From bagels to bags, every NBA rookie has his chores
For one of the most time-honored NBA traditions, Kosta Koufos' stop at Einstein Bros. Bagels on his way to the Jazz's pregame shootaround Monday lasted a little more than three minutes.
The 19-year-old rookie stepped to the counter at 8:45 a.m. and placed his usual order. That would be a bucket of 13 bagels, plus another half-dozen, emphasis on the whole wheat bagels at Deron Williams' request, along with cranberry and blueberry.
He grabbed a tub of strawberry cream cheese to go with the two plain ones already included. At the register, Koufos swiped his debit card, but made sure to get a dollar's worth of quarters to buy Matt Harpring a copy of USA Today from the rack outside.
With bagels and newspaper in hand, Koufos was on his way to EnergySolutions Arena. It's all part of the initiation that almost every NBA player -- from the No. 1 overall pick to the undrafted 12th man -- must go through as a rookie.
"If he doesn't do that, bad things will happen," Williams said of Koufos' duty to bring bagels every game day.
Of course, Williams spent his rookie season delivering hot chocolate to Milt Palacio and newspapers to Greg Ostertag. Harpring had to carry Horace Grant's sneakers in Orlando, bringing them to his hotel room on the road and to the arena for games.
Even Jazz coach Jerry Sloan had a set of rookie chores when he came to the Baltimore Bullets in 1965, before the days of traveling equipment managers. Koufos might have to get bagels, but at least he doesn't have to carry shot clocks.
"In the exhibition season, especially, we always had to carry our own clocks, because we played in a lot of high schools that didn't have 24-second clocks," said Sloan, who also served as "cab captain," arranging rides on the road.
Nearly a half-century later, the tradition lives on in the NBA. LeBron James might have arrived as the Cleveland Cavaliers' franchise savior in 2003, but he wasn't spared having to carry bags and bring doughnuts as a rookie.
"I never had to sit in a tub of ice or anything like that," James said. "They asked me to do some chores, I did them, so I wouldn't get hazed."
Every rookie has a story: Minnesota's Kevin Love has to bring energy shots for Mike Miller and Al Jefferson, in addition to singing "Happy Birthday" at every opportunity.
Charlotte's D.J. Augustin had to wear a "My Little Pony" backpack everywhere in the preseason -- including to the mall and movies -- until he gave it to his 2-year-old niece.
Sacramento's Jason Thompson forgot to bring bagels and not only ended up with his Cadillac Escalade filled with popcorn, but with video of the prank posted on YouTube.
"Whatever they get, it's not enough," Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. "They're well compensated. . . . I don't know if Wilt Chamberlain went through it, but I think it's a healthy thing."
The belief is widespread that rookie hazing isn't what it used to be, but some of the experiences among the Jazz players and other suggest otherwise.
A costly, heavy burden
Ronnie Price came to Sacramento in 2005 as an undrafted, undersized guard making an NBA-minimum $398,762. It didn't take him long to realize that having a number of veteran teammates was both a blessing and a curse.
Mike Bibby designated Price his rookie, which meant going wherever he wanted and getting whatever he needed. The Kings would leave on a one-game trip and Bibby would pack the biggest bag imaginable, filled with electronics, for Price to carry.
"It was like I was carrying a dead body on the plane every day it was so heavy," Price said.
Price had to run to the store every morning to get all manner of drinks, sandwiches, bagels and burritos for teammates. The lowest moment, however, came in San Antonio, when Price went to check out of the Kings' hotel and was greeted by a $950 bill.
His teammates had gone to the hotel restaurant, bar and gift shop and charged everything to Price's room. The bill got paid, just not out of Price's pocket, as he left it for a team official to sort out.
"It's just what's expected," Price said. "There's no harm. Nobody's getting hurt. It's fun and games. But at the end of the day, [the rookies] always get taken care of."
That was the case with Price, who got what he would describe only as a present from Bibby after the season -- one that covered everything he'd spent and then some.
For his part, Koufos said being a college freshman was worse than an NBA rookie. Still, he's had to sing "Happy Birthday" to Morris Almond live on the FSN Utah postgame show and dance at the Jazz's season-ticket holder barbecue.
He has yet to oversleep and forget to bring bagels through 26 home games this season. As for that copy of USA Today , Koufos had no idea, but Harpring said it's for his wife, who likes to do the crossword puzzle.
