Lang’s World: Working to Lose to Win

Lang’s World: Working to Lose to Win

It all started, like pretty much everything else in the world these days, with COVID-19. Back in October of last year, I came down with the Delta variant, which swiftly knocked out my taste and smell, and kept me marooned in bed for a week or so. Once I finally emerged and started getting my legs back under me, I realized I’d lost some weight—it turns out not wanting to eat helps a lot in that regard.

I knew right then that I needed to keep it going, because keeping my weight under control has always been a struggle. Two months earlier, the Grizz Gaming season had ended in a playoff loss, and when we returned home, I saw a few pictures of myself which showed me things were, frankly, worse than I realized. I wasn’t just husky or kinda big, like I’ve been since adolescence. I was fat. And I needed to do something about it.

So, over the last seven months, I’ve lost about 50 pounds. I say “about” 50 pounds, because when I started this journey, I don’t know how much I weighed; I was afraid to get on a scale. But I know exactly how much I weigh now. I’m down 7 inches in my pants waist size. I’ve gone from squeezing into XXL shirts to being able to wear size L hoodies. I had to stop wearing my wedding ring because it kept slipping off my finger.

A few weeks ago, we had our annual Grizz Gaming media day, when the gamers get their photos taken in a variety of settings for us to use all season for content purposes. This year, for the first time, I asked our ace photographer Joe Murphy to get a specific picture of me: I wanted a shot of me in the exact same pose as one year prior, so I could compare and contrast the two. As I suspected, the difference was stark.

Two side-by-side images comparing Lang Whitaker's weight loss. Photos by Joe Murphy/NBAE.

It took so much work, and so many small moments where I had to dedicate myself to making the right choice. But put together, all off those moments helped me get to where I am today.

The best way I can describe the 2K League is that each game is essentially a collective of people working together to try and solve a puzzle. You’re playing a basketball game, sure, but you can’t do it on your own—all five people on a 2K team must work in tandem, thinking together as a group. Sometimes that means not cutting to the basket just because the lane is open. Sometimes that means not taking a good shot because a great shot is a pass or two away. Sometimes that means not running over to defend a player, because there’s a chance you might give up an open three while contesting a two. And so on, and so on.

Making all those pieces fit takes players willing to buy into a team concept. It takes chemistry and it takes reps playing together, and none of that happens overnight. In many ways, it’s similar to my own fitness journey: There’s no straight line to success—sometimes you win, sometimes you lose—but if you keep pushing forward, and making more right decisions than wrong decisions, growth will occur. It doesn’t mean you’ll get the results you want immediately, but you must keep grinding, you have to keep working, if you want to get anywhere.

This season, Grizz Gaming got off to a slow start. We were way behind getting our five players into the same market together, for reasons that were beyond our control. Once we finally got all five into Memphis and were able to practice on this season’s league build, we had to figure out a lot of things. We built this roster with a specific lineup in mind, but the league build dictated otherwise if we wanted to maximize the talent on the roster. So, we tinkered, we adjusted, we mixed, we matched. And we lost a few games along the way.

It’s easy to allow doubt to creep in, to let anxiety overwhelm self-confidence. But I believed in my guys. We had a roster of veteran players who were all tough and self-aware and, most importantly, willing to be honest with themselves and each other. I knew if we stuck with our game plan and believed in each other, we could put ourselves in a position to be successful. We started 0-3, then won two straight to make it to the first 2K League tournament last week in Indianapolis. Once in Indy, we had to play the top team in the Eastern Conference, the undefeated GenG Tigers, and we led the entire game, before a late burst gave GenG the win. It was heartbreaking and disappointing, but it wasn’t the end of our season. As our point guard BP said to me after the game, “I have a good feeling.”

To lose fifty pounds, the first thing I had to do was completely change everything. I began with the way I ate, embarking upon a diet from which I have refused to deviate. Every morning, I eat a cup of oatmeal and drink a large cup of coffee. For lunch, I eat a pre-packaged salad and drink a bottle of water. If I get hungry during the afternoon, I drink more water and maybe eat an orange or two. For dinner, I eat whatever I want, although I try to be reasonable, both with the meal and the protein. (I eat vegetarian at least a few nights a week, and stick to mostly eating poultry, fish and pork.) If I’m hungry late at night, I’ll eat a handful of nuts or perhaps a few pretzels and hummus. I avoid fast food altogether, and if I must eat on the run, I’ll opt for a salad or something light. I’ve also had to work incredibly hard at not cheating and telling myself it’s OK to have a bag of chips, because I understand that once I start to eat something, it can go in a flash from being a snack to an avalanche. I’ve also had to accept that this isn’t so much a diet I’m on as much as it is a new way of eating. This is how I’m going to have to eat for the rest of my life. Is it exciting? Nah, but it is sustainable, and it is reasonable.

The other big change I made was really getting into running regularly. I used to run a few miles a couple of days a week, but I wasn’t losing much weight because I was eating so poorly. Now, in addition to a cleaner diet, I run at least three miles a day, six days a week. It has required an unbelievable amount of self-control and discipline, but I’ve done it and plan on continuing to do it. Last Saturday, knowing I had a crazy busy day ahead, I set my alarm and woke up at 7:00 a.m., to get the gym and squeeze my run in before the day got away from me.

Waking up before the sun to go run? I guess this really is a new me. I’m still not skinny, but I am much more appropriately sized. I know if I stick to the way I’m eating and living now, I’ll continue to lose weight, although probably not as dramatically as I have over the last year. And if I want to continue dropping weight, I just have to keep working. And working. And working.

It’s a journey, a process. Sometimes you take a step back to take a step forward. I’ll keep plugging away, but eventually, I’ll get there.

It felt great for Grizz Gaming to get up off the canvas and fight our way into the tournament in Indianapolis last week, but it wasn’t enough. We still have a lot of work to do, and the work never stops—we continue to come to the facility seven days a week to grind and try to improve.

This week, we will start playing in the NBA 2K League’s first-ever 3-on-3 tournament. How will this go? Well, I don’t know. But I can tell you that as soon as we got back from Indianapolis, we started working on 3v3, trying to figure out our best lineups and strategies. You can’t say we haven’t been working at it.

Because it turns out, as with everything in life, from losing weight to being successful at your job, doing the work matters. Don’t try and cheat, don’t hunt for shortcuts. Put your nose down and work.

And you might just surprise yourself with the results.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


Leave a Reply