In 1992 Ron Burt joined the NCAA champion Duke University basketball team as a walk-on. That year they went on to make history, as the team won back to back titles. They had a dominating run that culminated in a victory over Kentucky that Sports Illustrated still calls “the greatest college basketball game of all time.” Ron was there…he walked on a hopeful and walked away a champion.
Fast forward more than 20 years and we still find Ron on the basketball court, with a healthy dose of Crossfit to help him stay in the game. What Ron brings to coach Kyle’s morning classes exemplifies Crossfit, as you will not find a more helpful, humble and absolute badass athlete. With the rise of Crossfit as a sport it’s easy to forget sometimes that we are mostly training for something else. Some of us are simply shooting for overall fitness. Others are trying to get faster or stronger. For Ron Burt, Crossfit is a way to preserve his basketball game, and ensure he can keep it as part of his life for as long as possible. The average person joining Ron in class has no idea about his glorious athletic history, but that doesn’t diminish the love and respect he’s earned from all of the regulars at the gym. Among Ron’s admirers is coach Kyle himself:
“You wanna know about Ron? He’s got the charisma of Clark Gable, the kindness of Mr. Rogers, the positive energy of Richard Simmons and the body of King Leonidas. To say I’m jealous of the guy is an understatement. I have better squat mobility than him, but that’s it.”
Ron’s contribution to the energy of the morning classes is palpable. You will always find him cheering on his classmates, no matter what their level or ability. Ron has his strengths and weaknesses like anybody else, but his inspiring and encouraging presence reminds us that the heart of a true champion beats both in and out of the spotlight.
We caught up with Ron to talk about his training, and life both inside and out of Crossfit NYC.
Let’s talk about basketball for a minute. How long have you been playing?
Since I can remember playing sports. I actually started off loving baseball (grew up in Kansas City during the George Brett era) but basketball took over after I attended a private school in Maine that didn’t have a baseball team. It’s funny now playing sometimes against guys and realizing I’ve been hooping for as long as they have been alive.
Has Crossfit changed your performance on the court?
Definitely. At this age, the game is primarily cerebral for me but don’t tell my ego that… it still thinks I can keep up with dudes 10 years younger than me. Crossfit has helped level that playing field a bit when I need it to. Obviously basketball relies on a lot of explosion but also a lot of stability so there’s tons of transferrable functionality from Crossfit. I actually started doing it because of several guys that I play with on the weekends started showing significantly visible improvements…in their physique, strength, endurance and overall level of play. For me, I would say the biggest improvements I’ve seen in myself are in lower body strength and overall endurance.
Which athletes inspire you the most, professional or otherwise?
Honestly can’t think of any that I would say inspire me. Lebron, Magic and Bill Russell are my favorite all time basketball players and I think Peyton Manning is a beast. Not to get too deep but my second life principle is to at least try to make my surroundings better. I think they embody that as professional athletes better than most. Most of my inspiration comes from people I know VERY well that the general public has never met…and they aren’t athletes. I do admire pro athletes in general because my one year as a walk on gave me a lot of respect for what it takes to be a professional athlete – even for that last guy at the end of the bench that everyone thinks sucks.
What are the biggest improvements you’ve seen in the gym?
Core stability and leg strength. I actually didn’t realize how weak my core and legs were until I started doing deadlifts and overhead squats (for the first time ever) in Crossfit. I still find myself struggling to balance overworking my legs in Crossfit and still being able to play, but even with tired legs I’m a lot stronger than I was a year ago. Also I think my vanity is even more irrational and ridiculous than ever and I never would have thought that was possible.
What are your favorite movements and/or WODs?
Any WOD with cleans or sit ups. Clean and jerk is probably my favorite movement. I appreciate the concept of using the body’s full system of muscles to do more work and feel like the clean and jerk best captures that for me. I promised myself that one day I wouldn’t suck at snatches, and they will be my favorite for the same reason.
Talk about your knee.
It sucks. I really hate it. I’m basically paying for a lot of bad habits from the past. I think the first time I stretched seriously, I was 30+ years old and that was during rehab after a knee scope. I’ve spent the last 10 years in varying states of dismal repair. At this point, the doctor’s recommendation is for a procedure that would pretty much end any thoughts of a really active lifestyle. Basically doing whatever I can to avoid that. Getting my legs stronger and more stable in Crossfit has definitely helped.
What steps do you take to avoid injury?
All of them. I stretch religiously. I do some hot yoga on occasion. I’ve learned how to listen to my body a lot better and recognize the difference between pain and soreness. I spend some time on Mobility WOD looking for things to try at home. I’ll pretty much take suggestions from just about anybody on workout technique or rehab/physical maintenance.
With your strength and athleticism, it would make sense for you to try out the team. Have you given thought to stepping up to competition-level Crossfit?
Not really. Basketball is still my first, second and third love. Crossfit is purely to enhance my basketball performance and overall health. I really enjoy the atmosphere and people at the Black Box morning classes. Ask anyone who’s played basketball with me and they’ll tell you that my competitive intensity borders on jerkdom, and I’m not sure I want to bring that guy to a WOD.
You once mentioned that you needed to lose some weight. After the desire to punch you subsided, I was curious about your nutrition. Do you have a specific regimen to go along with your workout and basketball routines?
Nutrition is an area of my health that I have chipped away at over the years but is still pretty poor. I drink… a lot… like I would be an Olympic-level scotch drinker if that was a thing. And I eat more or less what I want. Eating good (bad) food is way too much fun for me to stop. I tend to schedule when I eat red meat around hoop days (no red meat the night before) but other than that I’ve only advanced to at least reading labels so I know how bad it is…and working out as much as I can.
We’re starting to see NFL players, MMA athletes and olympians use Crossfit as part of their training. Do you think Crossfit would be a step forward in the conditioning of future young basketball players? Do you know of any professional players who do Crossfit?
I don’t know of any that specifically are doing Crossfit but I am starting to see a lot of college hoops teams doing Crossfit in their pre-season conditioning programs. I think there are certain elements of basketball conditioning that have always been around that are very similar to Crossfit. I know one of the guys that works out with us in the mornings coaches at Baruch college around the corner and brings a lot of our content to his team’s conditioning workouts.
You’ve been deemed “the most likable Duke player of all time” because of your performance and demeanor during your tenure on the 1992 Blue Devils. What are your reflections on that time in your life as an athlete, and human being in general?That team still gets a lot of historical praise but that experience was actually kind of incredible even at the time. They were coming off winning a title in 1991 and beating a UNLV team that the world pretty much thought was unbeatable (just realized I dated myself). So going into the season they were already a pretty big deal before the season even started. The biggest adjustment for me was the level of conditioning… I could compete pretty well with them for about the first 15 minutes of practice but their ability to play at that level for hours was pretty remarkable. The guy I had to compete against in practice (Bobby Hurley) would finish practice and hop on StairMaster at the highest level for an hour after practice! Most of the time in practices, I felt helpless because of how good the starters were. I would even worry sometimes that they were so good that these practices couldn’t be that helpful. But you learn to appreciate how important not only individual preparation, but also team preparation is in high level sports. Learning from someone widely considered to be one of the best coaches in the history of the game has definitely left a mark.
We’ve received some complaints that there are times you actually do not go shirtless in the gym. On behalf of the gym at large, can you please tighten up that problem?
Thank you, and given the sauna the gym is becoming this should not be a problem any longer. By the way, this will probably surprise my wife as I almost never wear one at home.
Ron Burt can be found most weekday mornings in Kyle’s class at the Black Box on 26th St.