Does the N.B.A. Peak During the Finals or Free Agency?

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As a reporter on the National Basketball Association beat, I am asked to cover two sorts of games in the social media age.

There are the games played on hardwood, which get no bigger than the best-of-seven N.B.A. finals series that begins Thursday night in Toronto, where the Raptors host the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.

And then there is what I like to call the Transaction Game: the chasing of the various trades, free-agent signings, hirings, firings and draft-day dealings that, maybe more so in the N.B.A. than in any other league, has almost become a sport unto itself.

Even with the Warriors poised to appear in their fifth straight finals, something we haven’t seen since the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics made 10 finals appearances in a row from 1957 to 1966, there is no escaping the Transaction Game thanks to Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard.

Not only do they unanimously rank as two of the five best players in the world, but Durant and Leonard also are just a month away from becoming basketball’s two most coveted free agents when the marketplace opens.

You come to understand very quickly covering #thisleague, as I frequently refer to it on Twitter, that there is no avoiding discussion about the future in the modern N.B.A., even when we’re in the midst of what is supposed to be the pinnacle present.

I have a three-pronged theory to explain how it got this way over the past decade:

1) In a climate where every game is broadcast worldwide, with highlight plays circulated almost instantly via Instagram and Twitter, fans today see everything. Or almost everything. And that has made them thirst even more for updates on what they can’t see, such as moves their favorite teams may be plotting.

2) As Warriors coach Steve Kerr noted in February, many of the game’s biggest names feel as if “we’re all actors in a soap opera.” The N.B.A. has embraced social media’s ability to take us deeper into players’ lives, for better or worse, more than any other major sports league can. The result: Fans are now more invested in these “characters” and their backstories, travails and occasional feuds and flare-ups than they were at any point in my 26 seasons covering the league.

3) Basketball is a five-on-five game. In no other major team sport can the addition of a Durant or a Leonard so drastically change a team’s outlook. A marquee free agent would never go unsigned for 122 days the way Bryce Harper did in baseball last winter. One star, or even one smart or fortuitous transaction, makes such a bigger difference in the N.B.A.

That should explain why, in our industry, there is little finality associated with the finals. The N.B.A. draft is June 20 and free agency begins June 30 at 6 p.m. — moved up six hours into prime time by the league office so all the feverish reporting, tweeting and pestering of agents, team executives, players and other well-connected insiders by nosy reporters like me (toting both a BlackBerry and an iPhone) can play out on more platforms and to a bigger audience.

“It’d be nice if everyone could just pay attention to pick-and-roll coverage, but gossip is more interesting sometimes and we’re all part of that,” Kerr said.

League officials and their television partners thus face the same nagging worry every June:

Will the games prove sufficiently captivating to keep viewers tuned in from the 28 fan bases whose teams aren’t competing for the championship?

Such uncertainty weighs even heavier on the N.B.A. this June because the Warriors, for the first time in their dynastic run, aren’t facing LeBron James’s team. After leading Miami and Cleveland to a combined eight consecutive trips to the finals, the league’s most-recognizable player missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005. James has an early jump on his free-agent recruiting efforts as his Los Angeles Lakers plunge deeper into turmoil by the day.

Now for the good news: Warriors-Raptors, at first glance, appears to sport the potential to satisfy all audiences. There is intrigue for those who are and are not in a rush to skip ahead to one of the most eagerly anticipated off-seasons for potential player movement.

Provided that Durant recovers soon from a calf strain that has sidelined him for Golden State’s past five games (and ruled him out for Game 1), his individual duel with Leonard should be irresistible theater. There are also several compelling questions beyond that matchup covering both the present and the future — with a passport needed to answer them all in the first finals to be played in a Canadian city.

Can the Warriors easily reassimilate Durant after changing to a faster style of play without him and sweeping through Portland in the Western Conference finals?

Can the Raptors persuade Leonard, a Southern California native, to stay in chilly Toronto after the success they’ve enjoyed in this season’s fling?

Is Durant really poised to walk away from a franchise bidding for its fourth championship in five seasons to join the Knicks or the Los Angeles Clippers?

Does Leonard — unlike James in his final days with the Cleveland Cavaliers — have enough help to make this a series when Golden State, with or without Durant, can turn to the championship-tested quartet of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala?

I eagerly anticipate the next four to seven games to figure it all out. The Transaction Game, at least for me, can wait.

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It Takes Real Skills to Be a Fake Stephen Curry

Some comedians need a microphone. Others use pens or a laptop to generate laughs. And then there are Brandon Armstrong and Maxim Peranidze, who simply use a basketball.

They are better known by their Instagram handles — @bdotadot5 (1.7 million followers) and @maxisnicee (425,000). Each has gained a significant following with humorous and spot-on impersonations of N.B.A. players’ offense, defense and various tics. Along with Carlos Sanford, a former N.C.A.A. Division II player better known as “Famous Los,” they are at the forefront of a burgeoning field of sports comedians who go viral through mimicking.

A recent video by Peranidze, a 21-year-old Los Angeles native who played at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College before being injured, parodied the lengths that Golden State guard Stephen Curry goes to to get open off the ball. Wearing a Curry jersey, Peranidze channeled Curry’s on-court gait, going behind, under and around benches on the sideline. At one point he even ran out of the gym and returned.

That Instagram video, posted in late May, has more than 700,000 views. It caught the eye of Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, who posted on Twitter: “Oh yea, we run that play a lot. We call it ‘fist side.’” The video was aggregated by several sites and ran on “SportsCenter.”

And of course, Curry saw it, too.

“They’re clever — they’re funny,” Curry said after practice earlier this week. “They know how to make people laugh, and obviously they’re hoopheads. They just love the game, and I appreciate when they take something that we do well and it’s a funny moment or whatever and entertain the people.”

Peranidze, who began his impersonation career only five months ago with a video of Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, said he was so invested in his impersonations that he would play pickup games fully in character. The Curry video, Peranidze said, took only a couple of minutes to shoot. He did it in one take. It was fully improvised after watching game film of Curry just once.

“I’m a hooper. I’ve played basketball my whole life,” Peranidze said in an interview. “I’m good at looking at players and easily picking up the small things they do, how they move. So when I see that, I go on the court.”

His other videos include impersonations of Golden State’s All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez. N.B.A. players often comment on his videos. In response to a Thompson video, Thompson’s teammate Jordan Bell wrote on Instagram: “On point just need the shoulder roll lol.”

While Peranidze is new to all of this, Armstrong, who grew up in Decatur, Ga., was the first to make it mainstream. The video that put him on the map was a 2015 tribute to the fiery on-court persona of Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.

