2,006 days, 287 weeks, 67 months, five and a half years.

However you want to perceive it, 2,006 days is a long time to do anything consistently. Some might even call it impossible, but not Kenji Summers. On December 25, 2017, Summers was challenged by a friend to meditate every day for a year; pretty soon, one year turned into two, two turned into three, and now Summers is completing his sixth year of the challenge. But Summers has always been up for a challenge—his most recent being a part of the SLAM Zen Collection, which is inspired by mindfulness and finding inner peace both on and off the court.

“I identify mindfulness as coming back to yourself and meditation as going into yourself,” Summers recently told SLAM.

Summers has been mentored by the legendary George Mumford, who has worked with everyone from the late-Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan on the practice of mediation. The Brooklyn-native and UMass Amherst alumni is also a former hooper, worked as a brand manager for Nike Basketball East and founded Passport Life, a non-profit organization committed to empowering youth to travel the world.

In SLAM’s Zen Collection campaign, Summers narrates the promotional video and talks about the essence of piece and how, as a player, it’s important to be fully present.

We talked to Summers about his take on meditation, his personal journey and how every athlete can unlock their higher selves through this practice.

SLAM: How would you define meditation and mindfulness?

KENJI SUMMERS: Peace. I identify mindfulness as coming back to yourself and meditation as going into yourself. 

SLAM: Why do you meditate?

KS: I meditate to get to know myself better. When I started 2,006 days ago I was just trying to escape anxiety. My thoughts were moving non-stop and life felt overwhelming. I had lost my job and needed something to take the edge off that would not lead to other side effects. When I started my first meditation lasted for three minutes.

SLAM: You’ve spoken about learning from George Mumford, and how his work helped you on your path to mindfulness? Do you see mindfulness as an individual journey or one guided by mentorship?

KS: George Mumford is the GOAT you never heard of. He was the mindfulness coach to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. In 2015 he put out a book “The Mindful Athlete” and I read it front to back while working on ideas to celebrate Kobe’s last season in the League. George’s teaching has helped me see the masterpiece within and elevate my game to a level of pure performance. Today I don’t try to be anyone but myself. Mindfulness is an inner game and if you want to play the infinite game—which never ends and is all about continuing the play—then having a mentor is very important. We all have those favorite teachers or OG’s from our life, and for me, George is one of them. I would still be me without him but I am a better version of myself because of him. If you ever meet him you will know what I’m talking about. Straight Black Jedi, Yoda flow.

SLAM: What is the infinite game and who is the infinite player? 

KS: The infinite game is the boundless arena of life and the infinite player is the one who thrives, transcending limits and embracing the unpredictable play, ever-evolving and adapting. Live the infinite game, be the infinite player, and play as an infinite athlete.

SLAM: How is an individual’s mindfulness impacted by being on a team?

KS: Basketball is a team game. You have to know yourself and know your teammates. Mindfulness which I like to call Sturdiness is all about getting right with yourself so you can get in flow with your homies. Your teammates. Your coaches. I say your homies because mindfulness is not about hierarchies but recognizing roles and contributions. Meditation, which I like to call structure is about practicing on a deeper level. George would have MJ and Pippen and Kobe and Shaq meditate with their teams before games. No wonder such big personalities were able to get along and win chips during their time. My style is similar and while I focus one-on-one, my group sessions are about encouraging everyone to be their own masterpiece so that they can create a masterpiece with other masterpieces. Feel me?

SLAM: How did you incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your life when you were hooping in high school and considering furthering your career in basketball? 

KS: I didn’t. It took me ’till I had gotten to be dream job at Nike to start practicing. But when I look back I had glimpses of mindfulness and meditation when I was practicing Tae Kwon Do at the Vanderbilt YMCA while simultaneously playing in Junior Knicks. Hoops needs these practices more than ever. With superstars getting suspensions for mental lapses and poor decision making it is important to get to the root of the issue. It’s about stress. We do not want to admit that we have a stress epidemic. This stress epidemic connects to our attention epidemic. In “Stolen Focus” author Johann Hari emphasizes “In situations of low stress and safety, mind-wandering will be a gift, a pleasure, a creative force. In situations of high stress or danger, mind-wandering will be a torment.” We have to admit that we don’t feel safe in this world. Especially young hoopers. There is a level of psychological violence inflicted on them from the time they start showing promise and the cameras go on them. Instead of making them out to be villains or victims, we have to be OG’s and elders. That means we have to be sturdy and structured. What I am doing is putting these practices into easily learnable and digestible tools. It’s about physical fitness and skills along with mental fitness and mental skills. We need them all. 

SLAM: How can athletes integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

KS: Start with whatever is buggin’ you right now. Breathe in and hold your breath until your desire to breathe is more important than the issue at hand. On the breath out feel the gratitude that at this moment breathing was all that is important. From moment to moment having gratitude for the ability to breathe will provide more peace and joy in everyday life. I call this Free Peace.

SLAM: Is there a difference between the type of mindfulness an athlete may practice on the court versus at home?

KS: Nah, the court is life and the life is the court. But starting out knowing that these practices can help you play better is a real motivation. The GOATS all have had mental practices: LeBron, MJ, Kobe, Dr J you name ‘em. Make your practice your life and see what miracles happen. 

SLAM: Do you have any advice for hoopers beginning their mindfulness journey?

KS: Come see me this summer in NYC. NYC hoops is in a renaissance and I am part of the scenius –the genius of a group of people and their culture. 

SLAM: Could you speak on the inspiration behind the SLAM Zen Collection?

KS:  I had read “Unlocked” by George Mumford and “Finite and Infinite Games” by James Carse. In sitting with these books and speaking to my friend Jesse Stollak I realized how powerful our stories are to tell. Jesse does a lot of storytelling in his role but we both connect on knowing that what we do ultimately is about service. Me repping Zen every day through Captain Zen Garden caps and living my Free Peace lifestyle was a natural fit to tell a story around meditation and hoops. I realized that I had recently unlocked my infinite athlete. It felt wavy to realize that there is no one better to be but myself (everyone else is taken) and I came to believe that I had to share my masterpiece with the world.

The SLAM Zen Collection is all about finding serenity in style.

The post Kenji Summers on the Art of Mediation and Being Mentored by the Same Teacher Who Worked with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant appeared first on SLAM.