Joakim Noah, with the Chicago Bulls, wore the same Armani shirt every day for a year. He would slip in the shirt on the plane after games. When Paul Pierce wore it for the Boston Celtics, they said it made him look fat.
Other players on losing teams were obsessed with their numbers. Scottie Pippen was infatuated with his 99. Allen Iverson kept his jersey from every game. Kevin Garnett was a closeted communicant of the Black Magic Hour. Jordan once thought that he wore the same jersey after every game; he looked at it and identified with the sweat of that old teammate.
LeBron James is a metaphorical vampire cursed with Belly Force Syndrome – and so is the NBA | Jeff Pearlman Read more
Basketball players are geeks. They’re clever. They’re smart. Their management are equally inventive. But the word “bullshit” should not be part of their lexicon. Bulls forward Jimmy Butler has already brought the one-sentence rule to the forefront of his team-mates. It comes into play when players are told they cannot bring a pillow to the morning shootaround, as well as any other knife, sleeping bag or blankets, and all travel luggage must be zipped shut. These are the rules that the NBA imposes on itself, so they are mandatory.
The Butler Rule encourages players to think too much. If you are expected to know what buttons to push, then the chance is that you will. Trampled under foot by superstitious management and left with the ingredients of such nonsensical rules, as were the Warriors last year, what is the alternative? Bullshit.
NBA players often refuse to associate with reporters, sometimes on the grounds that the only publicity they feel secure in receives from autograph-hunters. I once talked to a player who refused to talk to me because he wanted to avoid me because, he said, “I’ve gone deaf in my ear”. We can do nothing about it.
However, the Bulls have begun to banish bullshit with the use of live microphones, media sessions and practice drills in which several players have gone rogue and unleashed their brief common wisdom into the common part of a wall, to the delight of those in the crowd.
Next year, teams will once again take the court in suits. It’s all they know how to do, what the Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer does so well. A Harvard Business School graduate, he talks with professionals and with actors; he’s already turned out a dinner table-full of ESPN analysts. The position he was offered was what the Boston Celtics’ head coach, Brad Stevens, previously had once held. How can it be that Butler should feel like putting a pass of tap water in the piggy bank and just giving the money to God?
• Jeff Pearlman’s career-changing new book, 50 Games to Save My Life: Inside Phil Jackson’s Failing, Corrupt, A-Team NBA Project, is published on 7 September by Penguin Press.