"I've got to pay my dues," Koufos said, "and my time will come where I'm a veteran."
Carlos Boozer, meanwhile, once got stuck with a bill that made Price's look like pocket change. A second-round draft pick with Cleveland, Boozer had to cover a $2,500 dinner that his teammates had at an Italian restaurant in New York.
He also had to get Zydrunas Ilgauskas a newspaper every day. Not an American newspaper, but a Lithuanian one. Boozer had them shipped to his house -- at an estimated cost of $1,500 for the season -- and delivered them to Ilgauskas.
Some rookies would print stories from the Internet for Ilgauskas, "but he knew it wasn't the real one," Boozer said. "I got the real one for him."
A veteran's compassion
To this day, Jarron Collins remains grateful for the favor John Stockton did for him as a rookie. The Jazz were in Toronto to play a preseason game, and Collins joined a group of veteran teammates for breakfast at the Four Seasons hotel.
When the bill came, Karl Malone announced: "Young fella's paying for it." The problem was Collins had yet to cash his first NBA paycheck. "I was thinking to myself, 'Young guy doesn't have it,'" Collins recalled.
He considered putting the bill on his credit card and paying it off later when Stockton came to his rescue.
"I was sitting next to Stock and he whispered to me, 'Just put down my room number,'" Collins said. "So I put down his room number and he paid it for me. That was a really nice thing that he did for me. That was the one I got away from, and I appreciated it."
There also are the moments no rookie every will live down. No matter what happens the rest of his Jazz career, Kyrylo Fesenko, who had no driver's license, will be remembered for once bringing gas-station doughnuts to shootaround.
"Those got to be the nastiest things ever," Williams said.
One of Kyle Korver's rookie responsibilities with Philadelphia was bringing Eric Snow a copy of USA Today . With the Sixers in Puerto Rico for a preseason game, Korver was left trying to explain to Snow that it was impossible to find the newspaper in San Juan.
"Right as I said that an assistant coach walks out of the bus with a USA Today ," Korver said, laughing. Snow gave Korver a look and asked: "You lying to me?"
From his years in Philadelphia, Korver heard about a former No. 1 overall pick who was made to ride in the luggage hold of the team bus as a rookie. Even at the end of his career, the player would punt racks of balls in visiting arenas for rookies to retrieve in retribution.
"I think it's a healthy thing, I really do," Korver said. "A lot of guys come into the NBA and just think they're all that and you've got to kind of take them down a little bit. There's a point where you can probably take it too far, but I think as long as you're not reaching the point, it's all right."
Code of Justice
Portland's Brandon Roy was fortunate enough to come to a team with veterans -- namely Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw -- who were younger than he was as a rookie. He carried a couple of bags, but learned quickly how to avoid being mistreated.
"As long as I kind of stayed low-key, they didn't pay much attention to me," Roy said. "It's when the rookies start being kind of loud, that's when you've got to do something harsh."
One unnamed Jazz rookie who dared joke about the number of shots Malone had taken in a game not only had to carry Malone's bags to his hotel room, but turn on his bedside lamp and turn down the bed for him.
When the Kings played earlier this season in Utah, 12-year veteran Bobby Jackson openly discussed having Thompson push a stroller with a baby doll in addition to the schoolgirl backpack he already was wearing.
What could make Jackson so sadistic? He described himself as a rookie who "didn't listen to nobody" until he was thrown in a cold tub. "That stopped me from being hardheaded," Jackson said, adding that he wished he'd taken a different path.
What goes around always eventually comes around. Someday there will be a rookie who will do Spencer Hawes' bidding, after Hawes spent his rookie season in Sacramento lugging Brad Miller's 17-inch television and PlayStation on the road.
"I definitely can't wait until I have a rookie of my own that I can make do that kind of stuff," Hawes said. "They're going to do whatever I need."
Roy joked that there was nothing the Trail Blazers could do to No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden -- "He's the franchise in his first year" -- but Oden still had to help the team's trainers with their bags and carry laundry after shootaround.
"Rookies got to know this is a tough league and you've got to pay your dues," Oden said. "All the guys who've played for a long time are like, 'Man, we've been there, you haven't experienced nothing,' so you can understand that you've got to do it."
No rookie experience is the same, but Sloan has seen one constant over the years. "Some guys just have a personality that they're going to catch more flak than another guy, it seems like," he said.