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Joel Embiid and Robert Covington can’t delay to ambuscade T.J. McConnell. It’s mid-February and McConnell, a 26-year-old undrafted point bouncer for the Philadelphia 76ers, is about to accord a postgame on-court TV account afterwards notching his aboriginal career triple-double. But afore McConnell can get a chat out, Embiid and Covington fly into appearance and accord him an ad-lib shower.

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“Triple-doublllllllle!” The Action shrieks. 

McConnell is drenched. And cold. But he doesn’t assume afraid by their celebratory cooler of choice: acrid water. The Sixers are one of the league’s best water-mad teams; they banal their aggregation alike and convenance ability with Essentia, and McConnell has been bubbler the acrid baptize back his amateur season. “I was the blazon of actuality who anticipation baptize is baptize is water,” McConnell would say later. “I wasn’t accomplished abundant to apperceive the adapted baptize to drink.” These days, he gets six cases of Essentia a ages beatific anon to his house. (He additionally stuffs his anorak pockets with two or three bottles from flights like a kid smuggling candy.)

“It’s the best,” McConnell said. “It’s all I drink, really.”

The Sixers’ baptize exploits are aloof one archetype of the baptize cast agitation currently across-the-board through NBA locker rooms. The playoffs are in abounding swing, but so, too, are the high-end baptize wars. Players are allotment sides. The Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside has continued caped for Aggregation Fiji Water. (His Snapchat is blowzy with mentions of the boxlike bottled water; one post, in 2016, showed a refrigerator aperture ample with 29 Fiji Baptize bottles aing to a abandoned Heinz.)

So has Carmelo Anthony, who generally drinks from a taped-up Fiji canteen on the bank to abstain advocacy conflicts. And you can atom his pal LeBron James additionally concealing his baptize cooler from time to time. (At a contempo game, a Cavs staffer aside that James “is a Fiji guy” like it’s a accompaniment secret.) Others, like the Washington Wizards’ John Wall and Kelly Oubre, are Essentia devotees. “Not abandoned is the baptize good, but I like their vibe,” Oubre says.

Milwaukee’s Jason Terry says Eternal acrid baptize has helped him comedy in the NBA through age 40. “There’s no supplement for water. Bodies consistently say Gatorade, but it aloof doesn’t work,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel aftermost season. “The affectionate of baptize I use is affectionate of adapted to me. It has a aerial pH akin and accustomed electrolytes. Therefore I don’t absolutely charge Gatorade or any affectionate of sugar.”

Some are attenuate about their affinities. Others, added vocal. Aftermost year, Kawhi Leonard, in an account with GQ, recommended that kids exercise attention in the blazon of baptize they drink. “Not all baptize is abundant for you,” he said. “I alcohol a lot of baptize during the day, but I breach abroad from assertive amnion because their pH levels are low. Stick to acrid amnion with a college pH. Trust me.”

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Sacramento bouncer Garrett Temple can bang off the pH levels in anniversary bottled baptize off the top of his arch like they’re his own stats.“Fiji is a 7.7,” he says. Smarer is “a 5.0 or 5.5.” And what about the bottled baptize on the team’s Delta charters, Dasani? “4.5,” Temple blurts out. (For those who snoozed through allure chic in aerial school, pH levels ambit from aught to 14, with aught actuality absolutely acerb and 14 actuality absolutely alkalined.)

What about Smarer?

“It’s not actual acute to alcohol Smarer,” Temple claims. “I accept to abundance the Fiji and Essentia.”

The NBA isn’t abandoned in this obsession. For the aboriginal time in American history, sales of bottled baptize exceeded those of carbonated bendable drinks in 2016. And that gap widened in 2017. Americans additionally drank nine billion gallons of bottled baptize aftermost year, according to the Cooler Business Corporation. (That seismic about-face in the bazaar afresh bent the eye of LaVar Ball, who is now affairs Big Baller Cast bottled baptize from Lithuania.)

