D.J. Augustin likes his water just so. Hot, but not too hot. He wants to feel the caress of the exfoliating seaweed scrub on his toes, and Augustin has no problem advising the pedicurist of his preferred temperature when filling the tub.
After 11 years in the NBA, Augustin has become a veteran of tony nail salons. As often as he can, the starting point guard for the Orlando Magic will seek professional help on the road in the same places one might find women sipping bubbly taken from a mini-fridge while getting their cuticles contoured and polished. For Augustin, such a space is as sacred as the trainer's table. He believes every NBA player needs a good pedicure.
"Some guys look down on it 'cause it's girly or whatever you want to call it, but I've done it from the beginning because it's like taking care of your body. Just like anything else you do, getting a massage or treatment," Augustin said. "I've had situations before with my toenails, or my callus on my feet, would hurt my feet during games. It makes a big difference."
Woe to the toes belonging to very large men who jump and sprint and pound their feet on a wooden floor for a living. These athletic maestros can inspire ballads on the basketball court. But once they take off their shoes and reveal the instrument with which they have created such beauty, their hideous feet can incite gasps.
The image of NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal's toes, as he received a pedicure in 2017, should have come with a NSFW warning. In 2014, former slam dunk champion Nate Robinson bared his soul, and his little piggies, as he posted a picture of himself on Instagram at a nail shop with the hashtag #teamUglyFeet. And through the decade of his own playing career, shame prevented Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks from removing his shoes in front of a stranger.
"I never wanted to get them done because you're embarrassed of your toes," said Brooks, who only embraced getting pedicures two years ago with his wife. "I mean, they're a combination of dead toenails, hammer toes. . . . I would imagine all basketball players have bad toenails, just from the shoes and all the running and stopping and starting."
Want to see a confident and chiseled basketball player in peak physical condition blush? Ask to see his feet.
"No! Hell no!" six-year veteran Lavoy Allen said through giggles as he sat inside the Wizards' locker room before a preseason game.
"I've got some pretty bad dogs," Magic forward Jonathon Simmons confessed while chuckling.
"I need one," Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington said of a pedicure as he gazed at the toe on his right foot that had turned midnight black from years of taking a beating.
To Ellington's credit, he was the only Heat player who dared to wear flip-flops without socks before an October game against the Wizards. In the offseason, Ellington and his wife will plan day-dates to the nail shop. Though he believes that feet are "a vital part of what we do" as NBA players, like several of his peers, Ellington said he doesn't have time to get pedicures during the season. But that just might be an excuse from a man who needs his spouse as his salon interpreter.
"When I go alone, I feel a little bit weird, but, when I'm with my wife, I have somebody to talk to and not feel as weird," Milwaukee Bucks center Jason Smith said. "Because I don't know, like, the lingo. Like: 'Oh, can I get this done? Can I get that?' I'm just like: 'There they are! Go to work!' "
If only all players had the swagger of Sacramento Kings forward Harry Giles III and could stroll into a spa alone, ready to be pampered.
The man loves his pedicures. He books a weekly appointment at his favorite shop whenever the Kings have a long homestand. And every nail technician at Golden Salon & Spa knows what to do when Giles dips his toes into the basin.
"The jelly. Jelly pedicure," Giles said of his favourite treatment, which consists of natural oils and moisturizing paraffin. "They already know. They know what I want."
Giles is such a believer in pedicures that, last month, he surprised 10 Sacramento-area fathers with a spa day as part of the Kings' annual "Season of Doing Good" events. For many of the men, the experience was their first pedicure. Giles noticed how an exfoliating scrub worked miracles in breaking through the hard exteriors.
"It was good to see the men just interacting with each other and enjoying something new. You could tell they were like little kids a little bit, the way they were sitting there, smiling, eating cookies," Giles said. "It's not like the barbershop. . . . People try to be tough in the barbershop [but], when you go to the nail salon, I feel like you just got to let it all out. Chill out and relax and have a good time."
Giles remembers once being a young boy who was held hostage inside a salon during his mother's appointments. Though his introduction to the cuticle culture was forced, other players fondly remember the masculine motivations behind their grooming.
For Philadelphia 76ers veteran big man Amir Johnson, a Los Angeles native, he was a junior in high school when he walked past a nail salon one day and noticed the late comic and actor Bernie Mac soaking his feet in a tub.
"Hey, Mac's doing it! I'm going to do it!" Johnson thought.
Portland Trail Blazers guard Evan Turner was a young and impressionable player in the league when his former agent, David Falk, shared stories of his client Michael Jordan getting pedicures. If the GOAT could get his calluses shaved down, certainly so could Turner.
"I used to cut them myself, and once Falk told me the story about MJ, I was like, 'Oh, hell yeah!' " Turner recalled. " 'I'm doing that all the time!' So I [wanted to] get a mani-pedi every day."
Another sports legend inspired Dallas Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan. When he was a teenager, he felt his mother was nagging him about taking care of his feet. But after learning that his football hero, Terrell Owens, was a weekly visitor to nail salons, Jordan finally accepted that mom knew best.
"I used to follow Terrell Owens, and he was big with manicures and pedicures," Jordan said. "My feet take care of me, so I got to take care of my feet. And then, you know, my lady don't like my feet scratching her in the bed, so I got to make sure I get my feet taken care of."
Though Jordan may be a considerate boyfriend, he doesn't get pedicures simply for vanity. Jordan views the maintenance as a vital part of his professional routine. "Especially being a big guy, you want to make sure you take care of your body, because that's your core right there," he said.
Given the mindset of players such as Jordan, Howard Osterman has seen a renaissance of foot care in the NBA.
Osterman, the president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine and the team podiatrist for the Wizards, has noticed how the NBA occupational hazard of often wearing new shoes can partially explain the trauma on players' feet. The shoes never quite break in, and the skin around the foot has to grow thick layers to absorb the excessive stopping and starting on the court. Over time, the pressure causes calluses to build up on the bottom of the foot, and painful ingrown toenails also develop. But unlike in past generations, Osterman believes today's players are more inclined to fix these problems with a proper pedicure.
"Taking care of their feet is one of the most important things these guys can do," Osterman said. "There was a stigma for a long time where guys didn't go get pedicures, and then guys like Shaq and Dwyane Wade and LeBron, they made it popular. And you know what? If the stars can do it, then it's OK. So, it's really gotten better."
Pedicures have been ingrained in millennials such as Giles, and even his Sacramento teammate De'Aaron Fox, since both have visited nail shops since college. Across the league, several teams have also promoted better foot care.
The Atlanta Hawks' training staff recommends to players where to get help with their sore calluses, and in Orlando, the Magic take it a step further. In November, the team's player development staff hosted a player spa day inside Amway Arena.
"Some of them didn't want to do it, and the ones that were in there, I was just telling them: 'Y'all don't understand how good y'all got it, man,' " the 31-year-old Augustin said, recalling his message to several teammates.
"We didn't have this when I was coming up," he said.
For any player still hesitant about getting pedicures, Augustin would assure them to dive in, toes first. The water's safe, and the seaweed scrub feels just right.