Jameer Nelson stood on the edge of the pool, staring at the bottom. Thirteen feet below, a 15-pound cinder block rested on concrete. His challenge, self-imposed, was to bring it up. What would be a difficult undertaking for Michael Phelps would be nearly impossible for Nelson. His fear of water dates to his childhood, and it only increased after his father, Pete, drowned 17 months ago. So there Nelson stood, rooted to his spot on dry land.
The block remained underwater overnight. The next day his personal trainer convinced the Magic point guard to take the plunge. Halfway down, though, panic set in—and out of the water he popped. This circle of courage and fear continued for two weeks until Nelson finally retrieved the block. "I had to do it," he says. "This was about overcoming obstacles and facing what is in front of you."
Those were just the kind of life lessons his father instilled in him. He's still coping with the tugboat welder's drowning in the Delaware River. "I'll never get over it," he says, "but I'm in a 100 percent better place than I was last year. Talking about it is better than storing it away." He also thought using his mind to overcome physical and mental tasks, such as diving for cinder blocks or taking up boxing, would make him a better person off the court, leading to better performances on it. "The great players in this league rarely get frustrated," he says, "and there's nothing more frustrating than getting hit in the face." He says boxing has left him calmer. Bad calls and missed shots don't faze him anymore. With his demeanor in control, Nelson has the offense running smoothly and the Magic contending for the top spot in the East.