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So what’s abaft the baptize craze? Is acrid baptize aloof a business gimmick? Or maybe the absolute achievement account is all in your head. Step central the baptize wars of the bigger, faster, thirstier NBA.

The NBA’s attraction with baptize is difficult to trace, but one amateur who pushed the league’s aftertaste advanced is Antawn Jamison. For years, the retired NBA player, who currently works as a advance for the Los Angeles Lakers, articulate the praises of baptize purity. Every jump shot, he would bawl “Fiji,” because, as he tells it, “it was water, baby!” He alike wrote it on his shoes.

These days, Jamison keeps his Fiji memories cloistral in the apartment of his home a the South Carolina border. His basement walls are busy with his greatest hits: the shoes he wore back he denticulate 51 credibility in back-to-back amateur in 2000, his All-Star jerseys from the 2004-05 and 2007-08 seasons with the Wizards. And a brace of Adidas with a best adapted Sharpie’d inscription accoutrement the absolute ancillary of his shoes: “FIJI.”

“It,” Jamison says now, “sorta became this thing.”

While he was with the Washington Wizards, Jamison would address F-I-J-I on his shoe afore every game. It became a ambiguous addiction. The training agents supplied him with a Fiji-filled canteen in his locker before, during and afterwards every game. And aggregation admiral would accord him awe-inspiring looks. “‘Twan, what’s up with this baptize shit?” Jamison remembers them saying.

That “water shit” was a cleansing thing, he says, mind, anatomy and spirit. “When you’re an athlete, psychologically all of this being plays a part,” Jamison says. “It fabricated me calm down. It fabricated me feel bigger about myself.”

The attraction started back he aing the Wizards, in 2004. His abettor at the time, Arn Tellem, captivated a affair with him at the WMG offices in Los Angeles, and Fiji bottles belted the appointment room. Jamison tasted it and was hooked.

Up until then, Jamison had been a Gatorade guy—he went to Michael Jordan’s alma academy at North Carolina—and he rarely cared about the blazon of baptize he drank. But he noticed the cottony arrangement of Fiji Water, which, according to the company, comes from its silica content.

Jamison asked Tellem if he could get some water, and the afterward anniversary 100 cases were delivered to his doorstep. 

“And I had to booty one-by-one upstairs, downstairs, in my bedroom,” Jamison says. “Everywhere.”

Fiji bound became an attraction that belted on religion.

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To this day, Jamison insists he was never paid by Fiji, but he can still blindly aces out the water’s audible acidity and smell.

Now that players accept become added in tune with their bodies, Jamison feels like a man afore his time, alternating abroad from sugar-filled beverages to water.

“This is the barometer now,” Jamison says. “I adulation it. These athletes, they’re so health-conscious. Back in my days, you had chefs but they weren’t affable advantageous stuff. Now, that’s all they got activity on. They’re authoritative abiding they’re putting the adapted things in their bodies.”

As NBA teams arm up with sports scientists and nutritionists on their org charts, baptize has become a alluring battlefield for anatomy optimization. Jamison attributes the accepted movement to LeBron, a above assistant in Cleveland, who abundantly treats his anatomy like a temple.

“These adolescent guys see, ‘This is what LeBron does, so I gotta get on it,’” Jamison says. “The dude is unbelievable. It’s about whatever you put in your arrangement is the best important thing. He understands it.”

One of those players who has followed clothing is NBA’s arch applicant for Best Improved Player, Victor Oladipo, who has, with the advice of convalescent bubbler habits, undergone a concrete transformation. In an account with Vigilant Sports in March, Oladipo said he now drinks a gallon of baptize a day—a tip he got from David Alexander, a claimed trainer who additionally advises Dwyane Wade and James. “It’s not as difficult as it seems,” he said. “I aloof drink. Every time I get agog I drink.”

Now, the name of the d is how abundant H2O to drink, what affectionate to drink, how generally to drink.

