Not that it's all PlayStation IMI wishes and SUV dreams. Marty White, who is 6'5" and built like Mount Rainier, asserts that in a decade in Seattle he has never come to blows protecting Payton but he might with anyone brazen enough to suggest that he's a Payton flunky whose professional duties range from lingering to loitering. "I know the perception, and I hate it," says White, who just took an exam to become a licensed real estate broker in the state of Washington. "People assume that we're Gary's hang-out buddies. I see that and think, If only you knew...."
As a boss Payton is just as unrelenting as he is on the court, likely to give his employees written warning for tardiness. There's even a fitness clause in the lengthy employment contract he makes his crew members sign. ("Got to look good and be in shape if you're going to roll with GP," Payton cackles.) King, Pope and White have work spaces in the Seattle offices of Payton's agents, Eric and Aaron Goodwin. Pay-ton expects his crew to join him on the road. ("I hate being by myself," he says.) The three, prohibited by Sonics management from boarding team flights, fly commercial to every city, and Payton puts them up at the team hotel, often a $300-per-night Ritz-Carlton. But Payton also demands that they go ahead of him to the next city or back to Seattle and be there waiting when he arrives. The upshot? King, Pope and White rack up 200,000 frequent-flier miles a year, but they often have to miss the road games to beat Payton home.
"People say, 'What's it like hanging out with Gary?' " says King. "I tell them it's work. We earn every dime. There's no spoon-feeding going on here."
Indeed, while members of various entourages are paid as much as $2,000 weekly, most have specific duties. Bulls guard Jalen Rose, for instance, expects his boyhood friend Rizz Scott to cook all his meals. Jack Miles, a former Philadelphia deputy sheriff and U.S. Marines boxer, provides 24-hour security for Bucks forward Tim Thomas. (Miles has been so diligent that Milwaukee recently hired him to moonlight as the team's director of security.) Stack-house's brothers and nephews wash his cars, feed his dogs, pay his bills, stock his fridge and pick up his dry cleaning.
"I realize how this is going to sound," says Grizzlies rookie forward Shane Battier, "but the NBA schedule is so demanding that you need someone to take care of the details, whether it's shipping a package or picking up milk at the store." After going without a personal assistant for the first half of the season, Battier retained one in January. ("I'm not sure I'd quite call it an entourage," he says. "It's a she. And she's a retired FedEx employee. I ride with a tough crowd")
It can also fall to friends and relatives to watch games and critique their employer. Four of Stackhouse's brothers and nephews call themselves the Regulars and sit court-side in The Palace at Auburn Hills, razzing the refs and the opposing team at each game. "They won't use profanity," says Stackhouse, "but I expect them to be loud during the game and tell me what I did right and wrong afterward." ( Stackhouse does extra promotional work for the team in exchange for his crew's seats.) Friends of Baron Davis catch all the Hornets' games, either in person or on satellite, and send Davis text messages on his two-way pager about particular plays. There might be a dozen messages awaiting him when he returns to the locker room after the game.
"These guys know basketball, and they know my game better than anyone," says Davis. "They tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear."
One can't help wonder what it's like when your homeboy doubles as your boss, when the brother with whom you once shared a bedroom is suddenly responsible for your livelihood. Don't feelings of gratitude and indebtedness distort the dynamic? Not one of the dozens of entourage members interviewed for this story expressed that concern. King says the solution to the dilemma is simple: Draw a line between work and play. "When I'm on the clock, Gary's my boss," he says. "When we're just hanging out, G's a guy I can say anything to and slap him upside the head."