Of the many things a celebrity athlete might find himself
on--SportsCenter, crack, trial, trading cards, steroids,
suspension, the wagon, vacation, probation--time is seldom one of
them. "I've been on a calendar but never on time," said the late
Marilyn Monroe, who is in fact the early Marilyn Monroe, the
downright punctual Marilyn Monroe, when compared with your
average NBA star.
And so the Cavaliers' LeBron James arrived 45 minutes late to
accept his NBA Rookie of the Year award last week, saying, "They
had to drag me out of bed to put this suit on." But the suit was
lovely, black over a wine-colored shirt, breathing new life into
the phrase "fashionably late."
Among professional athletes, Bron-Bron is hardly alone on the
late shift. Corey Dillon was traded to the Patriots last week by
the Bengals, for whom he was frequently tardy. Informed last
season that he might be fined five grand for arriving late to
training camp, Dillon, bearer of a $2.9 million salary, said,
"It's not like I'm going to be missing $5,000 anyway. Oooh,
$5,000. O.K. Big deal."
Shaquille O'Neal last week sued a Tampa promotions company that
had sued him for failing to appear at a charitable event he had
allegedly committed to attend. Showing up late--the Late Show--is
cool. But not showing up at all--the No-Show--well, that's for
true superstars. In sports, you haven't arrived until you haven't
Lawrence Taylor routinely reported late for practice when he was
an All-Pro with the Giants. When Mike Wallace suggested last
November, on 60 Minutes, that the linebacker had demanded special
treatment from coach Bill Parcells, LT replied, "What do you
mean, special treatment? Flexibility, I like to call it.... You
got to be flexible with me."
This is not quite Jeffersonian democracy, in which all men are
created equal, but rather Iversonian democracy, in which some men
are more equal than others. Thus Allen Iverson could show up 30
minutes before tip-off on the night his Sixers were eliminated by
the Pistons in last year's NBA playoffs, just as he frequently
has been late for practice, of which he once memorably remarked,
"Practice? I mean, listen, we're talking about practice. Not a
game. Not a game. Not a game. We're talking about practice. Not a
game. Not the game.... Not the game. We're talking about
practice, man.... We're talking about practice.... We're talking
about practice, man. What are we talking about? Practice. We're
talking about practice, man."
Evidently--and this is purely a hunch--he was talking about
practice. When it comes to practice, NBA players rival Bulgarian
trains, or American cable installers, for epic impunctuality.
Einstein wrestled with the concept of time--"Past, present and
future are only illusions," he concluded--and so, too, does
Celtics guard Chucky Atkins. "I had a difficulty on the times,"
he told the Boston Herald this month, after arriving late to a
practice in Miami. "I didn't know the right time. I thought we
were going at six [it was four], and I was out at South Beach."
Gilbert Arenas is no clock-watching fussbudget afflicted with the
Swiss disease of Uberpunktlichkeit, or overpunctuality. The
Wizards' guard missed the team flight to Detroit for the
second-to-last game of the season and was late for the
shootaround before the final game. Of course, he had forgotten to
report for a shootaround in January, occupied (as he was)
shooting pool in the players' lounge.
Sometimes those who do watch the clock are as late as those who
don't. The least reliable hands in sports are those on the clocks
of Rodney Rogers and Kerry Kittles, who were late for a Nets
shootaround last month after forgetting to "spring forward" for
daylight saving time.
Seattle center Jerome James was late for a Sonics shootaround
this season because he couldn't back his Hummer up his steep and
snowy driveway until he had fishtailed all the way onto his
neighbor's lawn, where at last he gained some traction. James
said of his neighbor, "I'll have to give him some money for his
Or so it was recorded by waiting sportswriters, and indeed, 90%
of sportswriting consists of just that: waiting. In his first
week at SI, Gary Van Sickle ordered business cards imprinted with
his title: Senior Writer. The cards came back with a single typo,
describing him as a Senior Waiter. Van Sickle kept the cards,
figuring, They got that right.
In our respective rookie seasons White Sox slugger Frank Thomas
arrived two hours late for an interview with this reporter, then
rescheduled for the next day and arrived two hours late again.
It's been said that when you keep a man waiting, you give him
time to reflect on your shortcomings. But when you are the man
kept waiting twice in a row, you tend to reflect on your own.
Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez has been known, like California
baseball fans, to arrive late for games and depart early. But
what are "late" and "early" if time doesn't actually exist except
as an artificial construct?
Stephen Hawking says time is inextricably bound with space in a
dimension he calls "space-time." But the most profound observer
of the space-time continuum remains Groucho Marx, who said, "Time
flies like the wind. Fruit flies like bananas."
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY
When it comes to practice, NBA players rival Bulgarian trains, or
American cable installers, for epic impunctuality.