ORLANDO, FL—Continuing a tradition that stretches back to his early years with the Miami Heat, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy routinely presents his players with classic barbecue cookbooks to inspire them and provide insights during road trips.
During the team's long West Coast swing in December, Dwight Howard was given Barbecue America: A Pilgrimage In Search Of America's Best Barbecue, while Vince Carter was seen reading Cheryl Jamison's 400-page tome Sublime Smoke: Bold New Flavors Inspired By The Old Art Of Barbecue. And in a clear attempt to get J.J. Redick to tap into the success of his Duke-playing days, Van Gundy gave the Magic guard Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue Sauces: 175 Make-Your-Own Sauces, Marinades, Dry Rubs, Wet Rubs, Mops, And Salsas.
But for their upcoming three-game sojourn away from the friendly confines of Amway Arena, the spiritual Van Gundy—known throughout the league as a barbecue pit master—bucked the tradition of handing out personalized volumes and made the unorthodox choice of giving all his players the same book to read: Ray Lampe's Dr. BBQ's Big-Time Barbecue Cookbook.
"Our guys need to have a singular mind-set. They need to understand the oneness that can be achieved between man and slow-cooked, mouthwatering meats," Van Gundy told reporters over three dozen hot wings at Wing Zone, a downtown Orlando eatery, Tuesday. "This book is written by a true champion, someone who can give our players the courage and insight they need to smoke an entire pig for a feast that family and friends will never forget."
"And, um, make a title run," added Van Gundy, reaching for more napkins.
Throughout his six-year head coaching career, Van Gundy has separated himself from his colleagues not just with his impressive record, but with a Zen-like commitment to getting his players to think about the world of barbecue in a different way.
Orlando Magic players have said that Van Gundy is always finding new ways to motivate his team, whether showing them inspirational footage of his 23-year-old self receiving his official barbecue-competition judge's certificate, or canceling practice altogether to take them to a classic Kansas City rib joint.
During their victory over the Lakers last Sunday, Van Gundy called a timeout for a quick meditation and breathing session, encouraging his players to remember the aroma of the plate of brisket he ate during halftime.
"He preaches patience," guard Jason Williams said. "Whenever we're rushing things on offense, he'll always tell us to slow down and imagine the poise and control it took for some of the country's greatest barbecue chefs to infuse their pork rib slabs with a handcrafted spice blend, refrigerate them in marinade for 12 hours, massage them, and then patiently cooking them 'low and slow' for another 10 hours at 250 degrees."
Van Gundy reportedly promised his team that Dr. BBQ's Big-Time Barbecue Cookbook will force them to step outside themselves and ask metaphysical questions about the cooking style, such as: What is the true difference between grilling and barbecuing? What is the best barbecue smoker to buy, and how do I use it to its full potential? When can you trust your own instincts to predict a beef brisket's marbleization, and when do you enlist the wisdom of others? And most importantly, what are the secrets to becoming a true barbecue champion?"
Van Gundy said he believes the 320-page volume will help his team reach a state of barbecue enlightenment.
"There are some parts that are a little tough to wade through, like when Dr. BBQ talks about the difference between cooking over logs and charcoal, but there's a saying: Open a book, open your mind," Van Gundy told reporters. "And I think the message of this book is that you can achieve your dreams without spending thousands of dollars on a high-end grill or barbecue pit."
"In here," Van Gundy said while holding the sauce-stained book, "are lessons they will never forget."
"It's helpful," said forward Matt Barnes, noting that the book had inspired more than a few locker-room discussions. "It certainly got me thinking in ways I wouldn't have otherwise. But I don't know if I believe in all that mumbo jumbo, especially the stuff about aluminum foil ruining the bark of the meat."
Though Van Gundy's methods have been effective, he says that he hasn't let his reputation as a pit guru go to his head. In his office, a message tacked to his wall reads: "There are no barbecue masters. There is only masterful barbecue."
"'Barbecue master' is a contradiction," Van Gundy said. "No one ever truly masters it."