Remme On The Road Blog
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Editor’s Note: Throughout this six-day road trip to Oklahoma City, New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas, Timberwolves.com’s Mark Remme will blog about what it’s like to be on the road with the Wolves—giving fans a chance to see behind the scenes how professional athletes get from city to city and handle their time when they aren’t on the court for game time.
I had the privilege of hanging out with the Metz family this week on the first leg of this four-city road trip. Cody Metz, a 16-year-old from Lakeville who through the Make-A-Wish program was granted a trip with the Wolves down to OKC, got to spend 24 hours living as NBA players do. The late-night flights and check ins, the quick turnaround the next night and the pregame preparations before playing the game and taking off once again.
When I asked him what he took away most from his trip, it struck me just how intriguing a lifestyle professional athletes live. Cody could have said anything. He could have said it was amazing getting to meet the players, that he had never flown in such a cool charter flight before or that sitting so close to an NBA court during a game was a dream come true.
Instead, he focused on the players: “I think the coolest part is seeing how NBA players and NBA teams live their road life. I mean, it’s really a grueling schedule and I don’t think people realize that.”
It got me thinking. We as fans see these players for three hours on game night, but we never see the other part of the equation. Those three hours are just a fraction of their days. So as the Wolves travel on this four-city trip to Oklahoma City, New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas, I’m going to try and blog about some of those behind-the-scenes facets of travel that make up the other part of the equation.
As fans filed out of Target Center after a 108-103 win over the Hawks, the Wolves went back to the locker room to prepare for the next phase of their evening. It’s getaway day, and even though the team just wrapped up their matchup with Atlanta about 9:15 p.m., they are targeting an approximate 10:30 p.m. departure from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. After coach Terry Porter addressed the media in his postgame press conference, the reporters filed into the locker room and ask players their questions before the team leaves the arena straight for the airport.
On the team plane, there are three sections of seats. The players sit near the front, where they all do their own thing. Some play cards, some sleep, some listen to music. In the second compartment, the coaching staff sits together. They game plan and go over strategies. This is a really cohesive coaching staff, with three of the assistants—Jack Sikma, Terry Porter and T.R. Dunn—all having overlapped with one another during their NBA careers. You can tell they enjoy working together. In the back, that’s where the remaining members of the training staff, the media (like TV’s Dave Benz and Jim Petersen and radio’s Alan Horton) sit, along with any team partners or special guests that are on the flight. Cody and his parents back there as well.
The flight is a little under two hours to Oklahoma City, and this particular one was pretty rocky as we neared Oklahoma. Pretty turbulent. I’m told there was a flight last year on a road trip to Denver that was worse—about a half hour of rough airways—but this one was second in terms of rocky travel. We land in OKC around 12:45 a.m., un-board the plane and depart for the hotel on two busses—the players and coaches on one, the rest on another. It’s about a 20 minute ride into downtown to the hotel.
As we arrive and the players get off the bus, they’re greeted with a couple fans waiting with basketballs and seeking autographs. It’s pretty common in every city—reminds me of growing up and doing the same thing following the Twins around to different cities in the summer. Pek was the first to stop and sign the fans’ basketball, followed by others including J.J. Barea and Andrei Kirilenko. AK even waited in line for the Sharpie while one of his teammates finished up with his own autograph.
The hotel greets us with keys and media packets from the OKC public relations group as well as snacks to take up to the hotel room. Ricky Rubio takes a moment to check in with Cody, ask him how he enjoyed the flight and how he’s doing. Says he’ll catch him in the morning. By the time we get situated in the room, it’s about 1:30 a.m. First late night on a six-day road trip.
“It’s been really fun for me and Cody and my wife to see what goes on behind the scenes, getting a team from one place to another in the middle of the night and all the people that are behind it,” said Rob Metz, Cody’s dad. “Making it all go.”
On back-to-back game days the Wolves generally don’t shoot around prior to that second game, so on Wednesday the Wolves did not do a morning practice/walkthrough. Had they done one, it would have been at Chesapeake Energy Arena just down the street. Instead, the team got a chance to rest a bit in the morning before doing their team meeting/brunch at the hotel around noon. They go over the evening’s game, etc., before giving the players a chance to do their afternoon routines. The first bus heading to the arena takes off at about 4:30 p.m., so the players have a few hours to get themselves prepped for the night’s game.
