Just prior to the end of the 76ers’ round two exit this season, Robert Covington became the owner of a pair of bearded dragons, which as the name implies, resemble wingless versions of Daenerys’s baby dragons but with a little bit of stubble. Covington also owns a four-foot bumblebee ball python, Max, and taken together calls his reptile trio Three the Hard Way. “That’s inspired by me and my brothers. That’s the name that my parents gave us,” said Covington.
Unusual pets in the NBA are hardly novel. Carmelo Anthony’s got a camel, for some reason. Shaq infamously has two white tigers. Anthony Davis had a marmoset for a while. Gilbert Arenas has sharks—in his home—that he reportedly spends $6,500 monthly to maintain. Danny Green counts himself a snake owner as well; Dwight Howard reportedly owns 20, which is enough that I would be concerned about a household coup. So while exotic pets aren’t uncommon throughout the league, snakes are, for reasons we’ll get into, particularly common. (Just don’t bring them anywhere near Joel Embiid.)
Snakes are something of a statement pet—as Chandler once said in an episode of Friends, “If I’m gonna be an old, lonely man, I’m gonna need a thing. Y’know, a hook… So I figure I’ll be crazy man with a snake!” So why are they a favorite among NBA players? It turns out that snakes are actually an incredibly sensible pet if your lifestyle takes you away from home half the year. The thing about mammals? We’re needy. Reptiles? Not so much.
“They’re a lot easier to take care of than other animals,” said Danny Green, shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs. “When they’re younger, they eat probably once a week, then when they get older it’s probably once every two weeks, and then once every three weeks or once a month even.” Green, who’s been in the league for nine years now, has had his boa constrictor, Jade, since college. “She’s gone through it all. She’s been in the snow in Cleveland and New York, up and down, she’s been with me in Texas.” Green estimates that she’s somewhere between eight or nine feet now, and that’s probably as big as she’ll get.
Among the many great perks of having a pet, they’re also really effective dating filters.
Mikki Moore, who’s now retired but played for a handful of teams between 2006 and 2012, recalled a time when his now-wife was trying to impress him back when they were dating. “She wanted to let me know she could handle it. She went grocery shopping, and then she went to the pet store to get the rats for me.” Moore’s five snakes were big, which meant he needed big rats to fill them up. Only on this occasion, the rats chewed through the cardboard box and were running all over the car, getting into the groceries. “By the time she pulled up, she hopped out the Excursion, and the Excursion was still rolling in the parking lot of the apartment. So I had to run the truck down, hop in, stop it, and then go through all the bags of groceries because she couldn’t remember how many she got,” said Moore. (Moore also added that he would rather feed his snakes rats than, say, rabbits. “Little bunnies, I can’t feed them to snakes. But rats I can do.” )
While a small pack of rats rummaging through your freshly bought groceries in the back of an SUV certainly sounds like a nightmare, it’s a mild one compared to visions of snakes escaping their tanks and silently moving around your house, unbeknownst to you. Surprisingly, this is not something the snake owners themselves seem to worry about much. Green told me in the summer, he’ll take Jade out back to let her get some sun. “They don’t move very fast so it’s not like she’s gonna run off somewhere. They move really slow,” he said. “I’ve learned that if they do get out, nine times out of 10 they’re gonna go under your refrigerator,” said Moore, “because the motor of your refrigerator is right up under it, so that would be the warmest place in your house.”
“It’s like your first kid. You learn a lot with your first kid before you get the second one. I’ve learned how to handle her, operate her, not to worry about these things, those things. I have two dogs now as well.” (Pomskies, pomeranian-husky mixes, to be specific.)
Covington says he used to watch a lot of Animal Planet as a kid, and while he originally wanted a Burmese python, he ended up just opting for the smaller bumblebee ball python four years ago during his rookie season with the Houston Rockets because “back then, things were still uncertain.” He says his snake obsession developed thanks, in part, to his friendship with Dwight Howard, who joined the Rockets in 2013. “Dwight was my mentor my rookie year. That’s who I was around the most. So I kinda get my [snake] obsession from him a little bit,” said Covington. “He was the one who kinda pushed me to get mine.” Things are a little more certain for him now that he’s a rotation player, particularly after last year’s reported $62 million extension contract with the Sixers. So on top of the snake and the bearded dragons, he’s got a pair of Frenchies, too.
For players like Green, having smallish, seemingly snake-snack-sized dogs hasn’t been an issue. The animals are mostly kept separate because the snake stays in her tank, but “when I bathe her, he’s always trying to put his head in there. And I’m like ‘you better back out man,’” said Green. “Snakes, most of them are kinda picky animals, they only eat certain types of food, certain things, certain rodents, and they know when something is too big for their mouth. And then they’re not able to eat so they won’t even try.”
During the NBA season, Green’s schedule keeps him away for a week or so at a time. So when he’s home he’ll feed the snake and clean the tank. “In the summer, I’m gone for a month at most and even then they can last a month [without eating]. I have somebody put some water in her tank, and that’s it.” Usually that someone is his girlfriend, who also looks after the dogs. “She’s very okay with Jade.” said Green. “If she was scared of it, I don’t think she would’ve became my girlfriend.”
When players are on the road during the regular season, they don’t have to feel too guilty about their snakes being alone at home, and even during off-season, they’re not about to hang out with their snakes all day.“You’re only supposed to handle snakes for like 20 minutes at a time,” Green said.
‘It’s unique,” said Covington. “It scares people, but it’s all good. It’s just different.”
And if your bumblebee ball python should go missing from its tank, just be sure to check under the refrigerator.
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