Locker Room Talk

By JimMcilvaine
Oct. 16, 2016

There's been a lot of discussion lately about a term Donald Trump used recently in an effort to contextualize offensive comments he made, that were recorded and somehow went missing until just weeks before the Presidential election. Some would say Jeb Bush has to be wondering why his cousin, Billy, couldn't have thrown him this "locker room talk" bone nine months earlier? The reality is, everyone knew who Trump was and is. There were probably so many examples, no one would've known which one to choose. Anyone who feigns any kind of shock or surprise at Trump's comments at this point is either totally ignorant or disingenuous at best.

When my wife won a national championship and went to the White House with her team, President Bill Clinton told her that he'd never been with a taller woman before. Everyone knew what Clinton's comment inferred and even though Rush Limbaugh and a few others tried to make a big deal out of it at the time, everyone already knew what kind of person Bill Clinton was, so that comment was just added to a long and growing list of inappropriate behavior that occasionally came back to bite him from time to time. 

It was also interesting to hear comments from athletes, who made it sound like locker rooms are some kind of sanctuaries, where lewd comments were never uttered in their presence. I don't know what kind of teams they were on, but I consider mine fairly-tame compared to the gun-slinging Wizards who followed my tenure in Washington and I still witnessed plenty of interesting locker room talk during my time in sports. Here are a few memorable moments (most names may be redacted to keep me from getting beat up next time these guys see me):

Fan Letters

When fans send letters to NBA players, the teams typically leave them in the player's locker at the practice facility. In the pre-cellphone camera/twitter era, that meant fans who desired a more intimate relationship with an NBA player sometimes resorted to sending letters along with photos, underwear or whatever else they thought might sway an NBA player to respond. Apparently, some film development locations won't develop nude photos, so whenever those arrived, they were typically polaroids (millennials can google "polaroid" to understand the reference). Those typically generated plenty of locker room talk.

I never seemed to get many of those letters, but I did get a letter once from a guy, that came with another letter that was taped shut. The first letter basically set up the second one, which had such sexually-explicit and inappropriate comments in it, that I gave it to NBA security, who interviewed the guy and may have added him to their lifetime watch list. I later found out he may have had a thing for a particular type of NBA player, as some of my other friends around the league received similar correspondence from him. 

The All Ugly Team

Most NBA teams and players have a pretty regular pre-game routine, but what happens when there's some type of disruption beyond anyone's control? There you all are, a locker room full of NBA players waiting to get turned loose on their opponent like Darth Maul & Qui Gon Ginn with nothing to do but watch game film of the opposing team. I remember one such delayed game, where someone had paused the VCR at just the exact moment, that a player from the opposing team had a very unattractive expression on his face.

It kind of snowballed from there and the next thing you know, names of the starting-five of the NBA All-Ugly team were being shouted out by position, along with reserves, all recorded on the locker room grease board. It got kind of funny when one of the guys on our team found himself in the starting five and even funnier, when he said at least he was a starter and nominated another teammate as a back-up.

The Worst Visiting Team Locker Room

Without a doubt, the worst visiting team locker room during my tenure in the NBA was that of the Boston Garden. Smaller than most high school locker rooms and more-sparsely equipped, it was a holdover from the pre-war era and may not have been significantly updated in any way since the grand-opening in 1928. The temperature in the room was either arctic or inferno, with no middle ground. Even the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena where the Clippers used to play had a nicer visitor's locker room. If the Clippers' former owner, Donald Sterling was besting anyone in the NBA at anything besides having "racist" mentioned the most times in his Wikipedia page (currently 18), you knew you were doing something wrong. Fortunately, the arena stayed open just long enough for me to get to say that I played there and closed after my rookie season.

The Best Visiting Team Locker Room

I remember the first time I walked into the locker room at America West Arena (now Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix). My immediate reaction was to ask why the home locker room for the Bullets wasn't half as nice as the visitor's lockerroom at Phoenix? My agent, Ron Grinker, was very good friends with the Suns owner at the time, Jerry Colangelo and he later explained Colangelo's philosophy. At some point all of the players on every opposing team would become free agents. If Colangelo had any interest in signing them, he wanted them to imagine how well he treated his own team, if the visiting team locker room was nicer than most home team locker rooms. Pretty smart guy and that philosophy was later adopted by several other NBA owners, most notably by Mark Cuban, who laid out some very impressive post-game spreads.

The DW Alert

One of the most-memorable locker room conversations I remember having was somewhat of a coded alert system shared among teammates. One of the teams I played on was covered by a member of the media, whose purpose and intent of being in the locker room always raised suspicion. I won't say whether this reporter was a man or a woman, but they were the only member of the media any of us noticed in the locker room, who was carrying a film camera, typically around their neck.

This media member never asked any questions of players, but often held a microphone near a player who was being interviewed by someone else. More than one player claimed to have spotted this person snapping photos of naked players in the locker room, while interviews with other players were being conducted. Players requested that this person be removed from the locker room, but the team declined to take action, probably for fear of this person raising a stink about a potential issue that could only be proven if they were willing to self-incriminate. To remedy the problem in the short term, players began warning each other of a "DW alert," whenever the person entered the locker room, with the "W" standing for "Watcher" (you can figure out what the "D" stood for). I think the team finally solved the issue the following season by requiring a photo credential that was a different type of media credential for anyone who wanted to bring a camera into the locker room and they made sure not to issue one to this person.

Conclusion

I would say I've heard plenty of offensive things in and out of locker rooms over the years, including tirades on par with this legendary speech and drunken lectures to me about making sure I take care of the man in my wife's canoe (in the presence of my wife no less!), but nothing that would've prompted me to go to a coach, GM or anyone else to complain about it. There are some people in this world who are just crude, offensive, inappropriate or all of the above and more. Not only do they often get away with little more than a slap on the wrist for such behavior, but sometimes we even elect them to be President of our country. People can hop on their high horse about how they'd handle themselves in that situation, but I think we'll all be waiting quite a while for the first story to emerge of a player who lodges a complaint about such language being used in a locker room or anywhere else.