SI Vault
Leigh Montville
November 07, 1988
Be it ever so exhausting, boring and hostile, there is, for NBA players, no place as bad as the other team's home
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November 07, 1988

The Road Is A Real Trip

Be it ever so exhausting, boring and hostile, there is, for NBA players, no place as bad as the other team's home

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"The trouble with the road is that it takes you out of your daily routine," Atlanta Hawk guard Glenn (Doc) Rivers says. "When you're at home, everything is in your control. When you're on the road, nothing's in your control. You're eating room service instead of in your kitchen. You can be waiting three hours for room service. And it still won't come.

"That's what happened to us before the seventh game of the playoffs in Boston last year. I'll bet nobody on our team ate breakfast. The game was at 1:00, and I knew that our hotel had trouble with room service. I got up at 7:30 and ordered. Special. We had to leave at 10:30. My meal still hadn't come. I bought a Snickers bar on the way through the lobby. That's how I played Game 7. On a Snickers bar."

No other major league sport makes its players travel the way pro basketball does. Baseball teams arrive in a town and settle there for three or four days. Football teams travel on 10 weekends a year, the exhibition season included. Hockey? Sure, NHL teams have a lot of one-night stands, but at least they often charter and fly when they want to fly.

In the NBA, the player is part of a small traveling party: 11 teammates, a couple of coaches, a trainer, a couple of broadcasters and couple of sportswriters. They're high-tech Bedouins, looking for the next oasis with two hoops, a hardwood floor and a three-point half moon. Except for the Detroit Pistons, who own a plane, teams usually travel on commercial flights.

Your days last forever.

Even longer in some cities.

If you ate every time someone asked you to eat, you would weigh 500 pounds. If you went for coffee every time someone asked, you would never sleep. You have to find other ways to kill time. You shop. You shop some more. You have cities where you can buy suits at a bargain, cities where you can buy tapes and records, cities where friends will take you to special places to shop. You're a shopping fool.

New York is easy to handle because you can walk from the hotel to Fifth Avenue or to a museum or simply stand and stare at the perpetual parade of people. Chicago is the same. Philadelphia. Boston. In Los Angeles, alas, you stay in a hotel near the airport. Where do you go? To another hotel near the airport? Cleveland is a hotel near the airport. Detroit. Detroit is a hotel near nowhere.

"You go to this hotel that's 50 minutes from the airport and still 20 minutes from the arena," Doc Rivers says. "You're on a bus, you're off a bus. That type of stuff. It's cold, and the plane is late, and you're trapped in nowhere land. You're saying, 'I'm freezing here in this stupid place,' and you're in trouble before you even go to the game."

You're always tired. Why is that? You're staying in good hotels. You're flying first class. That's required by the players' basic agreement with the owners. Every day you've got $50 meal money to spend, easy as that, even though half the time people will buy you a meal or two during the day. You have youth. You have your friends, your teammates, your admirers. You're still tired.

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