There are whispers in the NBA. Not the sort of hot air that leads to Woj bombs on twitter, or preface league wide action. The rumor isn’t conspicuous enough for the Worldwide Wes types, but merely exist as vibrations in the ether, imperceptible to anybody who doesn’t know to listen. To this point it’s less of a scandal than an absurdity barely conceivable among those ‘in the know.’
Over a number of years, one NBA franchise has engaged in ritualistic teamwide orgies. I’m not speaking in metaphor here. These are not displays of decadence or winning, though they are no stranger to the playoffs. The truth is that to a man, every member of the team from the players, to the coaching staff, all the way up to the General Manager, President of Operations, and Chairman of the ownership group, regularly find themselves in five star suites or rented suburban mansions, in the open arms and orifices of the most desirable and discreet prostitutes the local municipality has to offer.
I’m not, of course, at any liberty to divulge the source of these stories. For anybody who reads this, they’ll have to content themselves to the frustrated cliché of getting it third hand from a guy who knows a guy who knows the truth. Cities will not be named, and the names cited have been changed to protect the sanctity of their personal lives. But in the interest in understanding their new philosophy, I find myself in the hotel bar, trying to make small talk with a former player now working as a local analyst- we’ll call him “Darryl”- as his security does a sweep of the area and stands at attention like German Shepherds on Adderall. They’ve confiscated my phone to keep from being able to attach a physical voice to my only barely-on-the-record conversation, but it almost doesn’t seem enough when they stare into my bloodshot eyes through mirror black sunglasses. At their request the bartender turns the music up, forcing the patrons at the bar to break out into a full shout in order to be heard.
But Darryl is relaxed and drinking Courvoisier by the pint. My shots go down like gasoline, and he has a laugh as I chase it with a water. He reminds me that when he was a rookie, the nightlife was a part of the game.
“But it ain’t like that no more. Not like it was in the day. Allen Iverson couldn’t exist in this era. Jordan would have had to clean it up.”
I ask him about the team he’d be traded to toward the end of his career.
“Nah, man. Coach definitely wasn’t cool with that.”
Several minutes later he’s comfortable enough to go into detail about the orgies.
“It was…man. I’m gonna tell you what, it was more nerve-racking than anything. At least that first time was for sure.”
The words don’t come out of him sounding fun. I mention that a lot of young men would do anything to have that kind of access to the type of beautiful and willing women that had been described to me by my source.
“Man, let’s get it straight. I didn’t have no problem with the women. Ever. College. High school. Middle school. Don’t matter. Ever since I can remember. Even them other homely ass dudes were good as soon as they made the league. Women love an NBA player. But…I don’t know man. I’d just been traded, okay, and it’s the middle of the season, and I hadn’t heard nothing about any of this shit. I just get told to be at certain place at a certain time, and then this rookie says to me that I need to freshen up. A rookie.”
Darryl grimaces and then takes a long pull from his pint glass.
“Man, I wanted to beat that little punk’s ass. But nobody else tells me a damn thing, and I freshen up, put on my good suit and go with my teammates to a different hotel. Get let in through the service entryway. We get up to the suite, and before I know it everybody’s putting on some black velvet masks that just cover their eyes, standing in a motherfucking circle with candles and incense burning in the back. And these boys are stretching their necks around like we’re about to hear the National Anthem, except instead they’re playing that Enigma music. I’m like ‘Man, what the shit is all this?’ They looked right ahead. Then they paraded these women out, all wearing robes and masks, and this lady who called herself the damn priestess reminded everybody about the safety words and all that. And then these guys were off to the fucking races. I had just played with them the night before, and now they’re balls deep in women of every race and size. I saw a Filipino woman lick the assistant coach’s asshole clean. I was like, ‘this is the motherfucker who was showing me how to box out a few hours before?’ You don’t forget the first time you see that shit.”
I ask if he ever got used to it and am met with a shrug.
“Yeah, man. You know, that’s just the team culture. It’s how it is. Some teams run up tempo. Some coaches hand out books. These guys like to pound strange as a unit. I ain’t never done anything like that before, but after two or three weeks it just becomes how it is.”
And how was it?
“I won’t forget about it. But it was good for the team, you know. You learn a lot about who somebody is by watching the way they fuck. Are they going to be a facilitator? Do they know when they need to take over? How long can they go before their legs really get tired? It’s all very metaphorical, but useful. People don’t realize how close this team was.”
I ask him in what way.
“Well we had a gay guy on the team. He still hasn’t come out publicly. But we all knew, and it was no big deal. They brought in some dudes and put them in one of the other rooms, and he’d go back there and do his thing. But that was really, just like, a way for him to finish. I’ll tell you what, the guy was the real deal as far as being a team player. Just to prove a point, he’d go diving in there, eating pussy like it was nothing. Then when he was feeling it, he had the boys in the back finish. Sometimes you could hear those guys going at it, but I’d just heard the owner crying as he climaxed, so a couple of gay dudes going at it didn’t bother me none. Eventually we held a vote and said that everybody gets to do their thing out in the open, and that he didn’t have to go out back anymore. I knew that really meant a lot to the guy. And then we went on a 12-game winning streak. So I know it was the right thing to do.”