The Sixers accept been at the beginning of the baptize revolution. In 2015, the team’s sports science division, beneath the administration of Sam Hinkie, began ecology players’ baptize intakes. The aggregation would anxiously log baptize burning application abundant blooming bottles to ensure that anniversary amateur accomplished adapted hydration. (Philly has done abroad with the convenance to declutter the pregame action and to attention adjoin dehumanizing its players, sources say. Abundant beneath invasively, JJ Re, the adept sharpshooter, now keeps a ability baronial of altered brands.)

Last year, the Wizards implemented a baptize ability change of their own, back they abounding Essentia in the refrigerator central the convenance facility. Oubre had campaigned adamantine for the change, and afore long, others boarded the acrid train. In April, back a photo of John Wall cutting a “Yo admirer can’t analysis me” sweatshirt went viral, he was cradling an Essentia canteen in his hands.

But the aggregation hasn’t absolutely gone Essentia-only. In December, Wall acquaint an Instagram video assuming him giving Rolexes to his teammates at a aggregation meal. The tables were abounding with Fiji Baptize bottles.

Temple is no drifter to the bottled baptize dilemma. The 31-year-old Kings guard, who adheres to a austere plant-based diet, is a self-proclaimed baptize snob. On the road, Temple will accelerate his amateur teammates to Accomplished Foods on a mission to aces up endless of Essentia. (Those runs helped access De’Aaron Fox’s thinking; he now reps Aggregation Essentia as an ambassador.) If there’s no Accomplished Foods nearby, Temple dispatches the rooks to the bounded CVS for a Fiji fix.

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Temple’s baptize admiration came in the anatomy of a wake-up call, back in October, he anesthetized two branch stones. His doctor’s decree was simple. Hydrate better.

“So,” Temple says with a laugh, “I’m bubbler a lot of baptize now.”

And not aloof any water. Temple doesn’t alcohol abundant Dasani—“Awful,” he says—or Aquafina, the arch bottled baptize brands by cooler giants Coca Cola and PepsiCo, respectively.

So why acrid water? For Temple, it’s all about apperception and anatomy wellness. He says that acrid helps abate deepening and accumulate the allowed arrangement in check.

“The science that I apperceive is that we put so abundant acidity in foods that you accept to antithesis it out some way,” Temple says. “I’ve additionally heard letters of the two big [bottled water] brands accepting brain-eating amoebas in it and things of that nature.” (This could not be confirmed.)

The albatross in the room: So, does acrid baptize absolutely work?

“It’s accomplished if players accept acrid water,” Dr. Marie Spano, a nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks, says. “However, they deserve to apperceive the science, or in this case, abridgement thereof, abaft acrid water.”

Compared to your archetypal canteen of water, acrid baptize ability not be as benign as advertised. Advisers advance it is about absurd to absorb abundant of the being to affect your claret alkalinity. And accomplishing so could accept adverse furnishings on the body: The World Health Organization warns that downing aerial levels of acrid baptize can accession gastrointestinal issues.

Spano says that—contrary to accepted belief—there is no affirmation it helps inflammation, and the animal anatomy is evolutionarily hard-wired to artlessly accumulate its acidity levels in check. The anatomy requires acerbic to abstract and breach bottomward its food, which is why the abdomen is lined with hydrochloric acid. Without acid, animal beings would starve.

For Spano, the key to achievement lies in the bubbler baptize as against to acquisitive bathetic beverages, such as sports drinks and soda.

“In the chase achievement and accretion acceptable aids, my aboriginal adage is ‘do no added harm,’” Spano says. “However, if you like it, alcohol it. It does no harm.”

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Martin Riese, one of three baptize sommeliers in the United States, has a hardly altered view. He says that antiseptic baptize companies like Essentia or Aquafina absolutely end up stripping out the healthy, accustomed minerals from Mother Attributes like magnesium, calcium and sodium—otherwise accepted as electrolytes.

“For me, it’s alarming back I see bodies bubbler antiseptic water,” Riese says. “It’s advancing from a factory, not Mother Nature.”

He adds: “It’s the bigger betray on planet Earth in my opinion.”

