Pope’s Pages - Entry Three

The Diary of Mark Pope - Entry Three
The worst thing about losing on the road is travelling after the game. It is never fun to travel after a loss. Tonight is a perfect example. We just lost to the Golden State Warriors. It is 1:00 a.m. and we are sitting in our plane waiting to fly back to Denver. The frustration and fatigue born of a six-game losing streak is tangible. And the safe haven of our respective homes is still a few hours away. We should land in Denver around 3:00 and I should be home by 4:00. Such is life on the road in the NBA.

After returning from a seven-game/eleven-day East Coast road trip earlier this month, I was grumbling to my wife that life on the road was tough and tiresome. “Oh yeah,” she began sarcastically, “flying around in your private jet and staying at Four Seasons hotels all over the country must be soooo tough!” My wife is great at helping me remember that NBA players (myself included) are spoiled—even on the road. It’s true. Teams around the league spare no expense making travel as tolerable as possible. Here is how.

This is the charter plane that we take on our road trips.

We fly charter. It has been nearly a decade since any team in the NBA has flown commercial. Now every team in the league either owns their own private plane or charters flights. The Nuggets charter flights through SportsJet, a company that services various franchises. The plane is VERY comfortable. The coaches sit in a private cabin at the front of the plane. The travelling media sits in the middle of the plane. The back of the plane is reserved for the players. It is first class seating with added leg room throughout the plane. The food on the plane is unbelievable. As I write this column I am nibbling on baked halibut that would rival anything served at a good restaurant.

The best thing about the charter flights is that they save time. We don’t have to go through standard ticketing, wade through airport crowds, or adhere to any set schedule. After a game like tonight, for example, we are bussed from the arena straight to the plane—literally door to door. The bus drives right up to the plane, we climb the stairs, board the plane, and fly home.

We stay at great hotels—usually the Four Seasons. Occasionally we will stay at a Hyatt, a Westin, a Ritz Carlton, or a hotel famous to a particular city. When we travel to Los Angeles, for example, we stay at the Regent Beverly Wilshire.

Which hotel is most popular among the players? The results of my non-scientific poll turned out to be quite surprising. The Westin garnered the most votes for best hotel. The guys love the Heavenly Beds and the cheap room-service. Earl Boykins was a particularly vocal Westin fan.

Here is a look at the inside cabin of our plane. Not bad!

We get per diem. At the beginning of each road trip we receive an envelope containing our per diem—a cash allotment meant to cover the cost of our meals on the road. I LOVE PER DIEM. By some formula detailed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement we get $99 dollars per diem (each day) on the road. It is wonderfully ridiculous. It is true that I COULD spend a hundred dollars a day on food, but it would take quite an appetite. Especially considering that I have adopted Subway as my restaurant of choice on the road. Unable to eat 20 foot-long subs each day on the road, I invariably end up with some extra cash in my pocket—which mysteriously migrates to my wife’s wallet as soon as I get home! During my first year in the league, I actually paid my RENT with my per diem.

Our travel schedule is usually very tight. For example, we arrived in San Francisco at around 2:00 a.m. yesterday morning and departed at about 1:00 a.m. this morning. A 23-hour visit that includes team meetings and games doesn’t provide much opportunity to explore the city. Occasionally, however, the schedule does permit some free time and some unique opportunities.

In February of 2002, when I was playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, we had a spare day in New York. We accepted a special invitation to view the ruins of the World Trade Center and visit with firemen working on the site. On trips to D.C. to play against the Wizards, I have enjoyed private tours of the White House and Congress. In Seattle, Salt Lake, and Dallas, I get to visit with family. I even proposed to my wife on the road. She was living in New York working as David Letterman’s personal assistant and I was in Indiana playing for the Pacers. Never have I loved road trips to New York more!

Of course the best thing about being on the road is getting to play basketball in a hostile environment. There are few things in sports as rewarding as going into an antagonistic arena and coming away victorious. It is an awesome feeling to silence a rowdy crowd—to win a close game in the final seconds like we did in Boston when Carmelo hit the game winner. That is the BEST thing about being on the road!

Until next time,