Like many workplaces in America, the 15-man roster of an NBA locker room is filled with a diverse group of personalities.
The game has globalized over the years and the Wizards alone have players from Europe, and guys from all over the United States: the South, the North, the West Coast and the Midwest. Some grew up in small, rural towns, while others were raised in big cities. They all have their quirks, their locker room styles and their way of relating to each other.
"This is what I love about the game. The only thing that makes an NBA player an NBA player is the talent," Tony Massenburg, who tied an NBA record by playing for 12 different teams, said.
"The game is just 450 personalities at random. Basketball is really the only thing they have in common at times."
They come from all over, but when NBA players get on the court, they have to co-exist as a team. That extends off the floor as well, to the locker room where, like any workplace, there are rules.
An NBA locker room has a lot of rules, actually, and many of them are not in writing. There is a strict code of do's and don'ts. And if there’s too many don’ts? Players said they’ll call out teammates without hesitation. And even bring it up to management.
After interviewing a wide range of NBA players, both active and ones now out of the league, here is the unwritten rulebook for an NBA locker room. Violate the rules at your own risk.
RULE NO. 1: RESPECT EACH OTHER'S SPACE
Some of the rules of an NBA locker room are obvious, or at least they should be obvious. Just because something can be considered common sense, doesn't mean everyone understands before being told.
NBA players have tight quarters in locker rooms and especially on the road. Some of the players are seven feet tall and have a designated area that spans only about four feet wide.
They only get so much space and they are protective of it.
"You can't go into someone's locker and grab some stuff because you don't have it," Wizards guard Austin Rivers said. "If you don't have lotion or you don't have deodorant, don't go in my locker and grab some stuff."
Toiletries are big. Don't borrow them from teammates. And make sure you clean up after yourself.
"The organization of a rookie is bad. They come in and their drawers are on the floor, their boxers are on the floor. Everything is messy," Rivers said.
"I had a rookie in L.A. [Rivers played for the Clippers before being traded to the Wizards.] He had all this stuff everywhere to the point where his underwear was on someone else's chair. Guys, they lost it. They were like 'bro, don't ever do this again.' Just grab your s***, put it in a locker, bro."
RULE NO. 2: HYGIENE!
Depending on whom you ask, hygiene is among the most important rules in an NBA locker room. Some players enter the league with the belief showering and deodorant are optional.
Seriously. That's a far more common problem than you may expect.
"Not wanting to shower, that s*** happens a lot," Wizards forward Markieff Morris said. "I had an incident when I was in Phoenix with a rookie who said 'I don't use deodorant.' I was like 'whoa, whoa, whoa; what the f*** do you mean you don't use deodorant?'
"You've gotta respect other players. Hygiene is one of the most important things in our profession. It's uncomfortable guarding somebody that stinks. That's why I had to explain him 'like, bro, you smell so it's uncomfortable for us to be around you smelling like that.'"
"We had this thing on the team where dudes were taking bird baths," one longtime NBA veteran recalled. "A bird bath is when you go in and you sprinkle a little bit of water on top of your head and then run out. We've got grown-ass men on this team. You can't take a bird bath and be clean."
That veteran once made a trip to CVS and bought a pack of deodorants to pass out to smelly teammates. He also assembled a kit of deodorant, shampoo and baby powder, placed it on a tray and left it at the locker of a guy who was particularly pungent.
The way he got all of them to buy in to being cleaner was with one simple guarantee: "The ladies are gonna like this." It worked every time.
RULE NO. 3: FOLLOW THE DRESS CODE
In the NBA, it's important to dress properly, even en route to the shower. But for some in the locker room, that hasn’t always been a no-brainer.
This is where the mixing of global cultures often comes into play.
"I had a guy who wore this yellow, like bikini-style underwear. Guys were like 'yo, you can't.' Go get some [boxers]. Go to Lululemon, get some whatever, Polo, get some normal underwear," one veteran recalled, invoking memories of the movie “Borat”.
"It was bikini-style. It was almost like a thong in the back. When I saw that I was like 'I can't believe that just happened.' It was gross."
One Wizards veteran recalled a story earlier in his career about a new player who disrobed at his locker, then walked through the center of the room with no clothes on to the shower. Later on, he had to be pulled aside by a veteran who told him that doesn't fly.
RULE NO. 4: CAREFUL WITH SIGNATURE SHOES
One of the first rules offered by many veterans involves signature shoes. It is common in the NBA for players to wear sneakers tied to another player. For instance, Paul George's Nike line is preferred by many NBA players for its comfort and performance. Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and others have shoes that are commonly worn by players around the league.
But that dynamic changes when your team is going up against that player. If a Wizards player wears Kevin Durant's shoes when Washington is facing the Warriors, that will cross a line.
"If you're playing against someone who has their own signature shoes, you can't wear them," Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal said, matter of factly.
"You don't wear the signature shoe of your opponent," Wizards point guard John Wall said.
Most NBA players understand this rule, but many rookies have to learn it, some the hard way. When informed of the rule during training camp, Wizards rookie Troy Brown Jr. said it was news to him.
"I didn't know that was a rule," he said, but added: "I kind of have my own swag, anyway. I wouldn't want to do that."
