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On the Road, NBA Style : For Players, the Rules of the Road Are Very Simple: Stay Out of Trouble or Risk Being Called for Traveling

January 28, 1985|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

When a professional basketball team travels, there is one truth that rises above all others: The longer the trip, the further your hotel room is from the elevator.

At least it seems that way.

The routine is numbingly dull--a mixture of airports, hotels and taxis. Being away from home with nothing to do takes time getting used to.

Consider the Lakers, for example. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar passes much of the time reading. James Worthy likes to spend it either eating or sleeping. Mitch Kupchak just likes to eat. Byron Scott has developed an addiction to soap operas.

Since the Lakers play 82 regular season games (41 of them on the road), they spend half the season either leaving home or trying to get back to it.

They pack their lives in a suitcase and, after a while, they start to act like it.

It is the nature of the game that teams are never in one place for very long. Traveling by air doesn't allow much time to keep your feet on the ground.

Most players learned long ago to cope with the boredom and monotony of travel. Michael Cooper prefers to sleep once he gets on an airplane. The first thing he does once he's buckled his seat belt is throw a blanket over his head.

"And I've got to do it before we take off," Cooper said.

What would happen if he didn't?

"I don't ever want to find out," he said.

Developing a road mentality is a fine art and it isn't easily done.

"You have to keep it all in perspective," Scott said. "You can let it get to you if you want."

And on the road, there's a lot that can get to you.

The last time the Lakers were on the road for an extended period of time, they played four games in six days and lost three of them.

This is what the trip looked like away from the game:

Friday, Dallas--After getting three hours of sleep the night before, Abdul-Jabbar just wants to rest before playing the Mavericks. But he is given the wrong key and can't get into his room. He gets to the arena late and then remembers he has forgotten his sneakers.

"Left them in the foyer of my house," he says.

So, Abdul-Jabbar has a ballboy go find him a pair.

After Abdul-Jabbar wrecks the Mavericks, he tries to give the borrowed shoes back to the ballboy.

"Might as well keep 'em," the ballboy says.

Abdul-Jabbar doesn't. He's probably used up all the points that were in them.

Saturday, Detroit--An oddity. The flight is on time leaving Dallas and arrives early in Detroit. The players are here, the baggage is here, but the bus that is supposed to take the Lakers to the hotel isn't.

Most of the Lakers find things to do. Worthy finds an ice-cream stand. It is 15 degrees outside. Jamaal Wilkes has his boots polished. Abdul-Jabbar finds a chair at the opposite end of the baggage claim area, sits by himself and reads a book. The rest of the Lakers sit on the conveyor belt. High-priced luggage with no tags.

Sunday, Detroit/Milwaukee--The Lakers are on the bus going to the Silverdome at 9:45 a.m., which would be 6:45 a.m. in Los Angeles, which is where most of them would rather be at this moment.

They play the Pistons at noon, get blown out, then retreat to the locker room to eat fried chicken prepared by Magic Johnson's mother.

At the airport, Abdul-Jabbar can't find his boarding pass for the flight to Milwaukee and dumps the contents of his bag on a table at the gate. He takes out a plate of fried chicken that he carried for an in-flight bite.

"Where'd you get that chicken?" the agent asks.

Abdul-Jabbar says nothing. Traveling makes you hungry, not talkative.

Monday, Milwaukee--Practice is a short bus ride away through the snow--at a high-school gym on Santa Monica Boulevard. Actually, it's North Santa Monica Boulevard.

Assistant Coach Bill Bertka grabs a mop and pushes it through a thick layer of dust on the floor.

"You know why he's doing it?" Chick Hearn asks. "He thinks he might find a nickel. He's the tightest guy in the history of the world. If he sees a quarter out there ahead of him, he'll start running."

Two and a half hours later, the practice is over. Two schoolgirls ask Abdul-Jabbar for his autograph. He signs. One of the girls says to the other, "He's so tall !"

Cooper and Scott attack Bob McAdoo outside the bus. All three square off in boxing poses and then laugh.

"We guards have to earn our respect from the big guys," Cooper says.

Tuesday, Milwaukee--It is nearly four hours before the game, and Bertka sits in the hotel coffee shop. He explains that some people's peculiarities show up when they are on the road.

"Take Chick for instance," Bertka says. "He's the first one on the plane, the first one off the plane, the first one on the bus, the first one to get his hotel key and the first one in his room.

Bertka shakes his head in admiration.

"If we ran the fast break as well as Chick, we'd go undefeated," he says.

Wednesday, Boston--The last time the Lakers stayed at this hotel was last season in the playoffs when the fire alarms went off all night long. The players are understandably concerned about a repeat, but all is quiet.

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