Armstrong, 28, has played semiprofessionally overseas and in the United States, including stops in Spain, Australia and the N.B.A.’s developmental league. He has also mocked the tendencies of pickup basketball players. For anyone who has played at a local gym, the video’s bits will be familiar: the strange free-throw routines; baggy-shorts wearers; players who won’t take their headphones off; “the pick up player who DOES THE MOST.” In capturing these moments and characters, he has racked up sponsorships and even a television show with the former N.B.A. All-Star Baron Davis called “WTF Baron Davis” on Fuse.

Others have entered the world of sports comedy in recent years, like YouTube’s Da Kid Gowie and Jesse Jones, better known as “Filayyyy,” who is known for his comical voice-overs.

“No one was doing it before me,” Armstrong said proudly in a phone interview.

Like Peranidze, Armstrong said the tendencies of players were easy to master.

“Man, I don’t need any game film at all,” Armstrong said. “I pretty much know how these players play. Of course, I’ll look at some of the film and see if there are certain types of moves where I have to overexaggerate. But other times, no more than 10 minutes of looking at some highlights and going right to it.”

As Peranidze and Armstrong have shown, playing basketball may be a more universal talent than we realize.

“The only times I watch the games is if I’m interested in the games and I see something in that game where I can make fun of and make super funny,” Armstrong said. Otherwise, Armstrong watches highlights, imports them into iMovie so he can see the play, then hits the court.

None of his videos have taken more than 30 minutes to film, Armstrong said, though fatigue is an issue sometimes, depending on whom he is portraying.

“Especially when I am impersonating these guards? Oh my goodness, like the Kyries and the Steph Currys. It’s so tiring trying to do those. They dribble so well,” Armstrong said, referring to Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving. “It takes a while to get those exactly down, but I do it. I get it down tight.”

N.B.A. players certainly have taken notice of Armstrong’s increasing visibility. His newfound fame earned him a spot in the celebrity game during N.B.A. All-Star weekend in 2017, when he was named the most valuable player.

But no interaction with the stars he mimics has matched one he had in Los Angeles in 2015.

After he began rising to fame that year, Armstrong was in Los Angeles visiting a friend. He was holding a hoverboard and walking to a waiting Uber when he heard someone yell out to him.

“I hear a guy say, ‘Hey bro, you’re a funny dude,’” Armstrong said. He turned around and said thanks. But then he squinted.



“He was like, ‘Yo, what’s up, man?’” Armstrong said. Westbrook, who had been expertly portrayed in all of his glorious intensity in Armstrong’s breakout video, recognized the comedian.

Westbrook, a Los Angeles native, was returning from a Taylor Swift concert and told Armstrong to keep going.

He did. Now Armstrong is more famous than many N.B.A. players.

Yoga’s Instagram Provocateur


Alex Auder at her yoga studio in Philadelphia. Asked by the photographer to do a yoga pose, she declined. “I hate yoga,” she said.CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

You cannot swing a cat (pose) on Instagram without hitting photographs of yoga instructors with perfect figures twisted into perfect shapes, selling essential oils and greeting-card spirituality.

Alex Auder is not one of them.

Ms. Auder, 48, is something of a yoga auteur, sharing homemade videos that are more performance art than content. In them she satirizes, mocks and sometimes fillets the wellness industry, its relentless marketing and “the commodification of yoga,” as Ms. Auder calls it.

She writes, stars in and films a regular series of videos in which she has painted a dollar sign on her forehead in eyeliner and plays a character hawking essential oils with names like “urine mist,” “feces” and “The One Per Scent.”

She also plays a Wall Street dropout who has invested in wellness companies and thanks yoga instructors for continuing “to convince your fellow women to buy into me. I’m making more money than I did on Wall Street and you are still poor.”

Then there is the series in which she plays the role of an exacting yoga instructor who berates her students, played by naked dolls whose bodies are covered with Sharpie-drawn dollar signs and the names of yoga clothing brands like Spiritual Gangster.

In one popular video, Ms. Auder has herself wrapped in what appear to be Ikea rugs as she exits a car. “Being a healer who is sponsored by more than 500 brands is a lot of pressure,” she says. “Mercedes gets me to my ayahuasca ceremonies quickly and efficiently and Coke keeps me hydrated.”

Her Instagram feed is not one for glamour shots celebrated by 10,000 prayer-hand-emoji comments. She currently has about 6,000 followers, many of whom seem to delight in antics of someone trying to cling to the last vestiges of yoga’s counterculture roots.

Ms. Auder has been an instructor for decades, teaching for many years at Kula Yoga Project in New York. She now runs a studio called Magu Yoga in Philadelphia, where she and her husband, the filmmaker Nick Nehéz, moved with their two children five years ago. She has been practicing yoga since the late 1980s and teaching it since 1994.

She said she is not making fun of any one Instagram yoga celebrity, but all of them. “It’s a conglomeration of personalities, and when people say they see themselves in my characters, I think that is their problem, not mine.

“I think it’s ridiculous for gorgeous wealthy white women to tell anyone what they should love about themselves,” Ms. Auder went on. “Rosemary oil is great for the immune system, fine. But the people who really need a boost for their immune system can’t afford rosemary oil, and they can’t even go to the doctor. So let’s give an Instagram heart for that, shall we?”

Ms. Auder’s is one of a handful of social media feeds that holds to account (as it were) the overly branded, idealized version of the yoga lifestyle that has exploded on social media. Others include @shallow_yoga, which features a Barbie doll named Skye Moondust Shallow does ridiculous yoga poses in ridiculous locations (with captions like, “I hope this picture of me holding my leg up in the air in front of a mirror inspires you to say ‘Because of you, Skye, I didn’t give up’”).


From left, Todd Thomas, a designer, the photographer Cindy Sherman, Parker Posey and Ms. Auder at Rachel Comey’s fall 2014 fashion show.CreditGary Gershoff/Getty Images

Ms. Auder is in fact a performance artist IRL, on many different stages. She has made guest appearances on the HBO series “High Maintenance,” which depicts the interactions between a weed delivery man in Brooklyn and his clientele. (On the show, Ms. Auder plays Gloria, a yoga instructor who tries to win a dance world record.) She also regularly walks the runway for fashion designer Rachel Comey.

She comes from a family of activists and artists. “She’s always been outspoken, outrageous, passionate, sensational,” said Ms. Auder’s sister, the actress Gaby Hoffmann. (They have matching “SIS” tattoos on their wrists.) “Now it’s playing out on Instagram, instead of just on the dance floor and the yoga studio and on the sidewalk.”

Put another way: “When the machine is corrupted, you are the grit that gums up the works.” This is how Ms. Hoffmann said her “husband-person” (as she calls her partner, the cinematographer Chris Dapkins) described the artistic instincts of Ms. Hoffmann, Ms. Auder and the people who raised them.