As crazy as it sounds, to the tuned in sort, the affair isn’t totally out of the ordinary. As Darryl had said, players have become more health conscious. Rather than rotting at the blackjack table, breathing in their steady diet of booze and cigars, the modern star treats his body like a temple. Or better yet, an investment. They drink like women in their third trimester, and keep off their legs if they actually bother to test out the night life. And it has become common knowledge that the smarter teams have learned to cultivate an experience to give their stars a controlled night of simulated debauchery.
I call up a woman we’ll call Brenda, a personal assistant to the team who works as a fixer. She’s hesitant when I tell her who I am, and who I’ve spoken with, but eventually agrees to meet up in the interest of getting the story straight.
Yet again, she holds onto my phone and gently pats me down for any hidden mics, stopping just short of lifting my shirt to check whether I’m wearing a wire. I explain to her that it’s not a hit piece, and I’m not interested in exposing anybody. I just want to understand. She stares at me like a nervous deer, one that might have ears constantly repositioning, while tensing their legs for the sudden sprint out of the potentially deathly situation. We agree to take a walk in a park, and I do my best to not look in her direction while she slowly gets used to the idea.
“The team building component was really a happy accident. We simply wanted to reduce the variables. I guess. That’s the story that was communicated down to me when I took this role. Players were engaging in reckless activity. The clubs. The ambitious women. Gambling. Maintaining relationships with their old friends who had questionable motivations. Players around the association were getting put away on rape charges. That is the extreme, but even in the more benign cases, we had players wearing themselves out on the road. Young men who lacked the focus to go through a film session or prepare themselves for an early morning workout.”
So, this was just a way to mitigate risk?
“Correct. The fact of the matter is that there are an unlimited number of distractions on the road, and we believe that we’re taking advantage of a market inefficiency.”
Enhanced quality control?
“We try to keep the product in fidelity with our potential, and as an additional bonus, foster a greater sense of camaraderie among the players.”
Without giving hard numbers, I notice that there are several married men on the roster. To say nothing of the coaching staff and upper management. Is this something that the players disclose to their family.
“Not if we can help it. I don’t want to get into the weeds from a legality perspective, but there are nondisclosure forms. We’ve enacted certain stipulations that would prevent any aggrieved spouse from using the team exercise in a divorce hearing.”
I’m incredulous and can’t resist.
“You mean to tell me that in all these years, not one spouse has discovered that her husband is involved in a team wide orgy and gotten jealous?”
For the first time I can see the look of fear enter the fringes of her nervous smile as we walk around the park for the fourth or fifth time.
“I don’t know if I want to get into any more of this.”
I tell her that’s fair and pivot by asking if there is a vetting process? What happens when they select a kid in the draft from overseas or out of college? Or make a mid-season trade?
“I can’t get into any of that. Frankly, it’s not really my department anyway. I’m a logistics worker. It’s fair to say that there are certain characteristics that the front office seeks, but again, all of this is out of my depth.”
I ask her if I would be able to speak to one of the outsourced women. Her reaction highlights the blasphemy of my request. She stammers and flicks her hair to the side, her brain temporarily short circuiting as she struggles to produce the words.
“What would be the scope of your conversation?”
I tell her that I’d like to get their perspective of the evening. What’s typical. How they’re treated. She wants to tell me to go fuck myself. That much is clear. She wants to run away from the interview and take herself off the record. I don’t react. I’m not a predator, just an observer. But while the nature of their secrecy compels their defensive instincts, this woman is a professional who can see more than a step ahead and knows that the mere suggestion that these things are going on will result in thousands of reporters descending on her and her organization. That a jilted enough reporter might give up the team and publish the rumor, content to let the journalistic community fill in the missing gaps. And she can sense that one way or another, somebody will break under the pressure. I’ll find a girl who’s willing to talk.
She makes a futile attempt to tell me that they don’t talk with the workers, but I know that if she isn’t the point person, she knows who arranges these soirees on their end. Once more she has the good sense to work with me. So long as I can agree to keep the team secret, any franchise has plausible deniability. Their players will simply be able to go home and tell their suddenly terrified wives that it’s one of the other 29 franchises. Maybe the practice gets put on suspension for a month or two, but eventually, once the heat moves on to the next scandal, their affairs will resume for as long as they can keep their own in line.
She sets me up with an organizer, who initially rebuffs my requests for a get together, but eventually allows me to speak with a willing participant who had left the stable. And soon enough I find myself in the unidentifiable suburbs that could border any North American metropolis. I drive around the snaking lanes filled with SUV’s and crossovers, passing tastefully trimmed and H.O.A. approved porches wearing beds of flowers, and I pull up to a split-level unit. Its porch is decorated with scooters and training wheel assisted bicycles. The woman who answers the door is a cheery, sweatered, suburban type. For whatever reason I get the overwhelming sensation that she should be selling Greek yogurt to middle aged women who want to regain control of their figure. She greets me in without any of the hesitation that everybody else has shown to this point.
