Unless a team has back-to-back games, there’s definitely time to kill. You have an opportunity to sight-see, and players often have usual haunts — restaurants, movies, malls. They go on the recommendation of teammates and veteran players they know in those cities.
Some guys are big golfers. Mookie Blaylock was one of them. On one West Coast trip, coach Lenny Wilkens told the team to all leave their golf clubs at home. Mookie hid his on the plane well before the team got on. Imagine what Lenny said when he saw those clubs come out of the plane.
Joe Johnson is a big video gamer. I brought an NBA TV crew to interview him in his hotel room one time in NYC, and I noticed he had two TVs in his room. Joe said he always traveled with one, packed in special luggage. I don’t know if he ever left his room when he was on the road.
Unlike college teams or NFL players who eat together, NBA players do their own thing unless they are in the same city for a few days, like during the playoffs. Mike Bibby had a routine where when we went to Toronto, he always ate at the Subway across from our hotel. We joked that he should be in a Subway commercial. It was all you saw him eat before a game or after the shoot-around.
Unlike college teams who play in obscure towns, NBA players are going to the top 25 cities in the country, and there are some great restaurants and things to see and do.
In Indianapolis, there’s the shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo Steak House. You need to be careful if you haven’t had one, because when that first bit of sauce hits your palate, you’ll be gasping for air and looking for water. We always convinced a first-year player or staffer to try it so we could see their reaction.
Sometimes the downtime is unexpected. We were playing the New Jersey Nets in 2002 when a blizzard hit, and we were stuck in an Embassy Suites in Secaucus for three days. It was miserable. We ate more chicken than anyone thought possible because the hotel didn’t have any other food. Other teams who were stuck in New York City didn’t have that problem, so from then on, whenever we played the Nets, we wised up and stayed in Manhattan.
As told to Michelle Hiskey, for the AJC