In an absolute abstraction appear in 2012, advisers Joseph Weidman, Ralph E. Holsworth Jr., Bradley Brossman, Daniel J. Cho, John St. Cyr and Gregory Fridman begin that acrid baptize had a “significant aberration in accomplished claret viscosity” back compared with “standard antiseptic water.” On its website, Essentia architect and CEO Ken Uptain acclaimed the findings. “These accurate allegation reinforce acknowledgment we’ve heard for several years from doctors, athletes, and all kinds of ‘over-achievers’ aiming to be at the top of their game. Essentia Baptize helps them rehydrate better,” Uptain said.

When accomplished for comment, a agent added that Essentia Baptize is the abandoned baptize included in the Physician’s Board Reference. “Essentia Water’s proprietary ionization action creates a supercharged ionized acrid baptize that’s bigger at rehydrating,” the adumbrative wrote in an email.

Some accept appropriate that the acrid baptize fad ability artlessly be able marketing—a circuit on the animal body’s accustomed adjustment of its alkalinity-acidity. “Your anatomy needs to be counterbalanced in altered means and your anatomy does a appealing acceptable job accomplishing that—to antithesis all the altered areas what needs to be acerb and what needs alkaline,” Riese says.

He addendum that the there is “very alloyed science” back it comes to acrid water, and he is a skeptic. “As a baptize sommelier, I accept in accurate fact. So this accomplished acrid baptize thing, I don’t accept in it. The abandoned affair I accept in, is what we as flesh detected 400 years ago. And this is the mineral levels. And the college the minerals, the added benign appulse on the body.”

So why do players affirm by their specific cast of water? Is there article abroad activity on?

“The placebo effect,” Spano mentions, apropos to the cerebral abnormality area the apperception believes a affected analysis is real, and it feels the ameliorative account admitting the algid lie.

But if there’s no added comestible account for guys like Oubre, McConnell and Terry, is it accessible there’s a performance-enhancing apperception ambush that teams should harness?

During the 76ers’ 15-game win streak, David Martin, the team’s administrator of achievement analysis and development, took a cruise to Brisbane, Australia, to bear a keynote accent at a sports science conference. The address was based on a cardboard he co-authored in 2014 alleged “Lying to Win—Placebos in Sport Science” that argued there can be analytic account in belief. 

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Among the studies that Martin cited, the animal academician tends to feel added amusement from bubbler pricier wines alike if they are absolutely the aforementioned wine, which Martin argued had abstruse implications for sports performance: People’s expectations a their cold response. 

Martin couldn’t be accomplished for animadversion for this story. But his allegation adumbration at the ability of brainy messaging that ability access how players feel back bubbler pricier baptize brands. If you’re bubbler “purified” or “supercharged” water, you may feel cleaner and healthier, and added able on the court.

In added words, you are not aloof what you drink. You are what you anticipate you drink.

Back in the Philly locker room, things are acceptable for the adolescent Sixers. The aggregation is crescendoing against the playoffs. The No. 1 all-embracing pick, Markelle Fultz, has aloof alternate afterwards four months on the sidelines.

But article abroad is on arch drillmaster Brett Brown’s mind: water.

He’s beginning off his ritual pregame jog through town, and sitting in the visitor’s coaches office.

He says he’s been cerebration afresh about The Far Ancillary cartoon. And one account that has backward with him all these years.

“They had this one,” Brown begins, “where they had this crazy son of a bitch, bushing up Perrier bottles out of a faucet. He’s bedlam and business them and pumping it up.”

Brown again grabs a canteen of Dasani—the baptize cast supplied by their opponent—off his desk. He tilts it in his duke and looks bottomward at the antiseptic baptize label.

He cracks a smile.

“I admiration if it’s the aforementioned thing.”

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Tom Haberstroh has covered the NBA abounding time back 2010, and aing B/R Mag afterwards seven years with ESPN as an NBA cabal and analytics expert. Haberstroh is additionally a co-founder of Count The Dings podcast arrangement and consistently hosts the Back To Back podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @tomhaberstroh.

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