Mile High Clubbin': What Really Happens on NBA Team Flights

Stephen Fenech@Fenech2491Correspondent IMarch 5, 2013

During the NBA season, players travel constantly, which means lots of time is spent on flights. This allows teams to bond in various ways, with gambling, socializing and talking smack being common gimmicks to pass time. 

So what happens when you put a group of wealthy, competitive, ego-driven men on a plane? The answers may or may not surprise you. 

In a video produced by the Grantland Channel, ex-NBA star Jalen Rose talks about gambling on team flights. 

Rose details the competitive mindset many players have. We are talking about some of the world's best athletes, and their competitive nature is crucial to their success. 

As Rose notes, NBA players want to win at everything they do, which is a problem because every competition has winners and losers. Whether it's a game of ping pong or a round of gin rummy, one side will feel the joy of victory, the other the sting of defeat. 

Not everyone is a good loser, which means off-court competition could hurt the locker room dynamic in some instances. When non-basketball issues spill onto the court, the coach is forced to intervene in order to remedy the situation. 

Considering the daily rigors of an NBA season, head coaches have far more important things to do than to resolve juvenile problems. 

According to NBA.com, Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins banned gambling on the team plane after Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo got into a disagreement. Regarding the incident, Hollins said the following in January of 2011: 

We're in a confined airplane, and things get heated. I'm done with it. No more gambling. I told my guys if they read a book, that would be good. They have to entertain themselves in a different manner.

This is one of the few gambling spats that reached the media, but there are undoubtedly plenty of similar situations occurring throughout the season. 

The situation that played out in Memphis is not the most infamous event resulting from gambling, as that distinction belongs to the Gilbert Arenas/Javaris Crittenton incident in December 2010.

As outlined in an article from The Washington Post, Arenas and Crittenton got into an argument over a card game that took place on the team plane. Two days after the incident, Arenas brought handguns into the locker room, a decision that caused David Stern to suspend the Washington Wizards star indefinitely.

Circumstances that arise due to gambling don't go away and can escalate quickly depending on how much money is involved. The Arenas situation is the perfect example of that, as "Agent Zero" will forever be known as the guy who brought guns into the locker room. 

Not every player on the team is making millions of dollars. While almost every player in the NBA has a lucrative salary, there is a major difference in income when you compare a star to a journeyman. 

While losing $15,000 may not be the end of the world to a player earning eight figures, that's a significant amount of money to benchwarmers. With the average NBA career length being 4.8 years, less talented players have a small window to make big money. 

Gambling on team planes will be an issue the NBA will eventually have to tackle, although a couple teams already have. According to an article from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, out of 23 teams sampled, only two had a policy against gambling and card games during flights. 

In my opinion, it's only a matter of time until we hear of another NBA gambling-related issue. The conditions surrounding gambling on team planes are too perfect to assume otherwise, as pride elevates the importance of what should be friendly competition.  

But aside from gambling, flights represent an opportunity for teams to bond on a personal level. NBA teams play 41 road games per season, which equates to a couple hundred hours of airtime with the same group of people. 

During the season, NBA players don't have the luxury of spending much time with their family. As a result, successful teams tend to come together in an almost familial fashion. If you don't believe me, just take a look at the San Antonio Spurs. 

The combination of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili has been special for years, which has aided in the success they have obtained. Another excellent example can be found on the South Beach, as the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh love being around each other. 

Depending on the makeup of the players on the team, there are moments of comedic genius. Such was the case with Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this season, as the big man teased Kobe Bryant regarding his age. 

Lighthearted fun is nothing to be concerned about, but what about more serious activities that have the potential to harm the NBA brand? 

Unsurprisingly, the NBA has been reactive rather than proactive in terms of monitoring the actions on team flights, as evidenced in the aforementioned Berger article. Whether or not the decision is wise is unknown, but until the rules change, players will continue to fly like they always have. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.