If you played on an NBA team on the first night of a road back-to-back around 1990, your schedule went something like this: Game ended around 10:30, after that you showered and grabbed a beer in the locker room (the team provided them), then you and some teammates went out and got a bite to eat, then likely hit up a club looking for some drinks and a one-night stand. You probably left the club at 2 a.m., got to sleep whenever if at all, then at 5:30 a.m. you were on a bus to the airport to catch a commercial flight to the next town. You got almost no sleep before you took to the court for that second game, and you were not going to play near your peak.
Today, right after the game the bus heads to the airport for a charter flight to the next city that lands an hour (or whatever) later. Once there a hotel room is waiting for you. You likely don’t drink anything, and if you’re looking for a tryst you just head to Tinder or another social media app and find one. Either way, you get plenty of sleep at night, plus likely a nap the next afternoon.
Charter flights, Tinder, and guys taking care of their bodies (because of how much money they make) has lessened home-court advantage in the NBA. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN broke it all down in a must-read story for their magazine.
One general manager calls it the “Tinderization of the NBA….”
Indeed, various apps have done for sex in the NBA what Amazon has done for books. One no longer needs to leave home to find a party. The party now comes to you. And lifestyle judgments aside, the NBA road life is simply more efficient — and less taxing — when there aren’t open hours spent trolling clubs.
“It’s absolutely true that you get at least two hours more sleep getting laid on the road today versus 15 years ago,” says one former All-Star, who adds that players actually prefer Instagram to Tinder when away from home. “No schmoozing. No going out to the club. No having to get something to eat after the club but before the hotel.”
Let’s not pretend for a second that NBA players don’t go out and party. They do. Just less than they used to. Along those same lines, you can be sure they find a way to altered states plenty of nights. But they don’t drink like they used to. Alcohol is dehydrating and impacts athletic performance for days after getting drunk. None other than George Karl – who used to drink with players at halftime in the 1970s — said you don’t see near as much alcohol around teams now.
However, the biggest change was chartered flights.
“Home-court advantage was huge because of commercial flights,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers says. “It was the travel. And nightlife was a little different back then. You knew you were staying overnight, but you were also at the airport at 5:30 in the morning.”
This season, home teams are winning 57.4 percent of home games, an all-time low and 10 percent less than three decades ago. Players are better prepared to win on the road now than ever before, because they are better rested.
And they’re still finding plenty of ways to have their fun on the road.