RULE NO. 5: DON'T BREAK THE CIRCLE OF TRUST
When players are talking behind closed doors, away from the media, their families and coaches, no subject is off-limits. They talk everything from NBA rumors, to relationships to politics. They tell stories, some of them not suitable for print. But what is told in the locker room must in almost every circumstance stay in the locker room.
No matter how benign, when stories get back around then trust can be lost.
"Once your significant other finds out something about another player, then there's a variable in your relationship that may or may not apply to you some day, but it wasn't there until somebody told that story. It fuels paranoia," one longtime NBA veteran said.
RULE NO. 6: NO RECORDING DEVICES
Locker room discussions are intended to stay in the locker room and that is increasingly easier said than done with advances in technology. Younger players especially are used to recording everything on their phones and transmitting it through text message and social media.
Sometimes videos from behind the scenes make it to Instagram or Twitter, but they are carefully curated by the players.
"I know not to record other guys when they talk about personal stuff. That was an issue in the league, obviously, so I'm not doing that," Wizards point guard Tomas Satoransky said, referring to a 2016 incident involving then-Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell secretly filming a conversation with teammate Nick Young.
RULE NO. 7: DO YOUR ROOKIE DUTIES
Rookies on the Wizards have to follow several traditions. They have to get towels for the veterans after games and practices on the road. They have to bring food to the plane for road trips and pick up meals on off-days.
Wall has seen some veterans over the years demand specifics like early-morning donuts and newspapers. Those deliveries, however, often come with tips.
The Wizards assign rookies children's backpacks at the beginning of each year and, as Devin Robinson and Thomas Bryant found out in September, they have to wear them all the way up until Opening Night of their second season. Some of them are pink, some of them have glitter; all of them stand out when worn by a gigantic professional athlete otherwise dressed to the nines in expensive clothes.
The rookies have to take those backpacks everywhere they go. That means games, practices, shootarounds, on the plane and even team functions and charity events.
Another rookie rule involves the timing of showers. Rookies not only have to wait, but they better be using that time for good.
"You never want to get into the showers first. That's a rookie rule. You've gotta be putting up extra shots," Wizards forward Jason Smith said. "You don't want to be the first one out of the gym because then everybody thinks 'oh, he has it easy' and then you're a target after that."
RULE NO. 8: RESPECT YOUR VETERANS
One common complaint about rookies is their lack of deference to older players and often it can be the littlest of things. They have to demonstrate an understanding of their place in the room. If a veteran senses any sort of entitlement, it can be tough for the rookie to overcome that perception.
"If you're a rookie, they're just looking for a mistake. They're just looking for any mistake to point out," Rivers said. "You just have to understand as a rookie that you have to do all the little petty s*** and then you don't have to do it anymore after one year. So, just get through it."
Some players recall themselves falling in line very quickly.
"I didn't say s*** as a rookie," Beal said. "I shut up, I sat down and I stayed at my locker. I didn't speak. If somebody spoke to me, I would speak back, but that was it."
Talking too much is a common infraction. NBA players are often increasingly serious about their craft as they mature in the league. They don't want a rookie joking around too often and dominating the conversation in the room.
"Don't talk too much and feel like you're entitled," Morris said. "Younger guys these days feel more entitled than back in the day."
RULE NO. 9: BE NICE TO THE STAFF
NBA players aren’t the only ones in the locker room. NBA teams have massage therapists, equipment managers, public relations officials, assistant coaches and others. If any player doesn’t act appropriately to them? Jason Smith said he’ll call them out.
"You put a stop to that real quick because those are the people that you're going to be traveling with all year long," Smith said. "You put them in their place and you make sure they do things the right way. That's part of being a veteran."
Smith's insistence on respecting everyone is part of why he has a reputation for his professionalism.
"I could definitely see Jason saying that," Brown said. "Here, we kind of treat everyone as family. I know here everyone here is treated like they are a player, honestly."
RULE NO. 10: ENFORCEMENT
All of the rules stated above are unwritten. They aren't regulated by the league or in a formal way by the team. They are policed by the players.
Players will speak up and let it be known if someone is not fitting in as they should.
"S***, that happens all the time. Guys that you see here one day and then they're not here the next day," Morris said. "That happens especially if you're not playing. It's like, what reason do they cut rookies if they're not playing? Y'all wouldn't know, right? So, that has to be something that is done in-house like not getting here first in workouts. No respect for the coaches or the vets and s*** like that."
Wall is known as a bit of a locker room cop. As a franchise player and veteran, he has his rules and wants you to abide by them.
"John is real tough on rookies," Beal joked. "If you mess up or say anything bad to him or say anything not on his side, John is going to let you have it. He don't care."
Much of the punishment violators receive is harmless. Wall said it takes a lot for him or another veteran to get really angry.
"I just try to tell them like it is, straight forward. I don't try to do anything outrageous or overboard," Wall said.
The first step of punishment could involve an embarrassing social media video where a player does 10 bunnyhops across the locker room. Wizards' players Instagram stories feeds were flooded with them last season.
Wall said he feels necessary to take it relatively easy on the rookies because he never had it too bad himself. Though, he does recall once being tied up and thrown into an ice bath. The rules are the rules and even No. 1 picks aren't immune to them.
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