The NBA lockout deprived fans of one important aspect of basketball life—a long season of rookie initiations! The NBA is a brotherhood, much like a fraternity, and is filled with good-natured jokes and initiation rites.
Perhaps more than in any other sport, NBA athletes are physically different from the average fan. They’re freak athletes—taller, bigger, stronger and more coordinated than most of us can ever dream of being. Athletes from most sports can blend into a crowd; NBA players tower above them.
To further separate NBA players as a class apart, they earn multitudes more than the average Joe. The minimum contract for a rookie is $473,604, or nine times the U.S. median household income of $51,400.
As alien as the life of a basketball player may seem, they are still human, and there’s nothing like watching rookies haul around pink Hello Kitty backpacks to remind us of that fact.
Some common routines are found amongst rookies of most teams in the NBA. Let's take a look at a few.
Rookie initiation wasn’t always fun and games. Scottie Pippen, one of the greatest to step onto the hardwood, was slapped in the face by enforcer Charles Oakley.
I hesitate to use the word “hazing,” as the pranks and duties are far removed from the demeaning and humiliating connotations it evokes.
Rookie initiations are more of a reminder that every player, even a big-name prospect like Shaq, has to earn the respect of those that came before them. Nick Collison captures the intention well.
It is a rough transition and I guess this is our way of showing a little "tough love." It's all done in good fun and meant to humble the newcomers a bit, to let them know that no matter who they are, they aren't bigger than the team. And the guys who make the newcomers do this stuff are usually the ones who also take care of them.
Pippen laughed it off by winning six championships.
For all the chores the rookies must endure, they are rewarded. The vets personally purchase them new accessories and luggage.
A perennial favorite, rookies have had to carry kid backpacks for as long as I can remember. No one is safe from garish colors and embarrassing teenage idols, not even international star Ricky Rubio.
The tradition runs league wide, with players from nearly every team donning these stylish bags. Paul George embraced his Disney Princess backpack. “Lol so this is my new carrying bag...Louis Vuitton princess bag...Holla at me!”
I am not certain where the tradition originated, but it has spread across multiple sports. MLB players have also embraced the time-honored tradition of pink backpacks.
When the vets tell the rooks that they must pick up breakfast before practice, the rooks would be wise to listen.
Sacramento King Jason Thompson learned first hand how grumpy players get without their favorite breakfast foods.
For repeatedly failing to pick up bagels for the team, an unknown veteran filled his entire Escalade with popcorn.
Filling vehicles with popcorn and peanuts is a popular prank that exceeds the realm of rookie initiation.
When they were teammates in Miami, Louis Amundson took exception to Shaquille O'Neal hiding his bicycle after almost every home practice. To exact his revenge, Amundson swiped the keys to Shaq's car and filled it with packing peanuts. Fortuitously, cameras filming for Shaq's reality television show captured his reaction.
Aw, the rookie dance off, a competition as old as basketball itself.
At the Golden State Warriors open practice in 2010, international star Jeremy Lin was still a relatively unknown benchwarmer. Like all rookies, he had to pay his dues. The Warrior rookie class participated in a Dougie dance off and serenaded Brandon Wright for his birthday.
Just for fun, check out the Golden State Warrior rookies from 2006 learn the Soulja Boy from a few helpful audience members.
The best rookie prank is held by the most storied franchise in NBA history, the Los Angeles Lakers. The poor victim back in 2004 was Tony Bobbitt, better known for a prank than his short-lived, two-game NBA playing career.
The outlandish joke all stemmed from an innocuous comment Bobbitt made one night while Lucy Liu sat courtside at Staples Center. Bobbitt remarked to teammates Vlade Divac and Devean George that Lucy Liu had been eying him during the game.
The two immediately conspired. They instructed a ball boy to give a cell phone number to Bobbitt. He believed it to be Lucy Liu’s, when in reality, it belonged to none other than criminal mastermind Divac.
“The whole team got involved,” George told Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News. They read text messages and listened to voice mails Bobbitt left for the fake number. They even went as far as to set up a date.
Bobbitt patiently waited at a restaurant for Lucy Liu to show up. She never did. When his teammates arrived to finally put the prank to rest, he refused to believe it was all a joke. “She’s coming,” he insisted.
I would give anything to see the hidden camera footage they shot for the big con.