Ms. Auder, second from left; Alex Auder’s sister, the actress Gaby Hoffmann, and their children.CreditNick Nehez

Ms. Auder is the daughter of Viva Hoffmann, an Andy Warhol superstar, and Michel Auder, the French filmmaker. Ms. Auder and her sister were raised in Room 710 of the Chelsea Hotel, which was a headquarter for a mélange of counterculture artists like Dylan Thomas, Sid & Nancy and Leonard Cohen.

After her parents split, Mr. Auder married the contemporary artist and photographer Cindy Sherman. (They divorced in 1999.) Ms. Auder and Ms. Hoffmann for many years were raised by the triumvirate, and they remain close to these parents.

Ms. Auder first tried yoga when she was a senior at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, after having studied at the School of American Ballet (which she got thrown out of for telling an instructor what he could go do to himself). She became obsessed with Jivamukti Yoga Center, a studio and teaching school that has been a yogic home to thousands of Ashtanga disciples over three decades, like Russell Simmons, Sting and Donna Karan. At the time, there were only a handful of yoga studios in the city. “I would sob, I loved it so much,” she said. “I went to two classes a day.”


From left, Ms. Auder, Viva Hoffmann, Gaby Hoffmann at a benefit in New York City in 1997.CreditPatrick McMullan/Getty Images

After graduating from Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., Ms. Auder and Mr. Nehéz opened a studio in Rhinebeck, N.Y., before they returned to Greenwich Village, with their baby daughter.

The family moved into a bedroom in a townhouse owned by the photographer Annie Leibovitz, for whom Ms. Auder became a daily private instructor. The mattress-on-the-floor family bedroom doubled as an underground studio, where Ms. Auder taught to private clients like Anohni and Parker Posey. She also did private home sessions with clients including Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Ms. Auder might have been the last hippie who still could afford to live in the Village — until Ms. Leibovitz decided to sell the townhouse.

Now in Philadelphia, the yoga provocateur is devoting as much time to social media as the mat, with photos of her children, ages 15 and 7, promotional notices of her upcoming classes and videos, like one from last month that shows her with a feather in her hair and a dollar sign painted on her forehead, hitting one doll with a stick for not practicing yoga every day and forcing the legs of another behind its own head. (By the way, that’s an actual yoga pose — yoganidrasana).

People who are offended by her work might be missing the point, said Nikki Vilella, an owner of New York’s Kula Yoga Project, where Ms. Auder still occasionally teaches. “She’s a rabble rouser,” Ms. Vilella said. “I know there are people who think it’s too much, but I don’t think it’s too much. I think the yoga world is asleep. They are numb, walking around with their telephones like robots.”

An Army Veteran Comes to Terms With Not Having PTSD

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On Monday, the United States observed Memorial Day, a federal holiday that capped a three-day weekend of events honoring those who died in American military service. Each year, this weekend pushes into public view many rituals of respect, remembrance and grief — occasions when stories and photographs of people who died in uniform gain a brief purchase in the public discourse and when cemeteries where the recent war dead have been laid to rest are crowded with family members, lovers and friends.

Memorial Day is, of course, for the fallen. But it is inevitable that the holiday also brings forth the living and their stories of loss and pain. When veterans honor friends who died in recent wars, implicit in many of their stories and rituals are the tolls exacted upon survivors — the seemingly indelible tales of guilt, regret and sorrow, often freighted with lingering physical or psychic wounds, including moral injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

And so it felt right that, immediately after many accounts of this sort, this week on At War we heard from former Capt. Melissa Thomas, an Army combat veteran and grieving widow who is able to say plainly that while she served in intensive circumstances in Iraq and suffered profound grief after the death of her husband, she is not burdened with PTSD.

Thomas served two tours in Iraq, and her husband, Chris, who died in an avalanche while mountaineering after leaving war behind, served more. Thomas was in pitched combat, and in a truck that was hit by a roadside bomb, and offered first aid to grievously wounded trauma victims, who died. She remembers each incident vividly and feels in control when she does. What is it that allowed her to fare better than some of her peers? Thomas herself wondered, especially after her husband died.

I thought my husband’s death, that New Year’s Eve day, would be the final trigger for post-traumatic stress disorder; it would be what sent me over the edge. The next few months were filled with sleeplessness and drinking, but also exercising and thoughtful introspection as I scoured self-help books and sought therapy. I never had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and I continued to make it to work on time. I was sad yet functional. I wasn’t given a diagnosis of clinical depression or PTSD. There must be something wrong with me for not having something wrong, I thought.

Thomas is a medical student now and volunteered to be a control in a study underwritten by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Center for PTSD at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I hope you will read her story of her experience, including of how the study, using an M.R.I., tried to map the neurology of her feelings of sanctuary and vigilance.

A research assistant sat in the other room monitoring visual images of my brain as the testing went on for an hour. As I saw later, the imaging looked like a storm on a weather map as certain regions were activated and lit up with increased blood flow. The test was measuring the reactions of my brain when I felt safe and when I was being threatened.

Thomas’s account is a reminder that popular tropes and easy assumptions about how trauma affects people often do not fit, that suffering and grief are individualized and that we all still have much to learn.

Here are six articles from The Times you might have missed.

‘Wow, What Is That?’ Navy Pilots Report Unexplained Flying Objects: No one at the Pentagon is saying that the objects are extraterrestrial, but the Navy has issued new classified guidance for reporting unexplained aerial phenomena.

Female Veterans, and a Memorial to Them, Struggle to Honor Women Who Served: Contributions to the memorial have flagged, and federal money has become stretched across an expanding landscape of tributes.

Former Navy Judge Named to Oversee Guantánamo Military Court: Progress in trying terrorist suspects has been scant. The last full-time person in the role was dismissed after considering plea deals in the Sept. 11 and the destroyer Cole cases.

Russia Has Restarted Low-Yield Nuclear Tests, U.S. Believes: If true, the finding could eventually prompt the Trump administration to begin its own testing. But some experts said the accusations were nothing new.

Attacks by Extremists on Afghan Schools Triple, Report Says: The surge, not seen since 2015, was yet another sign of the deteriorating security situation across Afghanistan.

Punching Iran Over Its Foreign Policy Could Lead to a Faster Path to War: Wrestling with Iran’s diplomacy and military activity could prompt a confrontation between Washington and Tehran well before any showdown over a nuclear program.

We’d love your feedback on this newsletter. Please email thoughts and suggestions to Or invite someone to subscribe through this link.

Read more from At War here or follow us on Twitter.

Six Simple Barre Stretches to Try on Vacation

Traveling — even for fun — can be tough on our bodies. Hours spent in airline seats, heavy meals and long stretches of touristy walking or standing can leave muscles and joints stiff and achy.

I asked two well-known fitness trainers, Elisabeth Halfpapp and Fred DeVito, for some simple exercises that travelers of any age or condition can do on the move, no matter where they may be. Ms. Halfpapp and Mr. DeVito (who are married) were pioneers in the “barre” exercise movement, which is a workout routine designed around the wooden rail that ballet dancers use for stability during practice. Their first piece of advice: Everywhere you look you can find a stand-in for an exercise barre.

