I'm pretty lucky in that I often get to travel with the team on road trips and I've learned that you find out much more about the team away from the Rose Garden. There's less media, so guys are a bit less guarded and burned out from answering questions, but it goes beyond that. Being on the road with the team allows you to get to know the players on a different level. It's not like we're hanging out, but there's a sense that we're all in this thing together when everyone is away from their families.
While I wouldn't want to betray the trust that has earned my spot on the plane, there are a few slices of life that occur on the road that are reasonable to share. So with that, I present the first of what I hope will be an every-so-often account of life away from the Rose Garden. So I present the first Road Addendum from the trip starting October 27 in Los Angeles and ending November 2 in Milwaukee.
Not So Fly
There are positives and negatives to the team saying goodbye to Blazer One in exchange for charter flights on Delta. On the plus side, the seating arrangement now allows more people to fit on the plane and the seating is a bit more comfortable (though I often got my own couch on Blazer One, so I'm not as big of a fan as some of the other members of the traveling crew). The downside is that the Delta flight attendants, while nice people, aren't nearly as kind or attentive as the inflight crew on Blazer One (not to mention it's a different crew every time, so they don't know what drink you'd like to have waiting for you like the Blazer One attendants did) they always run out of ginger ale and the quality of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches available to take off the plane has decreased dramatically.
But there's another difference between the plane formerly known as Blazer One and the Delta charters, a difference of which I am still undecided. Blazer One had big screen with satellite and DVD player, but only one, so everyone had to watch the same thing. There's no such big screen on the Delta charter, but the charter does have personal DVD players and a folder of DVDs to peruse, so it's kind of a push.
At least if you can get to the folder of DVDs early. The pickings are usually slim by time the DVDs make it to the back of the plane where the broadcasters and PR folks sit, so we on the lower end of the pay grade are not afforded the opportunity to be picky, at least if we didn't bring our own movies.
That was the case on the first flight of the trip from Portland to Los Angeles. Jim Taylor, Director of Basketball Communications (aka the Blazer Flack
), had flipped through the book of DVDs, finding nothing that struck his fancy, so he asked for some advice on what to watch. A good idea in most instances, but probably not a wise move considering he asked TV analyst Mike Rice and EVS operator John Lukrofka. True to form, Rice and Lukrofka strongly recommended "John Tucker Must Die"
. Taylor, despite having two teenage daughters, hadn't heard of the title and only realized the recommendation was a joke after watching the first half hour of the film. In Taylor's defense, "JTMD" is Ashanti's finest work.
And for anyone who cares, I usually work or read on flights, but I did watch "Zombieland", "(500) Days Of Summer" and half of "I Am Legend" collectively on four flights and one bus ride.
Practice Like You Play
If watched a game this season either at the Rose Garden or on television, you've most likely seen Patty Mills sprinting off the bench. More often than not, he's getting off the bench to congratulate or lift the spirits of his fellow teammates who are playing while he watches attentively from the sideline. I'm sure he'd rather be playing than cheerleading, but he's doing a darn good job of the latter despite not getting much opportunity at the former.
But Patty's role of hardcore team supporter doesn't stop during games. Even in practice, Mills goes all out to make sure his teammates are recognized for their skill and hard work, as he demonstrated during a practice at Columbia University the day before our game against the Knicks. I'll let Patty tell the story...
"It was the last possession of practice. I think Nic took a charge. During the game, when someone takes a charge, the thing to do is everyone has to stand up and acknowledge that he put his body on the line. So every time someone takes a charge, I try to get everyone to stand up.
He put his body on the line, so I ran over there to help him up. I slipped on the wet spot that Nic made when he fell over and buckled both of my knees and fell over, did like a forward roll afterwards. It was pretty funny afterwards. They were loving it. A little enjoyment at practice.
I think Brandon and Camby were already helping him up, but I wanted to go over there to show, you know, good job on taking the charge. Made a fool out of myself. Brandon had one hand actually in his hand and Camby had the other. I was going in to grab his shirt to help him, I guess. It backfired on me and I ate it."
Seeing Patty run at a dead sprint toward Batum before slipping and falling buns over tea kettle is one of the funnier things I've seen during my tenure with the Trail Blazers. Wesley Matthews fell over laughing after it happened. Even Andre Miller got a good chuckle out of it, and that dude is always serious.
Don't Bother Me, I'm Eating
I have no idea how many calories a typical player burns though the course of an NBA game, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it's about double what I burn in a month. After all, they're working pretty hard, and I'm not exactly out there running marathons or walking the three blocks to Walgreen's to buy Sweet-Tarts and Arizona tea. That's what cars are for.
Given that the NBA is comprised mostly of large men in peak physical form, you can imagine that the food required to keep said large men happy and healthy. The post-game locker room at the Rose Garden usually has healthy snacks like fresh fruit and granola bars, but on the road it's whatever is available at the arena, which usually means chicken strips. Maybe not the healthiest post-game meal, but trust me, these guys earn it.
Things took a bit of a diversion in Milwaukee. Rather than being fed bratwurst and Pabst after beating the Bucks 90-76, the team was served pizza courtesy of an Italian restaurant-owning friend of assistant coach Bob Ociepka.
So I listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments before heading into a damp locker room that smells of sweat and pizza (believe it or not, I've smelled worse combinations in the locker room). I turn to survey the locker room, and the first thing I see is LaMarcus Aldridge sitting at his locker. He's naked, save for a small towel which looks more like a dish cloth draped across his neither regions. He's also holding a box containing a large, half-eaten sausage pizza in one hand while holding a piece of said pizza with the other.
Usually I keep my eyes to the floor when players are in various stages of undress, but the image of a 6-11, mostly-naked LaMarcus hunched over a pizza the size of a manhole cover, eating like his life depended on it, raised my eyebrows. LaMarcus must have noticed the perplexed look on my face, as he felt it necessary to explain why he was going to town on a pizza just minutes after the final buzzer.
"I played 40 minutes!" said Aldridge. which was a pretty good explanation as to why he was consuming cheese and tomato sauce and dough and ground meat at a breakneck speed. And to be fair, Aldridge actually played 44 minutes that night, tallying 14 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks and 4 steals. You put in that kind of work, you can eat whatever you want.