Charlotte, N.C. — For 13 Jazz players, coaches and trainers, among others, the boxes were a reward. For Utah rookie center Enes Kanter, they were temptation. A barrier Kanter could cross at anytime. But in doing so, Big Turkey would immediately suffer the wrath of Big Al.
After the Jazz downed the Bobcats 99-93 on Wednesday, four extra-large boxes of Bojangles' fried chicken with sides sat atop a fold-out table, nearly within arms' reach of Al Jefferson's locker. While the Utah center discussed another huge offensive outing with the media, he paused midsentence to eye Kanter, who was contently making his way toward the promised land. Pausing six long seconds and interrupting a discussion about owning Charlotte's Bismack Biyombo in the paint, Jefferson said two words that perfectly summed up his increasingly intense — and hilarious — war with Kanter.
"Damn rookie," Jefferson said.
Big Al soon finished his thought and completed his sentence. But the battle was back on. For several minutes, Jefferson publicly hounded Kanter. And while the Utah rookie was reminded all four boxes of chicken weren't just for him at the same time a teammate made fun of his too-large dress shirt, Jefferson displayed his veteran chops. Not only couldn't Kanter dig in and fill up a heaping plate, but he couldn't even eat until everyone else with at least one year of professional service had stepped up to the line and done their part to devour what one player estimated was $200 worth of chicken.
As Jefferson took center stage, verbally unloading, Kanter just paced. And paced. And paced. There was no chicken for Big Turkey, and everyone from Earl Watson and Paul Millsap to Jamaal Tinsley played roles in the act. Jeremy Evans ate. Assistant coaches chowed down. Not the Turk.
Cue serious laughter.
Jefferson eventually hit the showers. Encouraged by Watson and Millsap, Kanter was finally allowed to dine.
Former Jazz rookies Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans got off easy during 2011-12. Their worst chore was singing happy birthday to Jefferson in front of a crowd of school kids, and they mostly just carried around pink gradeschool backpacks on the road.
Why the change during 2011-12? Because Hayward and Evans kept quiet. Not Kanter. And several Jazz vets said he's now paying the price.
This is Kanter's first true hazing — he never received one at Kentucky because he didn't play for the Wildcats. Fellow Utah rookie Alec Burks has been Hayward- and Evans-like, mostly making it through the first 38 games of the season unscathed. But everything from Kanter's decision — or, as he says, inability — to dance during a preseason public scrimmage to a recent confident comment he no longer feels like a rookie have contributed to Jefferson's increased intensity.
In the last 72 hours, Kanter's brought Dunkin Donuts to practice, hiked to the top of Time Warner Cable Arena, helplessly paced around boxes of delicious hot chicken, and been told to remain seated at practice before every other Jazz player hit the hardwood.
C.J. Miles has spent more than six years playing for Utah. He's never seen anything close to Jefferson vs. Kanter.
Only 28 more games to go for Big Turkey. The he can eat all the chicken he wants, whenever he wants.
Excerpts from recent interviews about Jazz Rookie Hazing 101:
Honestly, I didn't have it that bad [in Boston] because we didn't give 'em trouble. We didn't talk back. The only thing I had to do was take Gary Payton's bags, fix his food, get up in the middle of the night if he needed something. It was some kind of special candy he used to like and he used to crave for it. … And then I got to the point I got smart, and I used to keep it on me. … They had a [public] appearance, Paul Pierce and all of them had an appearance they wanted to do, but they'd paid us to do it — they'd hook us up. … But we didn't talk smart. See what get rookies in trouble now — I ain't going to say no name — but he got a mouth on him. So we've just got to let him know. He [said] a couple weeks ago, 'I don't feel like no rookie.' … We was letting them make it. They was getting away with a lot of stuff. Now, it's on. We've just got to do our job. … It's all in fun and games.
I would choose a rookie to bring my Five-Hour [Energy]. I had Kevin Love to do it, I had Corey Brewer to do it. … I got Burks doing it now. So I'm not bad. But this year's the only time I really had to just get into it. But I'm not bad. If I ask you to do something, it's going to be because I really need it. … It's all in good fun. Big Turkey's a good kid. We're just joking with him. And I always say, I feel sorry for his rookies. Because when he become a vet, oh my God.