“Try to look for anything that can be used as a barre,” says Ms. Halfpapp, who along with Mr. DeVito co-founded Exhale Spa, which offers barre and yoga at 20 locations in the United States and Bermuda. “Especially with jet lag and time change, you can do these stretches just to recirculate the body and get yourself back to a balanced state of flexibility and strength.”

When Ms. Halfpapp was traveling near Dublin, an old stone wall on a hill inspired her and her companions to do a standing thigh stretch, using the stone wall as a barre. A tree, an ornate bridge, a park bench, the railing on a cruise ship — all work as makeshift exercise barres perfect for stretching and strengthening a traveler’s tired body.

Ms. Halfpapp recalls a family trip to the Amalfi coast, where everyone (even those who don’t take part in regular barre workouts) used a rail that overlooked the sea as a makeshift barre. “We were all so enamored by the view and the energy,” she said. “It was more of an out-of-body experience, doing these stretches, feeling them and then being distracted by the amazing views. The view kept us longer in the stretches.”

Here are six simple barre stretches you can take on the road, as long as you have something to hold on to. If you like, you can do three sets, counting to eight each time and alternating legs and sides as needed.


CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

How to Do It: Hold on to the barre and step an arm’s length away from it. Place heels together, turning feet out into a “V.” Gently bend knees a few inches, then raise heels a few inches. You can pulse up and down for eight counts.

What It’s Good for: The stretch works your thighs and glutes, the largest muscles in your body, which means you’ll burn more calories. “It’s an energy booster,” says Mr. DeVito, who, along with Ms. Halfpapp, wrote “Barre Fitness: Barre Exercises You Can Do Anywhere for Flexibility, Core Strength and a Lean Body.”


CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

How to Do It: Place your left hand on the support and soften your knees. Lift and bend your right leg, grabbing your foot and holding for 30 seconds. If you can’t hold your foot, just bend the raised leg while resting your hand on your thigh. Alternate sides.

What It’s Good for: Stretches the top of your thigh (quadriceps) and hip flexor muscles. “Hip flexors get really tight when you’re sitting and traveling,” Ms. Halfpapp said.


CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

How to Do It: Hold on to your support, an arm’s distance away. Lift one leg opposite the barre and lean forward so your torso and your leg are parallel to the ground. If you can’t extend your leg straight, just bend it so only your thigh is parallel to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds and, if you’re feeling ambitious, lift the raised leg up and down in gentle pulses. Try it on the other side.

What It’s Good for: A weight-bearing exercise great for bones and balance. Take a mindful moment and imagine yourself as an ice skater gliding along the ice.


CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

How to Do It: Face the support and place palms shoulder distance apart. Keeping legs straight, bend your elbows about six inches toward the bar and keep your body straight. Hold for 30 seconds.

What It’s Good for: Strengthens upper body and abdominal muscles, and can improve posture. “When we travel we get a little weak in our cores,” Mr. DeVito said.


CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

How to Do It: Face the barre and hold with both hands or stand next to it supported by one hand, whichever is comfortable. Take your right ankle and place it above your left knee so you create the shape of the number 4. Bend your standing leg slightly and hold for up to 30 seconds. Alternate sides.

What It’s Good for: Stretches hips, glutes and lower back. A great exercise when you’ve just gotten off a plane or a long train ride. “When you’re sitting in a plane or car, we tend to slouch into the seats, and then the hip flexors get really tight,” Ms. Halfpapp said.


CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

How to Do It: Place your left hand on the support and stand with the barre at your side. With your feet together, reach your right arm up over your head (like a dancer). Lean toward the barre and stretch your side, holding for up to 30 seconds. Repeat the sequence, then turn around and do the other side.

What It’s Good for: Stretches your core, shoulders and hips. “We usually become one-sided when we’re carrying things on vacation,” Ms. Halfpapp said. “This will help relieve any tightness you have on the sides of the body.”

2019 French Open: No. 2 Karolina Pliskova Falls in the Third Round

PARIS — Second-seeded Karolina Pliskova was eliminated from the French Open with a 6-3, 6-3 loss to No. 31 Petra Martic in the third round Friday.

The result ensures that Naomi Osaka will hold onto the No. 1 ranking after the tournament.

Pliskova entered the tournament with a seven-match winning streak, which included the Italian Open title, but she couldn’t keep up with Martic on the long rallies on Philippe Chatrier Court, often bending over in exhaustion after extended points.

It was Martic’s tour-best 14th win on clay this season. She has not dropped a set in her opening three matches in Paris.

Martic, a 28-year-old Croatian, said after the match: “I’m shaking right now, so many emotions in me.”

Madison Keys, a semifinalist last year, beat Priscilla Hon of Australia, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3, in a second-round match carried over from Thursday, and 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova eliminated 28th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-4, 6-4, to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the second time after last year’s United States Open.

Cannabis Companies Push F.D.A. to Ease Rules on CBD Products

WASHINGTON — For weeks, the elite of the cannabis trade have been badgering the Food and Drug Administration for a coveted speaking slot on Friday at the agency’s summit on cannabis-derived consumer goods.

Blue-chip lawyers were rejected. Scientists were spurned. The agency finally created a complex lottery system to whittle down the list from 400 applicants to just over 120. They were given between two and five minutes to make their case. Only some are permitted slides.

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable nabbed a spot, as did purveyors of cannabis-spiked soft drinks, gummy bears, dietary supplements, and something called Hempy Pet CBD Soft Chews, “specially formulated to help canines with pain, inflammation, anxiety and other age-related issues, and also to manage symptoms in dogs with cancer.”

The F.D.A. has been skeptical of the burgeoning cannabis industry, but it is under increasing pressure from Congress to ease the path to market for cannabis-derived products. These products are different from medical marijuana, which is allowed by a growing number of states to treat severe pain, nausea and other ailments.

On Friday, cannabis companies — many of which are already selling their goods in stores and online — will try to convince the F.D.A. to let them do so legally. Currently, CBD is not allowed in dietary supplements or foods, but the F.D.A. tends to overlook these infractions.

The F.D.A. will not decide anything until later, but it could eventually end up ordering some products off the market.


CBD chocolates on display at the Big Industry Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The F.D.A. has been skeptical of the compound’s benefits.CreditRichard Vogel/Associated Press

“I don’t think that CBD is doing anything approximating what people are purporting is its magic quality,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down as F.D.A. commissioner in April. “It’s a real safety issue here. There are risks of accumulated effects. It’s not a completely benign compound.”

Cannabis is a plant family that includes hemp and marijuana, which have more than 80 biologically active chemical compounds. The most commonly known are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a psychoactive chemical, and cannabidiol (CBD), which does not produce the high that THC does.