When I turn down her offer of coffee, she asks if I’d like a glass of wine, and pours me a Chardonnay, then walks barefoot over the shaggy white area rug, to curl up on the couch across from my seat on the Eames. I’m calibrated for a fight, or at the very least an aggressive extraction of stories, and her honesty throws me off for a second. Everywhere I look, there is evidence of the happy three child family that she has put on display. Everybody is at school, and the husband is at work, but I don’t smell any of the isolated dissatisfaction that one might assume of a domesticated woman with a past.
For whatever reason, I get the sense that she’s trying her best to numb me into embarrassment and ask her directly what her husband thinks of her having been a prostitute.
“Well, I’m not one anymore, if that’s what you’re thinking.” She winks as if to tell me that she isn’t going to be shaken, and I needn’t keep up the tough reporter act.
I assure her that I’m not going to dig into her past, as that is not the thrust of the story, which draws out her shameless belly laughter.
“I’m sorry. What is the ‘thrust’ of your story?”
“Well, what was your experience with the orgy?”
“It was…it was an orgy. I never did take it all too seriously. You know in college, I spent a semester in Spain, and I have to say that I came home with a refreshed outlook on sexuality. So here we’re wearing masks, and everything is mysterious, and I can hear one of the girls fart, and she wants to die. And then I laugh, which was some great taboo, but the players all loved me, so they weren’t going to do anything about it. But everybody was so self-conscious. What have you heard about the orgies?”
I tell her about the candles.
“Oh my God, the candles. How stupid is that? You know we had to hire people to wrangle those damn things and make sure that the place didn’t go up in flames. I guess they were supposed to add a touch of mystique to the whole thing. But that’s more about the owner than any of the players. The players would have preferred we just get in a big hot tub, but you know…gross.”
She makes the playfully repulsed face that I could imagine a bored middle schooler across the street aping during a sleepover, and then sips her wine.
“Did you travel with the team?”
“No. I think they had girls in different regions. I’m not really sure how it worked.”
What was stopping any of them from telling their story?
“NDAs. But really, we’re treated well, and most of the girls that I knew were college educated. Or getting their degree. We weren’t aspiring porn stars. We didn’t have a problem with drugs. A lot of us were selected because our greatest ambition in life wasn’t to sleep with a celebrity. I think that was part of the appeal, you know. Deep down we were really just some regular girls.”
She gives her best wholesome smile and cocks her head. I ask if there were any perks. Did she get tickets to games?
“They left a few, but I wasn’t ever really that into basketball. I’m not a fan girl, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
I tell her it wasn’t.
“They leave them on the table, but it’s like being invited to an improv show by a coworker. I’m not interested and don’t feel like going. I don’t think I could have kept from laughing if I’d ever heard one of those players grunt on the court.”
I ask her why she quit. For the first time she seems lost in thought, before shrugging her shoulders and momentarily scrunching her face around her tiny nose.
“It was time. I’d made enough money, and I’d gotten it out of my system. Besides which, teams had begun to get a little too invested in the minutia of maximizing performance. At first they started being given IV’s after they had finished, which means that while the other guys were still going, we’d see them off to the side being swabbed and injected. But soon enough players were getting fed oxygen during the act. Some were lying down on medical tables, hooked up to lord knows what kinds of supplement. Instead of champagne they started offering kombucha. Instead of masks, they covered their eyes with cucumber slices. They upped my pay, but I think they would have been better off getting medical students to milk it out of them. Come to think of it, I heard one of the girls say that’s what they were pivoting toward lately. Med school is expensive, you know.”
I leave her house at the end of the cul-de-sac, and try to envision what the players were giving up. The nightlife. The drugs. The gambling. The money was better than ever, but was it worth it. How much had these orgies changed from Darryl’s day, and what changes lay ahead. I opt not to go to the game and instead find a bar in the center of town, where college kids in $100 jerseys and $400 shoes bought rounds of Patron their parents probably couldn’t afford. They joke about what they’d done to each other on the court and slammed the table when the road team won at the buzzer in regulation. The eighth straight, as they held their spot in the conference standings. I try to think about what they’d think of the prospects of an orgy. They’d probably think it would have been a pretty sweet deal, even if it meant the would have had to check their booze and possible homophobia at the door, and gotten swabbed down for an IV.
I’d asked Darryl if he’d suspected any players traded away might have told their teammates what went on, and got a laugh.
“I’ve thought about this a lot. You gotta understand, for something like this to really take hold, everybody on the team has got to be on board with what’s going down. All the way up to ownership. If any one of those head honchos aren’t there, the players are going to start getting nervous. Like they’re being handled. You’ve got to get those NDA forms. You’d have to establish a culture. It’s just too much.”
So nobody has ever told their new team what went on at the old franchise?
“Man, who would ever believe that any of this shit ever happened?”