Called for Traveling

Words by Kevin Marr

Denver Nugget DeAndre Jordan takes us inside his world of travel, NBA style

“My least favorite part about traveling is unpacking when you get home. That’s the worst.”

DeAndre Jordan isn’t the only one who doesn’t care for his “unpacking.” Just ask the hundreds of basketball players who’ve had the misfortune of battling against him over the years. The 16-year NBA veteran and current Denver Nugget has been unpacking vicious slam dunks, blocked shots and rebounds since he entered the league back in 2008.

And while traveling in a basketball game is a turnover violation, traveling off the court is an indispensable vehicle for players – to and from games, buses, airports and planes, not to the mention all of the trips that Jordan has taken on his own over the years.

So, on this spring morning in the bowels of Ball Arena just a few hours before a home game against the New York Knicks, Jordan – or “DJ” to many – strides into a private lounge to discuss all things travel. The seven-foot Houston native touches down on a leather sofa fit for a giant, sporting a welcoming smile and hospitable nature that is unmistakably Texas.

Fellow Texan and country music legend Willie Nelson might as well be singing, “I’ve Been Everywhere” in the background because that’s what we’ve uncovered through our chat with the 35-year-old Jordan.

“I felt like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone when I first went to New York City,” he shares when asked about the first traveling experience that blew his mind. He was at Texas A&M playing in the preseason N.I.T. tournament in Madison Square Garden. It was then that walking around Manhattan would end up being a precursor to many more unforgettable travel experiences in his illustrious career.

Let’s start with just his travel as an NBA player. While there’s absolutely nothing glamorous and enviable about arriving in Cleveland at 3 a.m. following a night game on the road in Memphis, DeAndre is quick to point out that while the travel can take a toll on the body, the mind, and sleep schedules, the accommodations are second to none, “We’re so spoiled with our travel,” he says with unabashed admission. “We stay at the finest hotels and, the majority of the time, we fly in big, chartered Delta planes. Every seat is like a big first-class cabin seat.”

This type of plane pampering is crucial for the best basketball players in the world to play at their highest level. NBA players cope with a travel schedule that most wouldn’t believe. In fact, DJ had a hard time believing it in the beginning, “Before the season, they show you the map of how many miles you’re going to travel and, when you look at it, you think, ‘No. There’s no way that’s real,” he says with a hearty laugh. “The NBA schedule is pretty tough but after a couple of years, you get used to it. And when you get through it, you think, “Damn. I see it now.”

While there are countless stories of people with travel routines that range from what they wear, where they park at the airport, where they sit, a charm that’s brought for good luck, a fake name used at a hotel, and so on and so forth, Jordan is not that superstitious or rigid. However, there are a few bullet points that he has on repeat, “On the plane, I watch movies or read. Every game day, I nap at the same time, and I eat the same thing. For breakfast, it’s a rice scramble or a vegan egg scramble with vegetables and a blueberry waffle with peanut butter. For lunch, I’ll have a salad with vegetables or a Caesar salad and some veggie pasta.”

Favorite cities of his to visit during the season include Phoenix, Dallas, New York City, and Miami, “Because I don’t spend a lot of time in those places outside of basketball. I live in Los Angeles in the off-season and that’s where I want to be in the summer.”

Unless, of course, there are other committed destinations for his summer months. In 2016, DeAndre was chosen for the Summer Olympic basketball team that represented the United States in Rio de Janeiro. “It was my first time to Brazil, and it was a fan fest like nothing I’d ever experienced,” he explains in genuine astonishment. “The people and the culture there were amazing. I am forever grateful to represent my country, compete for gold, and win the gold medal. Watching the Olympics as a kid with my family and then getting that opportunity was unbelievable.”

Jordan knows exactly where his passport is, and it gets its fair share of use. He and his wife Bethany have shared charcuterie and cheese plates while sipping wine on the streets of Paris, and they’ve soaked in the sun and the sea at another favorite escape in Mykonos, Greece. This summer, they’re eying the likes of Spain or Portugal to check off some more bucket list getaways as well as looking down the line at an African safari that they had to originally cancel when COVID hit.

When you’re a professional athlete, every day during the season is normally spoken for and planned out for you. It’s an endless itinerary of constant movement where you need to be here at this time and you need to be there at that time, and then afterwards you need to take care of this before having to do that. So, it’s of little surprise when DJ shares his favorite thing about traveling when he’s away from the Nuggets, “Having a schedule that you don’t have to stick to is what I like most. Just being able to be spontaneous and bounce around. I also enjoy the days leading up to my trip and even my time at the airport right before I get on the flight. It’s the calm before the storm and the excitement and anticipation of it all.”

Fashion has long been a popular stimulant that has always ridden shotgun when traveling. You want to make an aesthetic splash and turn some heads in the airport, the resort, a restaurant or club. So, what’s making the cut with DeAndre’s wardrobe when he’s packing?

“Fashion is important to me because of how it makes me feel. My style is hippie/cowboy, and I really enjoy that. I get inspiration from (The Rolling Stones’) Keith Richards, Bob Marley, and even a little bit from (former NBA Hall of Famer and current New York Knicks television broadcaster) Walt Frazier. For me, traveling means comfortable clothing and you’ve got to be conscious about the weather you’re headed to as well. Sometimes I just want to wear sweats, and that’s OK too.”

Music is another wingman that can provide the perfect soundtrack to a special jaunt. Jordan is likely to bring all sorts of different music to his ears, “I like my music. I have an eclectic taste where some days it’s rap, R&B, and hip hop, and other days it’s classic rock, which I like because I’m falling more in love lately with the guitar. It’s a frustrating instrument but it’s beautiful. I tend to gravitate to background guitars and solos in songs because I’m trying to get an ear for that a little more. In general, music sets my mood.”

Another aspect that has captured his mood has been an island club that DeAndre has been a part of since 2020. The island is actually Rhode Island. The club is actually Brown University in Providence. Jordan went back to school and is more than halfway finished to getting his degree at the Ivy League college, “During COVID, there was nothing to do. I couldn’t play golf every day,” his laughter filling the room, “so I enrolled in a summer course at Brown for a program that I was interested in.”  The course that caught DJ’s eye is Contemplative Studies, and it focuses on human consciousness, mindfulness, and the early ancient traditions of meditation, all of which he is very interested in at this point in his life.

“I registered for the class, met with the deans, and I’m very excited. I took a summer class to show them how serious I am about this. It’s challenging, and I can’t do a full course load because of basketball, and, at some point, I will have to take classes on campus.”

Brown isn’t used to too many seven-foot students. This has a reality show or documentary written all over it. But don’t count on it. DeAndre also doesn’t have any college eligibility left to help Brown on the court against Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. He will be recognized, but that’s something that’s not new to him, “It’s been going on for so long that I just go with it. When people only see me on television, seeing me in person can be different, and I enjoy meeting people and making a nice impact like that.” Jordan pauses and then admits, “It’s better when I’m hanging out with (two-time NBA MVP) Nikola (Jokic),” he says with a grin, “everyone wants to meet him, and I can be seven-feet tall and blend in.”

Nowadays, “blending in” means time in more remote, out-of-the-way places as he’s gotten older, “Now I look forward to the isolated mountain cabin-type trips.”

The man knows what he likes. It’s almost as though he’s traveled before. Now he’s ready to trek the world with those who mean the world to him – his wife and his two sons.

And when he returns home, perhaps unpacking won’t be so bad.