When the Lakers travel, it's not just the players and coaches, but a traveling party of over 30 people, including trainers, team staff, and a TV crew. As you might imagine, making sure that those people get to all eight cities in a 12 day period isn't easy.
Most of that workload falls on two people: equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas, and head athletic trainer Gary Vitti. Garciduenas is in charge of all of the stuff, while Vitti is in charge of all of the people. These guys are so good that most of the time, we don't even have a hiccup. But we've already had a couple of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" moments on this trip that have never happened before.
The first one occurred when we flew from Cleveland to Newark, where we land when playing either the Knicks or Nets. For a reason that no one fully understands, the ground crew in Cleveland placed a large amount of luggage in a compartment under the plane that is rarely used. So when we landed in Newark, that ground crew never checked it. The end result was that 39 pieces of Lakers luggage didn't make it to the hotel in New York. The plane, still containing those 39 pieces, took off and flew to Philadelphia.
Most people have lost a lost luggage story, but when it happens to a basketball team, it's especially problematic. You can't play without uniforms or shoes, and you can't practice without equipment. On top of that, since we perform in public, wearing sweats to a game isn't always an option. Fortunately, Garciduenas caught this problem early. He was able to have the plane fly back to Newark, get the missing stuff, and have it at the hotel by the next morning. Other than a few members of the travel party having to sleep in their underwear, a crisis was avoided.
On the team's next flight, from Newark to Toronto, I walked past Garciduenas.
"That luggage was nothing," he said, "guess what we forgot this time?"
"Bynum," he laughed.
It was true. Somehow, in a scene out of "Home Alone," the team buses left for the airport without starting center Andrew Bynum.
This was more Bynum's fault than anybody else's. Team rules are clear that if players are not on the bus at the specified time, the bus is leaving. Because of that, all players are almost always on the bus when it's time to roll. But this time, Bynum did something that made everybody assume he was on the bus.
Anybody who travels with a team knows the meaning of the phrase "nine, ten, eleven." That means the hotel will pick up your bags outside your room at nine o'clock, the bus rolls at ten, and the flight leaves at eleven. In this case, Bynum put his bags outside his room at nine, and the hotel grabbed his luggage. Obviously, he was awake and on schedule.
Then, he made his big mistake.
"I put my bags outside and then I went to sleep," Bynum said, "I slept in."
He didn't wake up until 11:15, leaving him stranded in New York, while the team was on its way to Canada. Bynum bought a commercial ticket (around $300), and joined the team in Toronto at around 8 pm Saturday night. He called the plane "super small," and the flight "terrible."
The strange thing was that after his travel odyssey, Bynum played one of his best games of the season in the loss. He scored 21 points, had 9 rebounds, and blocked two of Chris Bosh's shots. Kobe Bryant's near triple-double led the Lakers (27 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists), but LA wouldn't have had a chance in the end without Bynum.
On Monday, the Lakers send a large travel party to the White House for a championship celebration hosted by President Obama. After that, five games -- all in different cities -- over the next seven days.
What could possibly go wrong?
John Ireland hosts the "Mason & Ireland" show on ESPN Radio 710 in Los Angeles.