Road Addendum: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington DC
By caseyholdahl Posted in: JoelPrzybilla, BrandonRoy, Celtics, Nets, Blazers, NicolasBatum, RudyFernandez, DanteCunningham, Sixers, MarcusCamby, LukeBabbitt, ArmonJohnson, Wizards
I, along with the rest of the Trail Blazers, returned from a miserable Eastern Conference road swing almost two weeks ago, but I’m just now getting around to writing the Road Addendum. I figure it’s not too late if I write it before the end of the road trip AFTER the road trip I went on. So by my math, this is the last day to tell stories from the trip that started in New Jersey and ended in DC. Enjoy.
• Kim Kardashian, as anyone who follows the pdxtrailblazers on twitter
already knows, sat courtside during the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Nets on Nov. 28. Supposedly she was there to support Kris Humphries, the next in a medium-sized line of athletes she’s dated. While Kim’s sister, Khloe, is married to Laker Lamar Odom, Humpries is her first foray into dating basketball players after swinging and missing with NFLers Reggie Bush and Miles Austin. I know too much about this.
The Trail Blazers end up losing to the Nets, their third loss in a row at the time, and the locker room is not only dour, but there’s crap everywhere. The visiting locker rooms are quite nice at the Prudential Center, the home of the New Jersey Devils and the Nets’ temporary digs until their new arena in Brooklyn is built, but the locker room attendants have everything spread out on the floor. I have no idea why.
The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman and I are standing at the far end of the locker room waiting for players to get out of the shower. They’re particularly slow on this night, presumably because they just lost to a team with one of the worst records in the NBA. Rudy comes in, not looking particularly stoked, but he turns to Nicolas and says something that elicits a smile from both. For some reason, I assume Rudy has said something about Kim Kardashian. I make a note of it.
I miss the bus that takes the broadcasters to the airport (it leaves before the player bus) so I ride the player bus to Newark International. Rudy is sitting a few seats away from me, and when he gets up to exit the bus for the plane, I ask…
“Did you give her your number”?
Rudy gives me a perplexed look that I’ve seen hundreds of times throughout the course of our relationship. I proceed with the ruse.
“Kim Kardashian, I heard she asked for your number.”
Rudy knows me pretty well, but probably not well enough to know when I’m pulling his chain, at least if I’ve committed to the bit, which at this point I have. I tell him that I’m almost certain I saw her pointing at him and talking to her security guard, presumably in an attempt to obtain Rudolpho’s digits. I have to explain again who Kim Kardashian is, but he finally puts it together.
By now, Rudy probably believes about 20 percent of what I’m saying, but that’s enough to tickle his interest. He says something about thinking he’s not her type, to which I reply that he’s every girls’ type. He asks me if I’m serious a couple times as we board the plane and I stick to my story. I proceed to my seat in the back of the plane. Rudy takes his seat with the players in the front.
The next day at practice in Philadelphia, Rudy pats me on the shoulder before joining the team for the pre-practice huddle.
“Good joke,” Rudy says. “Good joke.”
• The flight from New Jersey to Philadelphia is about as quick a hop as you’ll find in the NBA. It’s literally less than 30 minutes and you fly so low that you never lose cell service. Sometimes we’ll take a bus instead of flying when the trip is so short, but we didn’t in this case, not that I’m complaining.
We land at Philadelphia International and taxi to the private jet terminal. We wait. And wait. And wait some more. After about 10 minutes of sitting on the tarmac, which is damn near longer than the flight itself, the pilot gets on the PA and announces that we have to wait to get off the plane since another team is using the stairs that are pulled up to the cabin door. Turns out it was the Philadelphia Eagles, having just flown back from Chicago after losing 31-26 to the Bears, who were holding up our egress.
There were a lot of post-loss athletes trying to get off planes in Philly that Sunday.
