It’s not easy playing on the road, for any number of reasons. The changes in time zones, the early departures and late arrivals, sleeping in a different bed every night. Not to mention being away from your family for an extended period of time. It might seem like fun at first, but ask anyone who works in the NBA what the worst part of the job is and invariably they’ll say the travel.
But a lot of people travel for work. In fact, it seems like a lot of people hit the road on the company dime these days. Blame it on the global economy. But aside from having to handle the occasional grumpy flight attendant, most people don’t have to deal with being razzed while away on business. That’s not the case, however, for members of the Trail Blazers.
“They usually aren’t that creative,” says Raef LaFrentz of the heckling found in most away games, “but every once in a while you’ll get someone who’s put some time and thought into it.”
Such as …
“One time when I was playing against Duke,” said Steve Blake, “and some kid found a paper of mine from a college class, and he sat there and he read the whole paper to me throughout the whole game. It wasn’t a very good paper so it kind of stung to hear it read back to me.”
The internet age has undoubtedly increased the amount of material available to execute a solid heckle, but some times a more low-tech approach can have the same sting while also allowing for a certain level of flexibility.
“There’s a guy in Philly,” said Jarrett Jack. “I don’t know who he is but he sits kind of right behind out bench. He has a little dry erase board, and he just writes messages on there and holds it up. Just subtle and just holds it up. Not trying to make a scene, just holds it up. And as you’re in a timeout or coming out of a timeout, you might catch the little messages and it’s always something funny.”
That seems to be the consensus throughout the Trail Blazers locker room. Sure, there’s the occasional clown in the crowd, like the guy in Chicago who proceed to yell “You suck Aldridge!” every time LaMarcus touched the ball. But by-and-large, most of the players seem to enjoy a little light-hearted ribbing from the opposing fans.
“I loved playing at Maryland,” says rookie Josh McRoberts. “They actually had some funny stuff. They’d have signs that are pretty funny or say clever stuff. That I can respect because if me and my friends went to a game, we’d probably be saying the same stuff.”
And what players seem to enjoy even more is when that light-hearted ribbing is directed at one of their teammates.
“It was my rookie year when D.Miles was playing,” explains Martell Webster. “We’re in Utah and there was a dude. It was dead silent and D.Miles was shooting a free-throw. Out of nowhere, some dude just yells out ‘Flavor Flav!’ That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard in my life.”
So as it turns out, heckling might not be so much of an annoyance. After all, who doesn’t like a good joke carried out with impeccable timing? So while sometimes the interaction between fans and players can get out of hand, for the most part, it’s just another wrinkle of playing away from home.