For many years, the federal government deemed both plants to be controlled substances. The 2018 farm bill removed hemp and derivatives like CBD from the controlled substance list, so long as products containing them didn’t have more than 0.3 percent THC. But the law preserved the F.D.A.’s authority to regulate cannabis compounds.

Oversight of cannabis is complex and crosses several federal agencies. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration issues registrations for growing and processing marijuana for medical research. The Department of Agriculture is developing a plan to regulate hemp, although the states may also do so if they meet certain criteria.

The F.D.A. regulates drugs, including those derived from marijuana, and it can also take enforcement action against companies selling foods or dietary supplements that have CBD or THC ingredients, which are considered drugs. But it has done so sparingly, only in cases where the companies have made what were considered outrageous health claims for their products, such as to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses.

Friday’s daylong hearing is a first step in what is likely to be a long process to define a legal path to market for CBD products that it considers safe.

“Congress had the expectation that CBD from hemp would be able to be put in the food supply when they passed the farm bill,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “But it very explicitly preserved F.D.A.’s authority, so the F.D.A. has to create a framework for it to be contemplated as a component in food.”

How they will do so has occupied many Washington lawyers for the past few months. A recent CBD seminar at the annual Food and Drug Law Institute conference was standing room only. Law firms have been giving webinars for their clients, trying to help them straddle the line between getting too far out in front of the regulations and landing in jail, or missing the chance to claim a strong place in the market.


A CBD-themed café in Queens, N.Y.CreditBrendan Mcdermid/Reuters

“This is a new gold rush,” said Marc Scheineson, a lawyer with Alston & Bird in Washington, D.C., who represents a company that makes synthetic pharmaceutical grade CBD. “The horse is so far out of the corral here that it will be interesting to see what F.D.A. decides to do — or can do at this point.”

Mr. Scheineson suggested the F.D.A. might use its regulation of folic acid as a road map for CBD. Consumers can buy folic acid, a B vitamin, over the counter for some uses, but it must be prescribed by doctors at higher concentrations to prevent folic acid deficiency.

The agency could also require businesses to submit a petition demonstrating safety.

“There’s a very limited understanding of what would be considered a safe amount of CBD to be consumed outside of a physician’s care,” said Justin Gover, chief executive of GW Pharmaceuticals, the parent company of Greenwich Biosciences, whose cannabis-based drug, Epidiolex, was approved last year to treat seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy. “There should be in our view a clear differentiation between F.D.A.-approved medicines derived from cannabis, like Epidiolex and any form of CBD taken without a physician’s supervision.”

Jonathan Miller, a lawyer for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, a coalition of dozens of hemp companies, who is speaking at the meeting, plans to tell the F.D.A. that CBD is safe, and asks for it to be fully legalized as a dietary supplement and food additive.

“Our enemy is not the F.D.A.,” Mr. Miller said. “Our enemies are CBD companies that make false claims or sell products that are bad.”

Dr. Gottlieb took special issue with CBD for pets.

“Putting CBD into pet food is absurd,” he said.

Sarah Sorscher, a deputy director with Center for Science in the Public Interest, said she was especially concerned about CBD products like gummy bears, which appeal to children. Ms. Sorscher, who missed the filing deadline to testify, also said she was concerned that consumers were turning to CBD products instead of approved therapies that could help them.

Eric Assaraf, an analyst who covers the industry for Cowen Washington Research Group, is enthusiastic about the sector, despite the uncertainties. In a late February report, he wrote that a conservative sales estimate for CBD in the U.S. could be $16 billion by 2025.

“I think we’re going to go through a period of change in this sector, as the early entrants confront regulatory challenges from the F.D.A.,” said Coleen Klasmeier, a partner at Sidley Austin’s Washington office, who advises clients in the cannabis business. “And the more established, sophisticated players, as they conclude their assessments of the business opportunities and finish setting up their supply chains and compliance, will start to enter the market in a bigger way.”

Chest Binding Helps Smooth the Way for Transgender Teens, but There May Be Risks

It used to be that when a 13-year-old wanted a binder for school, it meant a trip to Staples. For today’s tweens and teens who identify as gender-nonconforming or transgender, shopping for a binder may mean a compression undergarment worn to flatten breasts.

Made of thick spandex and nylon, binders resemble tight undershirts, creating a masculine profile. The American Academy of Pediatrics has estimated that 0.7 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds in the United States, about 150,000, identify as transgender. Dr. John Steever, assistant professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in Manhattan, who runs its transgender health program and has evaluated over 500 patients from ages 8 to 23, said that almost 95 percent of the transmasculine teenagers in the program bind.

Binders are not classified as medical devices, but some doctors and parents have concerns about their safety. (Common-sense binding guidelines include: Don’t use Ace bandages or duct tape, don’t bind at night, limit a binder to eight to 10 hours a day, don’t shower in it, don’t wear two, and don’t wear one that is too small.)

Though breast compression has been around hundreds of years — think of corsets — commercial binders, primarily sold online, have been available for about 15 years. Marli Washington, 26, a transgender man and founder of GC2B Transitional Apparel, an online binder company, wrote in an email that the company had had “at least a 200 percent growth” since 2015.


Made of thick spandex and nylon, binders resemble tight undershirts.CreditGC2B

Some transgender teens say they buy binders so that they can “pass” as male or to diminish feelings of discomfort with the body known as body dysphoria. And though wearing binders is temporary, their use can be associated with later medical transition. Dr. Steever said most of his patients who use binders “then tell me the next things they want to do, like testosterone, mastectomy and maybe phalloplasty. Ninety-five percent of the people I’ve evaluated get started on cross-hormones.” (Cross-gender hormone treatment in young people may affect future fertility, but data is limited.)

For transgender or gender-nonconforming teens who cannot afford binders, which start at around $30, there are free binder programs. FTM Essentials runs an application and lottery for those age 24 and under. Point of Pride, a transgender nonprofit based in Eugene, Ore., ships binders free to people of any age who express need and has sent over 4,000 nationally and internationally.

Often, teenagers first learn about binders through YouTube videos hosted by young people. An instructional video called “Chest binding” by a Norwegian teenager named Kovu Kingsrod, who wears as many as three sports bras a day, has more than a million views.

Tami Staas, 51, a schoolteacher who lives in Tempe, Ariz., and is president of the Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization, has a 21-year-old son who was assigned female at birth and who started binding at 12. He wore a binder about 12 hours a day for five years. He had trouble in gym class and breathing trouble.

“It was like trying to run a marathon in a tight bustier,” Ms. Staas said. “It was difficult for me to weigh: Am I doing the right thing? Is it causing irreparable damage? It was very difficult to watch him cause himself physical pain in order to be comfortable in his own skin.” At 18, he had a double mastectomy, or top surgery, and now takes testosterone weekly.

