Mom and Pop donuts, those stores that you see that just say ‘donuts’ on the front and close at two”.
Wait, Terry is eating donuts at two in the morning?
“No no, two in the afternoon. That is when it closes, and you bet I make it. You have gotta get donuts or it’s over.”
The sugary baked goods are sure to follow him during his next step in life, a road everybody around him knows is headed toward coaching.
“He is the epitome of a great leader”, teammate Malcolm Brogdon says.
The belief within Bucks camp is that Terry is one of the fundamental reasons the team are able to focus and calm themselves in big moments - “when he talks, people listen”, Brandon Jennings says - and why they motor on during a challenging season getting to grips with a system and culture led by superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“I have had an up-and-down year, and there have been multiple times when Jason has talked to me about basketball and about life”, Maker says. Raw but regressing following a hopeful rookie season, Maker adds that Terry “keeps telling me it’s going to come back, it’s going to click, so I have to stay with it.”
This want to tutor was made more public when Terry left the Houston Rockets in 2016, stating that wherever he went next he wished to shadow the head coach and general manager.
That is exactly what has happened.
“I have had conversations with both Milt Newton and John Horst, talking personnel and what they are looking for toward the draft”, Terry says. “As far as coaching, I’ve been in every coaches meeting since I got to Milwaukee.”
Given that he spends up to 45 minutes a day shooting, the same amount of time with the NormaTec, 30 minutes icing his body and at least 10 minutes stretching, that is a commitment laced with clear intentions.
Joining him in those meetings is Vin Baker, an assistant on the Bucks who was an All-Star for four consecutive seasons between 1995 and 1998. As a teenager, Terry - who grew up in Seattle - used to sidle into Seattle Supersonics practices 21 years ago and work with Gary Payton.
A teammate of Payton on that Sonics team? Baker himself.
“This is a young man’s game”, Baker, who retired at 34, says. “I am not knocking any other sport but the NBA, it will expose you if you are wearing your age more than other sports. Jason is an inspiration for every single 40-year-old across the world.”
When Terry was asked what type of coach he will be, his answer was cut off by locker room neighbour Bledsoe, who interjected, “He would be a great coach”. Terry smiled before continuing. “I am a disciplinarian. I hold my guys accountable, but at the same time will give them freedom to learn the game and make mistakes. Fair but firm.”
That last expression usually goes in the order ‘firm but fair’, Terry sounding a little like Jason Kidd, not a surprise given the coach’s influence on him.
The retired ten-time All-Star is not the only one who has gotten ‘Jet’ this distance.
He credits his trainer Ortege Jenkins, the former quarterback at the University of Arizona, and Robert Hackett, his strength and conditioning coach with the Dallas Mavericks and a former Olympic track runner, for setting the physical foundation he keeps today. As for fellow athletes, he was never hugely inspired when Kobe Bryant, at 36, scored 60 points in his final career game against the Utah Jazz, instead highlighting David Ortiz, Mayweather and Brady as role models in the ‘40 Club’.
“I have just been playing with my brain more than anything. I know tendencies. That is what keeps me in position to make plays; I am always ahead.”
Even in a foot race against teammates?
“Nah nah nah”, Henson repeats, before considering the speed Terry still has. “If he is warmed up, maybe.”
Maker, who is eating meatballs directly across the room from the box of Underwood Donuts, admits he would stand no chance against anybody after his dinner. His eyes widen and his head rises describing the size of Terry’s thighs, so big in fact that they could get him ahead of Maker if the pair raced baseline and back again, “but once we stride out, I would catch him”.
On finding out what some of his teammates had said, there was no surprise in Terry’s riposte.
“I would beat all of them. The only one I cannot beat right now is probably Thon. Everybody else I can beat, flat out.”
His words are decisive, but slowing down has been integral to Terry’s longevity. If in the present day he could tell his rookie-self something, it would be the following: “Enjoy every moment and do not rush through life. Take your time and just take everything in.”
Easier said than done and there are still challenging days for Terry’s body.
He vividly remembers a time in early March against the Indiana Pacers when he logged 36 minutes. “After the game I was like, ‘oh ok, that is what 36 minutes feels like’. I had not done it in, wow, five years.”
How did he feel the following morning?
With Eternal Water by his side, it's no wonder.