In the meantime, I hopped in a taxi and headed 10 miles north to the Thunder’s training facility for their morning shootaround. Some NBA teams have their practice facilities on site with their arena, like Target Center or Amway Center in Orlando, for instance. The Thunder have their own separate facility north of OKC, and it’s a beautiful facility equipped with two courts, workout facilities and a media center for reporters who come to cover the team. Their shootaround ends around 10:30 a.m., and Thunder coach Scott Brooks and forward Kevin Durant each take their turns speaking to the media. A lot of NBA teams have structured times when their star athletes talk to media, and in OKC’s case Durant talks at shootaround and Russell Westbrook talks just before pregame at the arena. By the way, Durant is heavily involved in the OKC community and is very approachable with anything involving kids. He met with Cody Metz after the Wolves/Thunder game as well. Very good ambassador for the game.
On my end, after wrapping up my shootaround coverage and the podcast with Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, there is time for me to catch up on some other work before catching the bus to the arena at 4:30.
At the arena, the players who took the first bus get dressed and head out to the court for some extra pregame work with the coaches on the court. Derrick Williams has been putting in a lot of extra time on the court in the last few weeks, and it’s showing in his play. He had a double-double last night against the Thunder. In the meantime, Cody and his parents sat courtside on the baseline and watched everyone warm up.
After locker room availability with the media closes, it’s game time. The Wolves come up short on this night in OKC, falling 106-84 to the Thunder on the road. And after the game, it’s the same routine. The team heads to the airport on a pair of busses, and we depart Oklahoma City for New Orleans about 10:30 p.m. We were in OKC for approximately 21 hours and were checked in and out of the hotel in about a 14-hour span. Quick turnaround with just one night in the city.
Touch down in New Orleans is about 12-12:30 a.m. We hop on the busses and head over to the hotel. It’s about a half hour drive, and we again get situated and put up in our rooms about 1:15 a.m.
With the team coming off back-to-back games over the past two nights, the Wolves didn't have any team activities on Thursday in order to recharge the batteries a little bit. It's a good time for the group to relax and enjoy a little time off before Friday's game against the Hornets. It's a pretty open day, and members of the organization have the chance to test out some of the well-known area food, catch a movie or just relax. It's really up to them. I got a chance to try a couple really good places in the French Quarter--Deanie's Seafood and Mr. B's--and I'd highly recommend those two spots in future trips to New Orleans.
The team bus is sitting there waiting for us outside the hotel by 10 a.m., and departure for New Orleans Arena is at 10:45. Players and coaches file on one by one over the course of about 20 minutes, and we depart for the 10-minute bus ride over to the arena just outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It's my first time seeing this set with both venues sitting side by side. The Superdome seems to make the Metrodome look small, by the way. Both facilities are crunched in between freeways and fenced in lots, and it really makes it feel crowded.
The Wolves exit the bus and prepare for a shootaround that should last between 30-45 minutes. From there, it's back to the hotel for their afternoon pregame preparations and routines before heading back to the bus at 4:30 p.m.
We take the bus back to the arena through the winding roads of New Orleans, under the free ways and through the guarded, fenced-in construction lots and back to the New Orleans Arena. As I'm watching pregame warmups and introductions I'm thinking about routine and rituals that take place during games around the league. For instance, the lights pretty much go out during home team intros in every arena, and what happens after that varies from city to city. At Target Center, the spotlight hits the moon in the north side of the arena and the focus goes to the players coming out of the huddle. In Oklahoma City, the arena had a howling wind and thunder sound emulating a storm just before the Thunder intros. In New Orleans, there was pyro above the center court scoreboard.
We wrap up the game and head back to the bus for departure. The road back to the airport is long and winding through back roads. We get back on the plane about 10:30 p.m. and take off for San Antonio--arriving around midnight.
Off days are very much appreciated during the NBA season, but in particular they are nice on the road. That's when the guys really have a chance to give their bodies a break, and they still have the chance to get any treatments needed to keep themselves feeling good in preparation the next game. The team's training staff is set up at the hotel and their door is always open, and the team's message therapist is also on the trip to provide additional treatment. Saturday was the final off day for the Wolves on this road trip as they finish up play on Sunday in San Antonio and Monday in Dallas.