A 17-year-old in Phoenix who binds daily and asked to be identified only by the initials J.M. said he started binding at 13. To maximize the compression, he bought a binder one size too small and wore it at night. “My arms and hands would feel numb and tingly off and on,” he emailed, “from how tight the material was around that area.” When he removed the binder, he found his skin “severely chafed and raw.”

He added: “The divots left behind from those times took months to heal. In all honesty, I couldn’t have cared less about the damage being created, just that my chest was flat.”

Dr. Ilana Sherer, a pediatrician and founder of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center at the University of California, San Francisco, Benioff Children’s Hospital, emailed that “binders can be physically very uncomfortable and can cause problems especially if overused or ill-fitting, so it’s important that every youth weigh the risks and benefits for themselves and have access to quality, well-fitting binders.”

But even those are correlated with negative health effects. Though there have been no studies on binding and adolescent health, because of ethical concerns about research on minors, a 2017 study by students at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Boston University School of Medicine, and the Boston University School of Public Health looked at 1,800 transmasculine adults with a median age of 23. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they had bound for over a year, over half bound an average of seven days a week, and 66.6 percent were interested in top surgery. An additional 13.1 percent had already had the surgery.

Participants reported a statistically significant improvement in mood after binding. They also reported decreased gender dysphoria, anxiety and depression. As for physical effects, 97.2 percent of the group that bound reported at least one negative physical symptom, such as back pain, overheating, chest pain and shortness of breath. Other symptoms included numbness, bad posture and lightheadedness.

Commercial binders were highly associated with negative outcomes (20 of 28 negative outcomes), as were elastic bandages (14 of 28), and duct tape or plastic wrap (13 of 28). One reason may be that commercial binders lend a false sense of security, leading wearers to keep them on too long or sleep in them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not have an official position on binding. But in a policy statement last year on care of transgender and gender-diverse children and adolescents, it advocated a “gender-affirmative care model,” where providers convey that “variations in gender identity and expression are normal aspects of human diversity.”

[Read more about caring for transgender children. | Read more about raising a transgender child.]

But some worry that parental efforts to affirm a young person’s identity by supporting binding may contribute to self-hate. Jane Wheeler, a co-founder of an organization called Rethink Identity Medicine Ethics, which examines standards of care for gender-variant children and youth, said binding “feeds into a normalization of body hatred, that some forms of body hatred are O.K.”

Brie Jontry is the spokeswoman for 4thWaveNow, which describes itself as “a community of parents and others concerned about the medicalization of gender atypical youth.” Her daughter, now 15, told Ms. Jontry that she was trans at 11 and wanted a binder. Ms. Jontry bought her a running bra, but her daughter felt it was not constricting enough, refusing to leave the house until she got a binder.

The first one she tried, at age 12, was too tight, Ms. Jontry thought, so they returned it and ordered a larger one. Her daughter, who was home-schooled, bound at home and every time she went out. She stopped running, rock-climbing, backpacking and swimming.

“We would go for our evening walk and she would get winded and dizzy,” Ms. Jontry said. “She stopped climbing trees. She stopped doing things where any degree of upper-body flexibility was important.”

“Binding is not benign,” Ms. Jontry said. “It encourages the idea that people’s distress and anger and trauma should be turned inward toward their own bodies instead of outward toward the culture that feels oppressive to them.”

Dr. Sherer wrote in an email that “it’s strange to me that someone would think of a binder as being a form of self-harm when there are so many other garments used by gender-typical people to change their appearance that are also extremely uncomfortable (hello high heels …).”

But binder use in teenagers may become a thing of the past. Ms. Staas, the Arizona teacher, said that several members of her group take hormone blockers to prevent developing female sex characteristics.

Those youths, she wrote in an email, “will not develop breast tissue and therefore will not have a need to bind their chests.”

A Nursing Home Chain’s Collapse Leaves the Government on the Hook

The cracks in the foundation of a Chicago nursing-home business began to appear almost immediately.

The owners stopped making mortgage payments on their crown jewel, the Rosewood Care Centers, barely a year after buying it in 2013. Paperwork about the chain’s finances was never filed with the government. Some money meant for the 13 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities went to prop up another investment.

In the end, the business defaulted last year on $146 million in government-backed mortgages — the biggest collapse in the history of a little-known loan-guarantee program run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Rosewood debacle demonstrates the problems plaguing the HUD program, which helps nursing homes obtain affordable loans and has become a linchpin of the American elder-care system.

By the government’s own admission, the federal agency’s stewardship of the program has been haphazard. Its oversight of nursing homes has been weak. When HUD officials have spotted problems, they often have been slow to respond. Sometimes it has taken years to intervene, allowing the finances at certain facilities to unravel to such an extent that the quality of care was undermined.

HUD officials described Rosewood as an outlier, saying that only 1 percent of the guaranteed loans end up defaulting. “Mortgage defaults in this program are exceedingly rare, yet reaching an acceptable resolution requires an owner’s willingness and ability to work on behalf of their residents,” the department said in a statement.

But the program — run by a department better known for fostering affordable housing — is a vulnerability for the federal agency. The nursing home industry is increasingly being run by for-profit operators facing dwindling margins. Some homes — especially those in rural areas — are struggling to stay open, with operators blaming low occupancy and insufficient payments from Medicaid and Medicare.

At the Rosewood chain, which houses more than 1,100 people, the housing department has been forced to take control of the 13 facilities in Illinois and Missouri. It is paying a million dollars a month to keep them afloat.

When the program was created in 1959, its goal was to help ensure that Americans had access to affordable nursing homes by bankrolling the construction of new facilities. The program has evolved, and it now provides financial guarantees on loans that banks make to elder-care facilities. By making the loans less risky for banks, lenders could charge lower interest rates, thus reducing the fees that the nursing homes needed to charge patients.

The result now is that the agency manages a portfolio of loans that are at risk of going bad. HUD, and therefore taxpayers, could be on the hook for money-losing facilities around the United States — just as waves of aging baby boomers are likely to prompt a surge in America’s nursing-home population.


Rosewood’s nursing home in Decatur, Ill., was forced to close in 2017 as the ownership group ran into financial trouble.CreditJustin L. Fowler for The New York Times

Today, the program guarantees $20 billion in mortgages to more than 2,300 nursing homes — about 15 percent of the country’s total, up from about 5 percent a quarter-century ago. Most of the nursing homes it backs are private, for-profit enterprises.

The problems with the program go back decades.

A report from the Government Accountability Office in 1995, when the program supported about 800 nursing homes, found that loan-management staff members “generally do not focus attention on nursing home loans unless financial trouble appears imminent or a default occurs.” The report said this left a gap in oversight, because other state and federal regulators focus on the quality of care and not on the homes’ financial viability.

