HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins wanted no part of his Chicago Bulls counterpart Joakim Noah hanging out in his locker room after they had just battled on the floor.
Noah had been escorted in by friend and Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha with media members still conducting interviews. Perkins was dressing at his locker when he spotted Noah in what he believed to be a violation of the Thunder’s inner sanctum.
According to the Daily Oklahoman, Perkins shouted at Noah: “They just let anybody in the locker room?” The two engaged in a brief back-and-forth with Noah finally saying, “If you want me to wait outside, I’ll wait outside.” Perkins then said, “Get yo’ (expletive) up out of here, (expletive).”
We all know that professional athletes are far chummier these days than they ever used to be. But has it come to this, where foes feel free to mingle in each other’s locker room after a game?
Not so fast.
“It’s not normal,” Mavericks forward and 15-year veteran Shawn Marion said. “It’s like basically bringing someone in the [bathroom] with you.”
Players and coaches I talked to at Friday night’s game between the Raptors and Mavs certainly believe the locker room is for team members only.
“Kendrick is known for being protective of his house, his team, his teammates, so I’m sure Joakim Noah would have done the same thing to him if he had gone through Chicago’s locker room,” Raptors fourth-year point guard Greivis Vasquez said. “So I think it’s part of that competition level and just protecting your house and you’re not going to just let anybody come in like we’re best friends. I like that attitude, to be honest. Even if it is after the game that really doesn’t matter. We play for different teams. We can call, we can text.”
Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry said Perkins received support from teammate Russell Westbrook. In a conversation Mayberry had a little later with the All-Star point guard, Westbrook told him it’s a matter of respect to stay out of another team’s locker room. Mayberry asked Westbrook if he would ever bring, for example, friend and fellow UCLA Bruin Kevin Love into the Thunder locker room. He answered, no.
For old-schoolers like Raptors coach Dwane Casey, it’s not even up for debate.
“That’s your sanctuary. You shouldn’t have opposing team players in the locker room. I agree with Perkins,” Casey said. “I don’t know how he went about it, but you want it be your sanctuary in the locker room. But today’s NBA is different than 20 years ago when I first came in the league. You used to see them after the game or go have a beer or whatever after, but not in your locker room.”
Casey said he knows there are still players who would have done the same as Perkins.
“There’s quite a few. K.G. [Kevin Garnett] I know would say something,” Casey said. “You have some old-school guys that still would feel that way. In our locker room it is. There’s a lot of things we talk about, we keep in the family and it should be where you can go and relax and get away from things and feel like this is us, right here.”
Still, things are different in today’s NBA. As Mavs coach Rick Carlisle noted on his weekly local radio show Friday, visiting teams are now permitted to use the home team’s weight room and other facilities prior to games. At the American Airlines Center, the Mavs’ locker room is a square area separated from a much larger space by partition walls. On the other side of the walls is the weight room, making it virtually impossible for opposing players to come in contact.
Still, Carlisle chuckled when asked if the old Celtics teams he played for in the mid-1980s would have welcomed an opposing player into their locker room.
There seems to be only one legitimate reason for a visiting player to wander into the home team’s locker room, and even then players say those visits are typically made before games, not after.
“I was with New Jersey, it was my first game against Dallas (after being traded),” said Mavs guard Devin Harris, who’s in his ninth season and returned to Dallas this season as a free agent. “I walked in, said hello to [head athletic trainer] Casey [Smith], Dirk [Nowitzki], Josh [Howard]. I’m not going in there unless I know people, the majority.”
Marion also said that he’s made pregame visits to the locker room of his former teams where he knows the majority of the players and staff. But never, he said, has an opposing player escorted him into their locker room as Sefolosha did with Noah.
“It’s a little weird,” Harris said.