• Last season the team practiced at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM for short), which also doubles as the Sixers’ practice facility (go figure). That trip, PR pro Collin Romer and I lost a game of two-on-two at the PCOM to strength and conditioning coach Bobby Medina and the elbowing-throwing, face-scratching Mike Rice. But for some reason, maybe because of the bad juju still lingering from that pickup game, the team decided to practice at Villanova instead.
Whatever the reason, Dante Cunningham was stoked. He’s kind of a big deal at Villanova thanks to playing there for four years, so I’m sure it was nice for him to go back to where his NBA dreams started to become reality. Villanova’s basketball complex is top shelf facility, so no one seemed to mind the switch.
At least at first.
We’re on the bus and, for some reason, Dante is giving the bus driver directions, seeing as how he’s familiar with the area I suppose. One would assume a bus driver would know how to get to a well-known destination like Villanova, but Dante had some kind of secret route, I guess.
So we’re traveling down the winding back roads of various Philadelphia suburbs, driving and driving and driving, Villanova nowhere in sight. A few of the players and coaches start grumbling about the duration of the trip about 20 minutes in. Then more grumbling after 30 minutes. By time we arrive at Villanova, 35 minutes after leaving for what was supposedly a 20-minute trip, all of the players and coaches are giving Dante the business. Dante tries to deflect blame onto the bus driver, but the damage is already done.
• After the practice at Villanova, Nate McMillan tells me that Wesley Matthews will replace Nicolas Batum in the starting lineup. Coach Mac talks about the decision, saying he needs to find a way to get Wesley more minutes and that he thinks Nicolas can do some good things in the second unit.
Nic and Wesley say all the right things when asked about the decision. Wesley says it doesn’t really change his approach to the game and Nic says he understands why McMillan made the decision. Coincidentally, both players are near to each other, Nic sitting on an folding chair and Wesley standing against the wall, while they’re being questioned by myself and Joe Freeman.
After the questions are answered and recorders put away, Wesley starts joking with Nicolas, asking “Are you mad at me Nic?” and so on. Lighthearted stuff. Then Wesley starts talking about how much he respect and likes Nic and that they sometimes talk to each other in French.
Turns out Wesley is a bit of a Francophile, or at least he talks like one thanks to two years of French in high school and three years in college. I question how much of the language Wesley has retained throughout the years considering neither Portland nor Salt Lake City have thriving French communities (at least I don’t thin they do), but he obviously knows enough to engage in conversation. Wesley can often be seen hanging with the internationals on the team (he went to a “international dinner” with Rudy, Patty and Nicolas in Boston) so I’m thinking he's one of the few American players who has a real interest in what is going on outside of the States.
• Travel is tightly regimented when the team is on the road. It has to be when you’re carting 15 players, 15 coaches and staff, 10 broadcasters, a PR flack or two and a whole lot of equipment and luggage from city to city. If the team didn’t keep a tight schedule, players and coaches would be rushing to get to the arena/plane/bus, and that’s no way get ready for a game.
There’s two buses that leave the hotel on gameday. There’s the first bus, which leaves about three hours before tipoff and typically consists of the younger players and the assistants who work with them, and there’s the second bus, whose riders are the more veteran players, Nate McMillan and the older assistants and whatever front office staff are on the trip. That bus usually leaves about two and a half hours before tip.
Except when it doesn’t. Everyone is told at morning meeting when the buses are going to leave, but you can only count on the time for the first bus being accurate. The second bus, as the saying goes with the Trail Blazers, leaves when the first bus gets back. So even though the buses might be scheduled to leave at 4 PM and 4:45 PM, if the bus gets back to the hotel at 4:15 PM, the second bus is likely to leave before 4:45 PM. Bottom line: you have to be early if you don’t want to miss the bus.
Usually I give myself plenty of time to get showered, dressed and packed before leaving for the arena, but that’s getting harder to do with shooting live shows for trailblazers.tv on the road. There’s the show itself, which takes time to set up and tear down, and I have to put the room back together since I usually reconfigure the furniture for the live shoots to maximize light, proximity to the internet connection, and so on. It makes for a busy pregame routine.