Reports by the HUD inspector general last year found similar issues. An audit of 18 “financially challenged” nursing homes concluded that the housing department “did not always identify and address the root causes of a nursing home’s financial or operational challenges” and failed to “penalize operators that did not submit accurate and complete data in a timely manner.”

Another 2018 report focused on the agency’s lack of oversight of the homes’ physical conditions to ensure they would remain viable over the course of the federally backed loan. The inspector general said some facilities “were neglected and generally run down.”

Edward Golding, a former top official with HUD during the Obama administration, defended the loan-guarantee program as essential to helping nursing homes and assisted-living facilities get access to credit.

But, he said, the program “could benefit from more transparency and public awareness.”

The housing department took Rosewood to court last summer, but it had known early on that the chain was struggling to pay its bills and possibly mismanaging the program’s money.

Rosewood never filed the financial statements required by the program. Because HUD had insured the loans, it had to sign off when Rosewood was bought in December 2013 by a group of investors led by Zvi Feiner. Mr. Feiner, 48, a rabbi with a business degree, found most of his investors in the Chicago-area Orthodox Jewish community.

Mr. Feiner’s firm, Feiner Investment, is in the same office building in Skokie, Ill., as Bais Medrash Binyan Olam, the congregation where he presided over weekday prayer services. He was also president of a Jewish elementary school and served for several years as a mayoral appointee to a neighborhood business improvement district in Chicago.

Mr. Feiner raised tens of millions of dollars from investors, including a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor and several teachers at a Jewish day school. Mr. Feiner also bought nursing-home companies in Illinois, New Jersey and Indiana.


The Rosewood nursing homes were part of a network of elder-care centers run out of the Wi-Fi Building in Skokie, Ill.CreditDanielle Scruggs for The New York Times


Rabbi Zvi Feiner, whose Feiner Investment Group is still on the sign, used to operate his business and preside over a synagogue in Suite 100 of the building.CreditDanielle Scruggs for The New York Times

Rosewood’s financial problems were compounded by legal battles over its debts, including money it owed vendors. Investors sued in state, federal and religious courts contending that Mr. Feiner misappropriated millions of dollars, an allegation his lawyer disputed. Last year, a rabbinical court in Chicago awarded one investor $13 million.

By 2015, Mr. Feiner and his partners were missing mortgage payments and had improperly diverted $7 million of federally insured funds to at least one other nursing home, according to court documents.

Ariel Weissberg, a lawyer for Mr. Feiner, said Rosewood’s financial woes stemmed in part from disputes with business partners.

“Zvi is trying to get back on his feet,” Mr. Weissberg said. “He’s trying to pay these people back.”

Even as Mr. Feiner’s investors and vendors sued, HUD mostly remained on the sidelines. The agency was aware in 2015 of Rosewood’s mounting monetary problems, including the diversion of funds, according to court filings. But the housing department did not force the facility to shore up its finances or press Mr. Feiner and his partners to sell to a stronger operator.

Last August, Rosewood’s corporate parents defaulted on $146 million of mortgage loans, which meant the housing department’s insurance fund had to pay that amount to Rosewood’s lender. The agency filed a lawsuit seeking to appoint a receiver to run the nursing homes. In court filings, HUD described a toxic brew of litigation, infighting and financial mismanagement that “contributed to an environment of uncertainty and risk for the patients at the Rosewood facilities.”

In October, the agency filed a complaint against Mr. Feiner seeking nearly $1 million in penalties for failing to file required financial reports. Mr. Feiner’s lawyer said they had agreed to settle the case.

In a statement, the agency said its “foremost concern is always the health and safety of the residents.” It added, “Following a number of time-consuming and exhaustive attempts to resolve these defaults, foreclosure could not be avoided.”

The federal department is now stuck running the Rosewood properties. About half are losing money, and several have problems with mold and faulty sprinkler systems, according to court papers.


The shuttered Lincoln Manor Nursing Home in Decatur used to be part of the Feiner nursing-home business.CreditJustin L. Fowler for The New York Times

The agency plans to auction them off, with bids due on Friday. If they don’t sell, HUD will have to run them until a buyer can be found.

Since August, HUD has spent more than $15 million to keep the facilities open — plus the $146 million it dispensed to Rosewood’s lender. The agency estimates that the facilities are worth no more than $95 million, according to public documents soliciting bids.

Substantial losses are common when loans in the program fail. The department has incurred an average loss of 80 percent on defaulted mortgages in recent years, according to government documents.

A nursing home's financial woes risk hurting residents.

“Nursing homes’ financial difficulties almost inevitably impact resident care,” said David Stevenson, a professor of health policy at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He said agencies like HUD needed to “figure out ways to act before people are harmed.”

At Rosewood, health and safety problems developed soon after Mr. Feiner’s group took over.

Between 2014 and 2018, the Illinois Department of Public Health imposed $213,000 in fines against the facilities — more than five times the amount levied in the last five full years under the previous owner. And six of the Rosewood nursing homes, including those in Moline, Ill., and Inverness, Ill., had one- or two-star ratings on the federal Medicare website, which rates them on health and safety on a five-star scale.

It is part of a broader pattern at HUD-supported facilities. A New York Times analysis of all nursing homes with mortgages backed by HUD found that more than 850 facilities received one- or two-star Medicare ratings — more than one-third of the total.

There are nearly three dozen still-active personal injury lawsuits, including a number of wrongful death actions, filed by families of Rosewood patients. Lawyers for the estate of a 93-year-old dementia patient, Dorothy Dainty, said she died of complications from a fall at the facility in Rockford, Ill., because staff members failed to properly supervise her.

At another nursing facility that Mr. Feiner ran in Decatur, Ill., regulators imposed about $280,000 in fines after a patient died of an untreated wound. That home has since closed.


The Inverness facility and 12 other Rosewood properties are being sold by HUD. If they don’t sell at auction this month, the department will have to find another buyer.CreditDanielle Scruggs for The New York Times

Sean Murray, whose law firm is representing Ms. Dainty’s estate, said she had fallen out of bed and broken her hip because some workers had been pulling double shifts.

“For-profit homes are understaffing their facilities,” said Mr. Murray, whose firm is also representing the estates of two other Rosewood residents.

Rob Gebeloff contributed reporting. Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

Liverpool’s Champions League Waiting Game

ESTEPONA, Spain — Some Liverpool players found it was in the evening when their minds tended to wander. It was then, once the children were in bed or training was done, that their thoughts would drift to the Champions League: back to Kiev, forward to Madrid, lingering on what might have been, and what could yet be.

Others were caught when they were most vulnerable: as they went to sleep, or as they woke up, those moments either side of consciousness, when you cannot help yourself. For them, as one member of Jürgen Klopp’s squad put it, Saturday’s final against Tottenham has been “the last thing you think about at night and the first thing you think about in the morning.”