My year was what, me, Deron [Williams] and Robert Whaley? They didn't really mess with us. The first training camp, Greg Ostertag made me carry his shoes and bring 'em to him at 7 in the morning for no reason — we didn't have to be up until 8 something — that was probably one thing. Then the rest of the time, we brought the donuts. … This is by far the worst [with] Turkey this year. This is by far. The happy birthdays, that's nothing. The donuts has been regular. This is by far the worst I've seen anybody here get it. [Watson chimes in: It started at the fan [scrimmage] — the first practice we had. Turk didn't dance.] Yeah, he wouldn't dance. He just stood there. That's when it started. He didn't dance. When I look back, that started it. And then we kind of let him go. I was supposed to get [the rookie backpacks] and I kept forgetting. [Watson: He didn't bring his backpack and he asked us how much — ] Yeah, he tried to bribe us for them. He basically brought it on himself. He tried everything to get out of everything. And then, finally, somebody was like, 'Wait a minute.' And Al just took over. [Kanter] basically is like — the flight attendants on the plane don't even work. Turk does all the work. We tell them what we want and he does it. Al made him get on the microphone and ask if, what did he say? 'Are we prepared for takeoff?' [Watson: If you're ready in the back —] give me a thumbs up. [Watson: He had a serious tone of voice when he said it.] Yeah. … I told him, 'The rookies next year are going to be older than him.' He's by far the worst. This is my seventh year here and this is by far — he's gotten the worst out of anybody. I think my rookie year was probably the easiest, because we had a bunch of guys — Greg didn't care. Greg did it just so he could say he did a rookie hazing thing.
In Indiana, they made Brandon Rush and Josh McRoberts run down Rodeo Drive in aerobic outfits. Like neon colors, all the way from the hotel. During the day. They stopped the bus and made 'em get off the bus and run down Rodeo Drive to the Beverly Wilshire. … What I had to do [in Seattle] was pretty tough because of cold weather. I had to take the luggage off the plane and help the trainer when we landed. It sucked. But I'd rather do that than wear a backpack. I got pretty lucky. … Have fun with it. What it teaches is, be appreciative of being in the NBA and veterans — be appreciative of what you have and don't take it for granted and don't feel like you're bigger than what you really are. It humbles you. Just have fun with it. Because you're only a rookie once and you miss that after it's over. I think Gordon and Jeremy was the best rookies ever, though. They did everything. I kind of miss them as being rookies. [Laughs]
What stands out the most is the happy birthday performance we had to put on. Have you ever seen that? Then nevermind. It does not exist. [Laughs] It's on YouTube. … We had to sing happy birthday and it was Big Al's birthday and he wanted something better than just the normal happy birthday. So I did the beat, the background, and Jeremy did the vocals. Just that day it happened to be [looks at Evans] — was it a school? It was something. Somebody came in and watched our practice and they were all sitting on those bleachers, and they put Big Al in those bleachers. So now we're singing to 50 people. It was embarrassing. I remember the whole practice they told us we had to do something different. I remember Ronnie Price was like, 'You guys just can't sing happy birthday. It's got to be something different.' So the whole practice, we're over here worrying about what we're going to sing to this dude because it's got to be something different. [Jefferson chimes in: 'It was the best birthday song ever.'] … Me and Jeremy were quiet. [Kanter] makes a couple smart comments here or there. You can't do that. You've got to wait to make your comments for a year. Then you can make almost all the comments you want. You've got to be quiet.
Past hazing: They didn't make me do at Kentucky or high school. Let me see. They did it overseas when I was 15, they made me carry the bags or just bring them something.
Jefferson keeping his rookie ego in check: I'm trying but they're going on hard on me. [Laughs] It's fun.
Started because he didn't dance during free scrimmage in SLC: I don't know how to dance before, so I didn't know how to dance. I was just [standing] there. I didn't know what to do.
Team taking it easy on Alec Burks: Actually, yeah. [Laughs]
Doing the same thing to future rookies: I'm learning from them right now. I can't wait.
Brian T. Smith