Three-Time Champ Sam Cassell Discusses Life on the Road in the NBA

A rookie in the early '90s, the 54-year-old coach has spent three decades traveling

December 20, 2023 6:52 am
Sam Cassell posing with the championship trophy in 2008.
Sam Cassell began coaching almost as soon as he was done playing.
Jim Rogash/Getty

In an online forum discussion from 2008, you can find a lively debate about what would be the best nickname for Sam Cassell, who was in the midst of his first and only season playing for the Boston Celtics. Though a few options were suggested, the consensus was that Cassell, who retired following the ’07-’08 season after helping the Celtics win their 17th NBA championship, should be known as “Mr. Bigger Shot” in order to irritate Detroit fans and Pistons guard Chauncey Billups, aka “Mr. Big Shot.”

At the time, it was a fitting moniker for a guy who averaged 15 points per game over his 15-year career and won back-to-back titles with the Houston Rockets during his rookie and sophomore seasons. Now that the 54-year-old is 15 years into his coaching career and back with the Celtics after stints with a number of other teams, a new nickname may be on deck for the three-time NBA champ. Here at InsideHook, we’d humbly suggest “Road Warrior,” as Cassell has basically been traversing the country for 30 years on behalf of the NBA.

Since the former point guard, who just released a signature eyewear collection with Zenni Optical, has spent so much time away from home and will continue to do so as the Celtics pursue Banner 18, we asked Cassell about his three decades of life on the road as a professional basketball player.

InsideHook: When you’re traveling, what do you always make sure you have with you?

Sam Cassell: I carry a Louis Vuitton bag to games and I’m a big gummy bear guy. I ate a bag of Albanese Gummi Bears before every game I played, so I always have a pack in my bag. I’m always going to have a bottle of sparkling water in my bag no matter where I go. I’m also half blind, so my Zenni glasses are definitely needed. I have a pair in my car, a pair in my suitcase and a pair in my work bag. The little sight I have left, I try to keep together. The majority of the time, I’m in a sweatsuit. I like to travel comfortably. When I was playing, I was a Nike guy, so I wore Nikes all the time. I wear whatever a shoe company will send me now. I’m open to a contract as a coach.

The Travel Secrets of Tyler Lockett, One of the NFL’s Most Frequent Flyers
The Seahawks cover more ground than any NFL team. Here’s what Lockett learned along the way.

Do you listen to music when you travel?

I like AirPods. They’re small and discreet and I can fall asleep with them in my ears on the plane. I listen to rap music. I’m a huge Jay-Z fan. There are a lot of guys I like. Of course Drake, J. Cole, Lil Wayne. There are a lot of artists I like out there. I love listening to old-school music like the Four Tops and The Temptations. I’m kind of older myself. Not old, but older. It’s interesting because I’m around a lot of young players who keep me young by keeping me updated with the hot songs that are out right now.

Have you discovered any tricks for sleeping while you fly?

When I was playing, I was drinking a bottle of wine. That’d put me out. Now, the players get the chance to sleep on the plane. The coaches, we don’t. We’re preparing for the next game or the next two games, so we don’t sleep too much on the plane. The trainers give the players a little bit of everything as far as vitamins. I always ask if there is anything left over. Whatever they take, I know it’s working for them, so I’m willing to take it.

Overall, how much has traveling changed in the NBA since you broke into the league?

My first two years in the NBA, we traveled commercial and got on a flight with everybody else. We would buy all the first-class seats, but there were only eight and there were 15 players. The veterans would sit in front in first class. You used to be able to smoke cigarettes on planes and, being a rookie or younger player, I sat in the back in the smoking section. Right now, we fly pretty good. There’s not a bad seat on the plane.

Celtics coach Sam Cassell.
Sam Cassell is used to life on the road.

What’s something about traveling in the NBA people might not realize players have to put up with?

The pressure. People don’t realize how difficult it is to travel and play a back-to-back game. You might have a game on the East Coast and then have to travel out west to play a back-to-back with the time change. You get in at 3 o’clock in the morning and have a pre-practice in a hotel to go over the game plan. You try to rest as much as possible, but the biggest part of recovery is sleep. I call these guys pros because of the performance they put out night in and night out without getting proper rest. I’ve been through it and I watch them do it now.

Have you ever had a weird experience staying at the “haunted” hotel in Oklahoma City?

No, I never had a weird experience. It’s just something’s always going on in that hotel. I’ve never had a bad experience, but you hear the stories of the hotel. I never liked walking down the hallway late at night in that hotel. Something just freaked you out a little bit, but I thought it was a decent hotel to stay in. I’m a Four Seasons guy myself.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!