Currently we’re on a four-game road trip and we just beat Sacramento, after defeating my old team the Lakers on Friday night. When we pulled up to Staples Center in Los Angeles, the team bus was directed down into “The Tunnel”, which is another word for the ultra-private, underground parking garage. Yes, in keeping with L.A. tradition, it is glorified valet parking. Before our bus descended the ramp leading under the arena, we saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar approaching the security checkpoint. He is a special assistant coach with the Lakers, who was brought aboard by Phil Jackson to tutor a young seven-footer the Lakers have in Andrew Bynum. Despite winning several championships with Los Angeles and being the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem got to the checkpoint and the guard gave him what seemed like the typical full airport security check. The guy even wanded Kareem. I guess it’s good that they take security seriously there. To me, getting the wand out for Kareem in that city, would be akin to patting down Michael Jordan in Chicago. Everyone on the bus looked on in amazement and it sparked a number of stories and everyone just marveling at the career he had.
When I played for the Lakers, 90% of our games were at 7:30 p.m. Coach Jackson wanted us there by 6:00 p.m. for those games. When we got stuck in traffic and arrived late (hey, it is Los Angeles traffic), we would always sneak through a back tunnel and try to act very casual when we got in the locker room. One time before a game during warm-ups, I saw Jack Nicholson in his usual seat. I waived at him and said “Hi Jack” and then he waived back and said, “What’s up Mark”. It’s kind of weird to greet someone that you have not talked to very much. I knew him from the movies, and he knew me because he never misses a game. That was about the extent of our conversations when I played out there.
Then there was Tiger Woods. I missed him by one year at Stanford, so when I saw him sitting right next to our bench for a game against Houston, I was not going to miss my chance to meet him. Shaquille O’Neal was hurt and our other big guys were in foul trouble that game, so Robert Horry and I played a lot of minutes. In the third quarter, we went on a run and the Rockets had to call a timeout. I figured that was my only chance to talk to Tiger, so on my way to the bench I got fired up and said, “Let’s go Tiger!” and we bumped fists the way everyone does now. I was happy Phil didn’t see it, but my teammate Brian Shaw did. Brian came over smiling and said, “Don’t think I didn’t just see you sneak Tiger a high five.”
We just landed in Salt Lake City and it’s 12:30 Monday morning. We play the Jazz later…today! By the time we get to our rooms and fall asleep it might be 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. When we get to the hotel, our trainer will stand up and say something like, “Breakfast meeting tomorrow at 11 a.m. in the Oaktree Room on the third floor.” It’s pretty common in the NBA that when you play two games in two nights on the road, the shoot-around at the arena is cancelled for the second game and replaced with the breakfast meeting. Most guys will go to the arena early to get some extra shots up before the game to combat missing the morning session. When Kevin McHale was the coach last year he held the breakfast meetings sometimes, but would always add with a smile, “I’ve never seen a guy improve his game standing at the omelet bar.”
Have a great week.