To needle their opposition before games, the elite NBA basketball players of the Cleveland Cavaliers send processed and prepackaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the other team.
Meanwhile, in their own locker room, the Cavaliers feast on artisanal PB&J’s, with fancy jellies, bananas, and even almond butter.
This is a shot across the bow—a pre-game tactic using a culinary weapon that’s taken all too seriously among professional basketball players. As it turns out, NBA players are obsessed with eating PB&J sandwiches before their games, a strange and delightful discovery first documented by ESPN The Magazine.
It’s a phenomenon that’s been traced to Boston, during the 2007-2008 season, when an unnamed player on the Celtics told the team’s strength and conditioning coach, “Man, I could go for a PB&J.” He got his wish. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich became a pre-game routine for the Celtics. (The team had a 66-win season and claimed the NBA title that year.)
And so the concept spread like wildfire. It was adopted down Interstate 95 in Brooklyn, then Orlando, then Memphis and Los Angeles—making the quick transition from pre-game meal to full-on ritual.
“It’s a soothing memory from childhood,” the LA Lakers’ nutritionist told ESPN, something that makes the players feel good when they take the court.
Of course, there’s also the scientific explanation, just the smell of the ingredients of a PB&J—the sugary jelly, the salt, proteins and starches of the calorie-rich butter—work together to trigger the brain into releasing dopamine and serotonin.
It’s an effect that’s not unlike sex, which explains why the players have resisted when team nutritionists have tried to cut off the pre-game snack on account of its sugar content.