Of the many things a celebrity athlete might find himself on—Sports-Center, crack, trial, trading cards, steroids, suspension, the wagon, vacation, probation—time is seldom one of them. "I've been on a calendar but never on time," said the late Marilyn Monroe, who is in fact the early Marilyn Monroe, the downright punctual Marilyn Monroe, when compared with your average NBA star.
And so the Cavaliers' LeBron James arrived 45 minutes late to accept his NBA Rookie of the Year award last week, saying, "They had to drag me out of bed to put this suit on." But the suit was lovely, black over a wine-colored shirt, breathing new life into the phrase "fashionably late."
Among professional athletes, Bron-Bron is hardly alone on the late shift. Corey Dillon was traded to the Patriots last week by the Bengals, for whom he was frequently tardy. Informed last season that he might be fined five grand for arriving late to training camp, Dillon, bearer of a $2.9 million salary, said, "It's not like I'm going to be missing $5,000 anyway. Oooh, $5,000. O.K. Big deal."
Shaquille O'Neal last week sued a Tampa promotions company that had sued him for failing to appear at a charitable event he had allegedly committed to attend. Showing up late—the Late Show—is cool. But not showing up at all—the No-Show—well, that's for true superstars. In sports, you haven't arrived until you haven't arrived.
Lawrence Taylor routinely reported late for practice when he was an All-Pro with the Giants. When Mike Wallace suggested last November, on 60 Minutes, that the linebacker had demanded special treatment from coach Bill Parcells, LT replied, "What do you mean, special treatment? Flexibility, I like to call it.... You got to be flexible with me."
This is not quite Jeffersonian democracy, in which all men are created equal, but rather Iversonian democracy, in which some men are more equal than others. Thus Allen Iverson could show up 30 minutes before tip-off on the night his Sixers were eliminated by the Pistons in last year's NBA playoffs, just as he frequently has been late for practice, of which he once memorably remarked, "Practice? I mean, listen, we're talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We're talking about practice. Not a game. Not the game.... Not the game. We're talking about practice, man.... We're talking about practice.... We're talking about practice, man. What are we talking about? Practice. We're talking about practice, man."
Evidently—and this is purely a hunch—he was talking about practice. When it comes to practice, NBA players rival Bulgarian trains, or American cable installers, for epic impunctuality. Einstein wrestled with the concept of time—"Past, present and future are only illusions," he concluded—and so, too, does Celtics guard Chucky Atkins. "I had a difficulty on the times," he told the Boston Herald this month, after arriving late to a practice in Miami. "I didn't know the right time. I thought we were going at six [it was four], and I was out at South Beach."
Gilbert Arenas is no clock-watching fussbudget afflicted with the Swiss disease of �berp�nktlichkeit, or overpunctuality. The Wizards' guard missed the team flight to Detroit for the second-to-last game of the season and was late for the shootaround before the final game. Of course, he had forgotten to report for a shootaround in January, occupied (as he was) shooting pool in the players' lounge.
Sometimes those who do watch the clock are as late as those who don't. The least reliable hands in sports are those on the clocks of Rodney Rogers and Kerry Kittles, who were late for a Nets shootaround last month after forgetting to "spring forward" for daylight saving time.
Seattle center Jerome James was late for a Sonics shootaround this season because he couldn't back his Hummer up his steep and snowy driveway until he had fishtailed all the way onto his neighbor's lawn, where at last he gained some traction. James said of his neighbor, "I'll have to give him some money for his grass."