I’m checking out of the hotel in Philadelphia and I’ve got five minutes before the second bus, which I usually ride, is scheduled to leave. I figure I’m good, until I walk out the side entrance and see the bus pulling away. I consider running after it for a second, but figure I’m better off paying for a cab than drawing the wrath of Coach McMillan, who sits right up front, for holding up the bus.
But the attendant who was helping with luggage has other ideas. He starts waving his arms whistling at the top of his lungs (or whatever area whistles come from) for the bus to stop, which it does about a half of a block up the street. At this point I figure I have to get on the bus since it’s already stopped despite the fact that I would much rather forge my own way to the arena.
I get on the bus and apologize as I walk back to my seat. Neither McMillan or Rich Cho look happy, which isn’t all that uncommon, but in my mind I’m sure my missing the bus is the reason folks look pissed.
There’s also muttering from the back of the bus where the players sit, though it’s more teasing for teasing sake, something the players never miss an opportunity to do, at least with me. I make for an easy target being that I’m the only journalist (or at least, the closest thing to a journalist) that they have the luxury of poking fun at without the fear of retribution.
One of the players (I’m about 99 percent it was Dante Cunningham, but I can’t say for sure) pipes up above the others to yell out …
A quality burn when I’m already embarrassed and sweating after running a half block in a wool suit., especially since a couple of the players make a note of telling me “don’t tweet that” during various conversations on the bus, on the plane, in the elevator, ect.
• Pregame in Boston and I’m sitting courtside watching our players work out. Joe Freeman is sitting on my left with Nicolas Batum, taking a breather, on my right. Mike Rice is sitting at the broadcast table a few feet over and commences to tell Nic that he needs to be more confident. Joe swings over and interviews Nic for a few minutes, getting some great quotes that I don’t think he ever got the opportunity to use. After that Nic gets back to work. I figure he’d rather play that continue talking.
Rudy sits down in Nic place and we chat a little bit about the city, the road trip and other topics not worth mentioning here.
While the Trail Blazers end of the court is busy with guys working out pregame, the Celtics side is empty. Not a single player. Rudy nudges my elbow and points to the Boston side where players would usually be warming up.
“Veteran team,” he says in his thick Catalonian accent.
• Most practices this time of year are light, but they’re especially easy on the road. Much of the time gets taken up by travel and we play games every other day (at best) so there’s no reason to tire the players out with long, drawn out practices.
Such is the case during the stop in DC. The team flew from Boston to DC the day after the game against the Celtics rather than right after the contest, which is usually the case. We get to Dulles in the afternoon and head to the Verizon Center for practice. The team goes through a walk through and some light running, but it’s more like a shootaround than a practice. But there’s a problem: Joel Przybilla joined the team the day before in Boston and is scheduled to play the next day, but Nate McMillan insists (with a rare exception here and there) that players go through a real practice before returning from injury, and this in Joel’s only chance to do that.
So the bench guys break up into teams of four for a 15 minute game, basically so Joel can get a sweat in and so the coaching staff can feel confidence putting him in the game the next day. The starters are resting and watching on the baseline. The game is, as games of this nature always are with NBA players, contentious and hard-fought, with players getting after each other on defense, arguing calls, talking trash and the like. You don’t get to the NBA by being satisfied with losing, even in pickup games.
The game is tied late and everyone, even the guys watching from the sideline, are into it. Armon Johnson, who starters have taken to referring to as “Hardhat”, drives the length of the floor, finding Luke Babbitt for what would have been the winning layin, but the clock expires before he gets it off. McMillan declares the team the winner anyway, but the rest of the team isn’t having it. Guys like Brandon, LaMarcus and Marcus walk onto the court and protest, stating Babbitt’s shot didn’t count and that the game can’t end in a tie.
So Nate says they can play one sudden death point, and of course, there’s an argument over who gets the ball first. The decision is made that Armon’s team gets the ball first since they had possession when time expired.
Armon takes it coast-to-coast and finishes with minimal effort at the rim for the win.