Bazemore violated the shower code, which is that if all the showers are occupied when a veteran enters, he must give his up regardless of where he is in his hygiene routine. (Apparently Stephen Curry entered and Bazemore said something to the effect of, “Just give me a minute.”) Ezeli’s indiscretion was helping himself to a plate of food on the team plane ahead of the veterans. “We didn’t do it just because they were rookies,” Lee said. “There was cause and effect.”
In my column about bullying in the NBA, I noted that the Warriors filled then-rookie Kent Bazemore’s Audi with popcorn and removed the tires from fellow rookie Festus Ezeli’s car and placed them in his locker. Veteran forward David Lee clarified that both pranks were motivated by the rookies not following team rules.
Now, that doesn’t mean the age-old methods of indoctrination never existed in the NBA. Shane Battier won’t name the team or the teammates, but he remembers being mocked for his intellect. “I joined a conversation, and one of the guys tried to be funny and…(tried) to speak to me in perfect Queen’s English,” he wrote in an email. “Patronizing me, like I didn’t know ‘hood speak.’ I found that if you can play and help the team, most are willing to look past minor foibles, like being intelligent. You know, for the team.”
How many NFL players, do you imagine, have had a rock star from another part of the world in their midst or been immersed in another culture that way? Olden Polynice is remembered now as a physical—bordering on dirty—NBA player whose 17-year career ended in 2001 (played two games with the Clippers in 2003-04), but he didn’t start that way. No-holds barred rebounding drills and the desire to keep his job led him to it. But the way NBA players went at each other in his day in no way compares to what he’s heard about the NFL. “Talking to my friends in the NFL, if we saw what went on in their practices and locker rooms, we’d be appalled,” he says.
O’Neal and several other veterans said such baptisms of fire don’t exist today, or at least they’re not nearly as fiery. There are pranks, such as when the Warriors filled Kent Bazemore’s Nissan with popcorn. Kicking balls into the stands to be retrieved after a game-day shootaround, wearing a Dora The Explorer backpack, delivering pre-practice doughnuts and singing their school song are all standard practices. But that’s about it. “It’s gotten a lot different,” O’Neal said. “You hear stories, like about guys having the wheels taken off of their car and put in their locker, but I don’t think anyone takes that kind of stuff as personal.”
If there’s a difference between the Dolphins’ Martin and O’Neal, it’s that the older Blazers also took care of O’Neal in their way. He turned 18 that first season but still wasn’t old enough to get into a lot of clubs or bars, so Trent would hang with him at the hotel and play video games. When they sent him for food, they’d pay for his meal along with the gas money. They knew he was making considerably less than most of them, and they bought him suits and occasionally gave him their per diem allotment on the road. He figures his teammates ultimately spent more on him than the bill for repairing his hotel room. “I have a lot more good stories than bad ones,” he says.