In the wake of the death of Sean Taylor, the Washington Redskins safety who was shot in his Miami-area home on Monday, some pro athletes are talking like they are on high alert.
"You are aware that you're a target," Allen Iverson, the Denver Nuggets all-star, was telling reporters the other day. "A lot of people want what you've got."
What they've got, many of them, is hard to miss. Take wristwatches, for instance. On an evening not long ago, an NBA player stood courtside wearing a diamond-encrusted wristwatch that, if it could have talked, might have been heard to shout: "I am worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or, if you're philosophically against paying retail, at least a few Gs at any reputable pawn shop!"
It didn't impress one observer, a street-smart type who has worked as a security guard for pro jocks.
"That's the kind of stuff," he said, "that keeps me in business."
Indeed, ostentatious displays of outrageous wealth aren't on the recommended list for players hoping to avoid being the next target of what some are calling a criminal trend. This past summer saw a couple of Chicago-based NBAers - Antoine Walker and Eddy Curry - bound with duct tape by thieves while their suburban mansions were ransacked. In September, NFL cornerback Dunta Robinson was held at gunpoint while his Houston-area home was robbed.
And the list of victims - which includes Lamar Odom of the L.A. Lakers, robbed at gunpoint last year - goes on.
"I guess you've got to start circling the block before you go home," said Raptors point guard T.J. Ford. "People following you home (as the thieves did in the Walker case) ... that stuff is getting a lot scarier, to tell you the truth. People coming into people's homes, that's scary, especially when you've got kids around."
Maybe there is no more reason than ever to be alarmed. Taylor's death may or may not be a random act. And fear-mongering is certainly good for certain businesses. Security companies are happy to profit from the perceived insecurity of rich athletes.
But security companies also make a compelling point. Ed Johnson of Chicago's Overtime Inc. - an outfit whose greatest claim to fame is having kept Dennis Rodman out of jail during the approximately four years it looked after the Worm - said a security guard with police experience can be retained for about $75,000 a year, peanuts to the multi-millionaires. Johnson said hiring one isn't a symptom of paranoia but is akin to buying insurance.
Whether or not crimes on rich athletes actually are increasing in frequency is probably difficult to say. Another upside of hiring security with police experience is they have the know-how to keep your victimization out of the newspaper. But NBA teams aren't dumb to the possibilities.
The Raptors, for instance, employ Willis Richardson, a former beat cop on Baltimore's mean streets whose official title, manager of team security, doesn't do justice to his all-hours commitment to keeping the Raptors out of harm's way. He declined an interview request yesterday, citing league policy. But it's safe to say he doesn't endorse the flaunting of one's wealth in public.
Ford, who is among the NBAers who wear flashy watches and drive tricked-out vehicles, was unrepentant about his material indulgence. But then, that's not to say he won't be looking in his rear-view mirror a little more attentively these days.
"You've just got to be smart, be aware of your surroundings, keep your head up - and don't make any new friends," Ford said. "But if people want what you got, and they're determined to get it, I guess it's their luck against yours."