Royal Ivey's routine as an unemployed NBA veteran could best be described as organized chaos.
After being waived by Atlanta before the start of the regular season, and before receiving the call that brought him back to Oklahoma City last week, Ivey's road back to the big leagues took him on a strange journey. It included workouts inside elementary schools, pick-up games with no-names in open gyms and drill work with college and NBA D-League players he was clearly better than.
“It's definitely a humbling situation,” said Ivey, who signed a 10-day contract with the Thunder last Thursday.
Gone were the teammates and trainers, the coaches and the camaraderie, the schedule and the structure.
One day, Ivey was in the NBA fold, gearing up for his 10th NBA season, and the next he was isolated, forced to figure things out on his own.
“It's kind of like purgatory,” Ivey said.
Ivey passed on a handful of overseas opportunities, but the near three-month wait before his next job arrived proved brutal.
“You never know when that call's coming,” Ivey said.
The challenge was for Ivey to keep himself ready for whenever it might come.
That's when things got interesting.
“I was playing pickup with everybody,” Ivey said. “People just trying to get into shape and get run.”
Back home in New York, Ivey linked up with friends and fellow New York natives Andre Barrett, the former Seton Hall guard, and Russell Robinson, the former Kansas guard. Both became consistent workout partners.
But Ivey needed more.
“It's not really pushing you,” Ivey said. “It's really for the cardio. The competition, you just played whoever you could play. That's the name of the game. Try to find run.”
That search took Ivey to Newark, Del., where he hooked up with the D-League's Delaware 87ers. A previous relationship with 87ers coach Rod Barker allowed Ivey to serve as a special consultant of sorts. He assisted the team's guards in practices and stepped into drills to maintain his sharpness.
But he was a long way from the NBA.
After a few weeks, Ivey went back to his alma mater, the University of Texas. Again, he was a special contributor, doing much of the same that he did in Delaware. With the Longhorns, occasional two-a-days were even more beneficial to Ivey. They would lift weights and get up shots in the morning before going back at night and getting in another workout.
Keep in mind all this was completely up to Ivey.
No one was forcing him to be there.
“You're by yourself now,” Ivey said. “There's no coaches. There's nobody there to motivate you or to say, ‘We got practice at 10.' You got to get up, and you got to do all the work yourself. That's the tough part.”
Every day, Ivey would awake at 10 a.m., eat breakfast and go to the gym. He'd start by lifting weights. Then move on to the treadmill. Next was whatever he could get done on the court that day, which mostly depended on what he could find.
The key to motivating himself through the process, Ivey said, was staying positive.
“That's the main thing. You got to be positive,” he said. “You got to push yourself and say, ‘The call might be coming any day now.' You never know.”
It left Ivey waiting by the phone like a teenager waiting to hear from a crush. Constantly, Ivey checked his missed calls, his voicemails and his text messages.
Finally, a fateful one arrived from Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who, for now, put an end to Ivey's strange trip as an unemployed NBA veteran.
“I've been through everything else but that,” Ivey said. “Now, it's nothing in my career that I haven't gone through. So I'm going to write a book when it's all said and done.”