The Wolves had a brief practice on Saturday at Trinity University in San Antonio, about a 10-15 minute drive from downtown. They essentially used it as a walk through to prepare for San Antonio, then used the rest of the session to do their own shooting routines before wrapping up and heading back to the hotel.
When the team left the hotel they were greeted by a group of fans seeking autographs and photographs--Pek stopped to sign on his way into the bus and Ricky stopped to take a photo with a fan before he entered. When we returned, we had a different group of fans waiting--most were small children with their parents wearing Justin Bieber T-shirts. It didn't make sense initially, until we found out later Bieber was in San Antonio on Saturday night performing at the AT&T Center. Word on the street was he stayed at our hotel, too. The Bieber fans had to settle for seeing a professional basketball team entering the hotel on Saturday afternoon.
The rest of Saturday was open for whatever--staying in, catching the football game at a restaurant, visiting friends or seeing the city. I checked out the River Walk, a collection of restaurants and shops draped along the banks of the river in downtown San Antonio. Really beautiful scenery. I also was privileged to tag along with a group that went to a Mexican restaurant in the suburbs called Pappasitos. Excellent food there, and we spent our time there watching most of the Broncos/Ravens playoff game. When we arrived back at the hotel it was kind of a low-key night, so we watched the final NFL game of the evening before getting ready for the Wolves' upcoming game against the Spurs on Sunday night.
It's an early start game for the Wolves and Spurs, which means they don't do a shootaround session in the morning. The Wolves load the bus at 3:45 p.m., signing a few autographs along the way from fans, and heading to the arena for pregame warmups. On this night, Derrick Williams is actually already at the arena working on his moves to the basket with Shawn Respert. He's been one of the first people on the court lately, but in San Antonio he was there before the first bus. Good to see him get the extra work in.
It's a tough loss to the Spurs--the team's third straight on this road trip. We wrap things up in the locker room and head over to the loading dock where our buses sit. Depending on the airport, we'll sometimes do our security clearance checkpoint at the arena before we travel to the airport--San Antonio was one of those situations. We hop on the bus and arrive at the airport for what would be a 38-minute flight to Dallas-Fort Worth.
One thing I wanted to touch on in this post is the in-flight food. The Metz family definitely were impressed with the amount of food presented to them on the trip, and that includes the in-flight hospitality from one city to another on the plane. Each night there is something offered--anything from steak to burritos to meat loaf. Sunday night's meal was stuffed chicken. After the entree, there is the option of getting cookies and milk, or ice cream bars, or both. There is no shortage of options for late-night food on the plane.
The Timberwolves wrapped up their six-day, four-city road trip in Dallas on Monday night. You can tell by the time you get to the final day of an extended trip that it's time to be getting home. With the game in San Antonio on Sunday night, the Wolves didn't shoot around on Monday morning and got a chance to rest up for the game on Monday night. It's a late start at 7:30 p.m., so players have until 5:15 p.m. to do what they need to do to prepare at the hotel for the game. We take the bus over to American Airlines Center at 5:15, and players immediately get dressed and head out to the court for additional pregame shots and and workout sessions with the player development coaches and training crew. Mark Cuban is roaming around the court early on in the pregame. It is J.J. Barea's first trip back to Dallas, so he is clearly excited to be back in the building where he spent his first five years in the league. The in-game host alludes to Barea in his pregame routine, saying he loves Barea and that Barea can score 30 tonight as long as the rest of the Wolves score five.
I was impressed with AAC, a building that's about 10 years old but has tons of space, huge video screens and a pretty good environment for the fans. Of the arenas the Wolves played in this week, Dallas probably has the most spacious venue, while Oklahoma City had a pretty electric atmosphere. Both were probably the most impressive stops on the road trip.
We wrap up the game, go through our security check points at the arena and take off four the airport. We get on the plane around 10:30 p.m., take off for a 1 hour, 38 minute flight back to MSP and arrive around 12:15 a.m. Another late night returning home after six days on the road.
I hope this blog gives you a little bit of an indication of what it's like on the road in the NBA. It's a unique lifestyle filled with flights, late-night check ins and games on a nightly basis. The Wolves do this schedule 41 games during the regular season. I found it to be fascinating to be part of the journey and see all the people and routines that make up life on the road.