August 29, 2011
Laws of the Locker Room

People sometimes ask me what its like to be a reporter in an NBA locker room following a game. Whenever I get that question, I immediately say: Do you mean after a win or after a loss?

If you walk into the Hornets locker room after a victory, there are usually a few players good-naturedly cracking jokes with and at each other, along with possibly a few laughs about something unusual that happened over the previous 2 1/2 hours. It feels a little bit like the atmosphere at a birthday party.

If you walk in after a defeat, however, you may be greeted with almost complete silence. Players sit quietly at their locker stalls, waiting for the media to arrive, or methodically dressing in preparation to depart the arena.

The Hornets home locker room is relatively spacious and comfortably accommodates 15 to 20 players (the latter is necessary during the exhibition season). Once the local media enters, however, it becomes considerably more cramped. Media members definitely need to be aware of their surroundings, as I learned during the 2008-09 season when I accidentally stepped on a couple toes of the Hornets starting shooting guard near the rooms entrance. Owwwwww! the player yelled. Oh man, sorry! I quickly responded, worried that Id done some damage that could land him on the injury list (fortunately for both of us, he was OK).

Other than taking precautions not to injure the key guys who play for the team youre writing about, there are a few other rules that govern behavior and the layout of an NBA locker room. Here are a few:

1) Players must downplay their individual performances after losses.
Its extremely bad form for a player to extensively discuss how well he just played if the team result was an L. As a result, if Im working on a feature article about a specific player, I dont even bother trying to talk to him following a defeat. Even if a player just scored 50 points in a game, for example, hes not going to give you much detail about the way he played unless it helped yield a victory. Failure to follow this rule makes a player appear to be selfish. In another example of the difference between wins and losses, the Hornets locker room has four medium-sized televisions that are only turned on usually showing an NBA game from another city or highlights after victories.

2) Star players have a responsibility to handle the bulk of media duties.
This is not a hard-and-fast rule throughout the league, because on some teams, the most eloquent interviewee may be the fourth-best player or even a role-playing reserve. In general, though, its understood that the top two or three players are expected to be available after games for at least about five minutes. Theoretically, a star player could make himself as scarce as possible to the media, but all that would do is force reporters to spend additional time with a teammate. Stars know that extra media obligations come with the territory.

3) Star players get extra real estate, not necessarily as a perk, but as a way to accommodate the media.
Its not unusual for an NBA team to place an empty locker on each side of a superstar player. At first glance, it may seem like preferential treatment, but in reality, its not. Superstar players can draw crowds of 20-plus reporters after some games. Its impossible to put 30 people with TV cameras and tape recorders into a small space, so extra real estate makes it easier on everyone. The thing is, it still might not be enough room to squeeze in 30 people and have them all able to hear what the player is saying.

4) Players who get DNPs may make a quick exit.
If youre an end-of-the-bench NBA player, you may go weeks at a time during the season without anyone asking you to do an interview. As a result, players who fit this description begin to assume that no media member needs to talk to them postgame. There have been a few instances over the last few years where Ive been delayed getting to the locker room and seen a player I was hoping to chat with heading out the exit.

5) Media-wise, home games and road games are like night and day.
When the Hornets play at home, their locker room is filled with TV broadcasters and cameramen, radio reporters, newspaper beat writers, bloggers from local websites, you name it. But since only a tiny percentage of these media members travel with the team to games outside New Orleans, the road locker room is often near empty. Rare exceptions occur if a certain player is a native of whatever city the team is visiting, or if a player was once a prominent member of that opposing team.

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