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Some chased the thoughts away, dismissing them as a waste of energy, a drain on the nerves. Others confronted them, imagining what victory would feel like, remembering how defeat tasted a year ago.

And some, like Klopp, embraced it all. Between Liverpool’s last game of the Premier League campaign and its final appointment of the season this weekend, he gave his players a few days off. He told them to take the chance to unwind, to rest their legs and relax their minds, but he did not afford himself the same privilege.

For the most part, Klopp saw no reason to shift his focus. He thought, night and day, about Madrid, about Tottenham Hotspur, and about the Champions League final.

For much of the season, the Champions League seemed to take a back seat for Liverpool. The club was embroiled in a breathless race with Manchester City for the Premier League title. To many fans, and certainly to outside observers, ending a 29-year wait to be crowned champion of England was the priority. As late as March, the TV commentator Gary Neville was advising Klopp to concentrate his energies, and those of his players, on domestic affairs, rather than European.

That attitude never took root inside the club. The pain of the defeat to Real Madrid had been too great, the time required to process it too substantial. Klopp, and his players, wanted to make up for the opportunity lost in Kiev.


Liverpool’s James Milner, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Adam Lallana after last year’s loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine.CreditShaun Botterill/Getty Images

They earned the chance with a staggering victory against Barcelona at Anfield on May 7. Five days later, the Premier League season ended: Liverpool beat Wolves to record a total of 97 points. City, though, overcame Brighton, to end with 98. No team has ever won more points — or lost fewer games — and not been crowned champion.

The mood at Anfield that day was not especially mournful, for all the disappointment. “By the last day, I felt it was gone,” defender Andy Robertson said of the league. “I believed City would beat Brighton.”

Besides, there was that other appealing prize on the horizon: the prospect of a sixth European Cup, a trophy that would not only erase much of the sorrow at missing out on the Premier League, but at last anesthetize the pain of Kiev.

The problem, at least from the outside, was that it was a distant speck on the horizon. The curiosity of the Premier League’s finishing earlier than any of Europe’s other major leagues meant that Liverpool and Tottenham, the two Champions League finalists, had three weeks to wait for the game that would not only define their seasons, but also their players’ reputations and their managers’ legacies. The Champions League final would come only at the end of 21 days of purgatory.

That was not how Klopp, or his staff, saw it. The English calendar is so frenetic that teams rarely have more than a couple of days to train for a specific game. Now there were three whole weeks: to recover, to sharpen bodies and minds, to fine-tune plans, to arrive in Madrid on the crest of a wave. Neither finalist would have an advantage, but both might see the benefits.

“It is an opportunity,” said Andreas Kornmayer, Liverpool’s fitness coach. “Three weeks is good.”

The challenge — for both teams — was to work out how to spend them. For most of a club’s employees, three weeks is barely enough. Arranging a Champions League final is a vast logistical undertaking, one that started before the semifinals with a reconnaissance visit to Madrid and continued, by necessity, even with Liverpool 3-0 down to Lionel Messi and Barcelona after the first leg.

After Klopp’s team had, improbably, secured its place, there were hundreds upon hundreds of jobs to do: tickets to be mailed, charter planes and hotels to be booked, meetings with the Spanish police to be held, media and fan events to be arranged.

Only the players found themselves with more time than usual. Klopp’s mantra is always to focus on the task at hand, to take a season game by game. That is simple when the next game is three days away. Three weeks is a different challenge entirely.


Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah went off injured in last year’s final but will get a second shot at the trophy against Tottenham on Saturday.CreditPeter Powell/EPA, via Shutterstock

The first decision — an “easy” one, Klopp said — was to shorten that substantially. Liverpool’s squad was given five days’ break. (Spurs took a different approach, and Klopp, his staff and his players were all at pains, during the reporting of this article, to point out that neither is right or wrong.) “It had been such an intense season,” Klopp said.

In reality, though Klopp insisted he did not want any of his squad “running 10 miles through the forest,” that break included only one or two days on which the players were told not to do any exercise at all.

Each was sent away with a personalized exercise plan, focused on running and core work, tailored to reflect the players’ workload over the course of the season. “Those coming back from injury need a lot more,” Robertson said. His own was lighter: two or three 10-minute runs a day. “Just something to get the heart rate up,” he said.

When the team reconvened, it was not at Melwood, the club’s training facility, but at a hotel just outside the resort of Estepona, on Spain’s Costa del Sol. That, too, was a considerable undertaking. A week before Liverpool departed, the club’s nutritionist, Mona Nemmer, was in touch with the hotel, advising on the menus the team would require.

“We always have travel tins with us,” she said. “We take our supplements, because we would never give the players something they are not familiar with and is not approved, and we have our own spice mixes, our own sauces, our own dips. The players feel comfortable with that.” Fresh ingredients, though, had to be sourced locally, and to Nemmer’s satisfaction.

Klopp and his staff felt it was worth it. “We can be really close together, we can focus on ourselves, there are no distractions,” Kornmayer said. “It is a little mixture between hard work and relaxing. We can get the rhythm back, set the focus, set the right mood.”

That does not come from trying to rebuild the players’ fitness; after a full season, there is “no need” for that, Kornmayer said. There was no intense running session to welcome the players back, to blow off the cobwebs. “I do not want to kill them,” he said.

Training is much more sophisticated than that. Liverpool did not seek to build intensity but rather to vary it: not only from session to session, but from player to player.

“There is always a moment in a game, however fit you are, when you feel it,” Klopp said. “So we make sure we have those moments in training.” Liverpool’s week in Spain reached its climax with a game last Saturday, away from prying eyes, against Benfica’s reserve team — a chance to ratchet up the intensity, just another notch.

For the most part, though, the mood was relaxed. Klopp and his staff lingered over dinner. At night, a handful of players sat out on the terrace, overlooking the Mediterranean, playing cards. Most days contained double sessions, but one afternoon was set aside for golf.

“It is just about us,” Robertson said. “Being here, in a quiet place, you can shut off quite easily. It is slightly easier away from the noise.”

There would be plenty of that in the final week, particularly the day the news media descended on Melwood, so many that the club asked a local supermarket for permission to use its parking lot as a base for shuttle buses.

In training, no detail would be left uncovered: Klopp was expecting both teams to unveil new strategies from corners and free kicks, the sort of change the relentlessness of the regular season does not allow. That is the benefit of the long wait, the chance to refine every single aspect of the game, to be as ready as you can ever be.

“It’s like an exam: You can revise as much as you want, but you don’t know what the questions are going to be,” Robertson said. “I guess you could overthink it. But I suppose we’re paid the money so that we don’t.”

On Friday, the squad was scheduled to board a plane at the Liverpool airport, its purgatory at an end. This game will be the last thing they think about for one more night, and the first thing they think about for one more morning, and then it will be here, the game they have been thinking about for three weeks, the game they have been awaiting for a year.