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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

They get on the bus for the ride to Boston Garden and everyone drops into his usual place. The coaches take the front seats, then trainer Gary Vitti, Hearn and color man Keith Erickson, publicist Josh Rosenfeld, the press and finally the players, who sit in the back.

The bus driver is playing a tape by Earth, Wind and Fire.

"Turn that up, will you?" Johnson asks.

Several Lakers sing along.

"This is the mellow bus," Johnson says.

Thursday, home--In six days, the Lakers have crossed eight time zones and no one is happier to be on West Coast time than Worthy. Angela, his wife of five months, is waiting for him.

"Now I have something to come home to," Worthy says. "Before, it didn't matter if I came home because it was just like another hotel room."

Another truth: Not everything on the road is fun and games, even though it may have seemed like it at the time.

Pete Maravich admits that when he was playing, he rarely met a party he didn't like. Now 37, Maravich has been out of the game for five years and has become a born-again Christian.

Although most of Maravich's NBA coaches were grateful for his talent, not all of them appreciated how he conducted himself off the court, especially on the road.

Cotton Fitzsimmons blamed Maravich for costing him his coaching job at Atlanta, where Maravich said he seemed to be acting out some sort of death wish, most of the time after-hours in bars.

Maravich remembers when he was grabbed by a couple of bar patrons who pinned his arms and placed a gun at his throat.

They told him, "You're gonna die now, Pistol," Maravich said.

Maravich escaped, but he had other strange episodes on the road, such as the time he showed up late for a game in Houston because he had too much to drink the night before, an off-night.

Maravich had instructed a taxi driver to take him to the toughest bar in Houston, where, after several drinks, he first was relieved of his money and then a knife was held to his throat. It was Maravich's own knife, one that he kept hidden in his belt buckle.

The things that happened to him on the road, the bad stuff, is what Maravich remembers now when he talks about the NBA life style and the effect it can have on players.

"No matter how much money you make, no matter how many things you have, you still are going to try to get more," Maravich said. "And that 'more' is usually what is going to self-destruct you as a player: more wealth, more money, more success, the right parties, the right cars, the right clothes, the right houses.

"We live in a fantasy world. It's not what most athletes think it is. We think we live in a fishbowl and that everybody knows who we are and this is what's happening. This isn't what's happening."

This season, though, there were two things that happened in Oakland that caused an unusual reaction. Julius Erving spoke out publicly for some sort of protection for players from drug-dealers in Oakland.

Both John Drew of the Utah Jazz and John Lucas of the Houston Rockets had drug relapses when their teams were in Oakland on road trips.

"With them, it was the hangers-on," Abdul-Jabbar said. "People that hang around and want to be associated with the glamour and have controlled substances in their pockets that they will share. They couldn't keep away from them. And that's part of the road."

Lucas and Drew were waived by their teams, but there are indications that the Rockets and Jazz might be close to re-signing them. If so, Houston Coach Bill Fitch, who blamed the NBA life style for Lucas' downfall and came down hard on giving drug users a second chance, is going to have to do some quick back-stepping.

"My own personal feeling is you're not doing a disservice to a guy by not giving him a third chance," Fitch said. "You're doing a disservice to the guy who didn't screw up the first time.

"The ones you have to look out for are the guys down the road who have never done it the first time. I'm interested in saving the ones who never have or never will."

The Lakers claim they have no drug problems on their team.

"I know of none," said Jerry West, Laker general manager. "We have a class group, but we are certainly not immune from that kind of problem. Nor is any other team. Yet we feel confident that our players have used good restraint and good judgment in most things that they do."

At 36, the Utah Jazz's Billy Paultz is the second-oldest player in the NBA. He admits to washing down a few beers in his time.

Paultz said he has seen the inside of quite a few hotel rooms and bar rooms during his 15 years of traveling.

"The road is what you make of it, but basically it's pretty boring," he said. "And this is the most boring team I've ever been with. They don't even know what a deck of cards look like."

The routine of travel is a burden on some, "and that's when something goes wrong," Paultz said.

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