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Bedbugs, baths and beyond: How sports travel can be hazardous

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Antonio Davis' worst experience on the road (0:55)

ESPN NBA analyst Antonio Davis describes his worst experience on the road while traveling for the NBA. (0:55)

Well, that was awfully nice of the Hilton Hotel corporation to apologize to the Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving last week after all the bad publicity that ensued when the guard said he was bitten by bedbugs during a weekend stay at the chain's downtown Oklahoma City location called the Scurvy ... sorry, the Skirvin. The Skirvin is the name!

Numerous NBA players have noted since then that the 105-year-old hotel was notorious in league circles for being "haunted" and "creepy" long before Irving's bedbug encounter, which drove him to a couch in his room and left him feeling ill with a sore back. He was limited to only nine minutes in Cleveland's win against the Oklahoma City Thunder the next day. Legend has it that the Skirvin is haunted because a jilted lover, holding her baby, once jumped out of a top-floor window.

Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza has refused to stay at the Skirvin. Los Angeles Clippers forward Wesley Johnson says he awoke to find his bathtub inexplicably filled with water on a trip there when he played for the Phoenix Suns in 2012-13. The Chicago Bulls' Taj Gibson was startled once when a door in his room slammed shut without warning. Clippers guard Jamal Crawford recently said, "When I was with the Knicks and we were staying at the Skirvin, Eddy Curry would not sleep in his own room. He went and slept on the floor of Nate Robinson's room. He was afraid of the ghosts."

On the spectrum of Worst Sports Travel Stories Ever, Irving's story falls somewhere between "Stuff Happens" and "Things Too Gross to Contemplate." To illustrate, here are some more road-warrior stories that we've helpfully divided into categories that tend to crop up again and again:

Beware of local fauna and wildlife

If it makes Irving feel any better, American doubles tennis partners Mike and Bob Bryan had their own bedbug experience while stranded in a cheap motel in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2009, and former New York Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain had an infamous losing battle against a swarm of midges in Cleveland while blowing a lead against the Indians in the 2007 American League Division Series.

Scores of tennis players have sniffled and confessed they're allergic to the grass courts at Wimbledon, and triathletes at the 2000 Sydney Olympics swam with scuba divers in the depths below to safeguard them from sharks.

In 2013, Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin grabbed a tissue and gallantly tried to kill a "bug" his wife had noticed crossing the floor of their spring training condo -- only to get stung and then hurry to the emergency room after his arm became numb. The word "lethal" came up when Melvin Googled "scorpion stings." As it turned out, the flattened little creature that got Melvin was an Arizona bark scorpion, the most venomous scorpion in North America.

Anything else bugging you?

Duke football coach David Cutcliffe has a story. He once went on a winter recruiting visit to a home in south Georgia that had a space heater warming the room and plastic sheeting on the couch. Why the plastic, you might ask?

"Every bug in the neighborhood had decided to come inside," Cutcliffe said. "I'm trying to have a conversation, and I have roaches crawling up my pants. I'm trying to shake them. They're crawling across my back. I'm trying to remain focused and sell, and [the recruit's family] acted as if, God bless them, they had never seen any of these bugs. That none of this is going on."

Here, you take the wheel

You've heard how Reggie Jackson famously called himself "the straw that stirs the drink" when he played for the Yankees, right? Well, when Buck Showalter played in the Yankees' minor league system, he briefly became "the guy who drives the bus."

Showalter, who managed the Yankees in the 1990s and is now the Baltimore Orioles' skipper, played for New York's Double-A team in the '80s. The Nashville Sounds' bus driver was Len "Snuffy" Miller, a former country music drummer of some renown. There were a few reasons that the driving gig was a stretch for Snuffy.

Bill Anderson, bandleader of the Po' Boys, said he gave Snuffy his nickname because when the band traveled by bus, Miller had a nervous habit of yelling things at the driver like, "Look out! That car's gonna pull out in front of us and we're all gonna be snuffed out!"

"Suddenly, I find myself driving down Lookout Mountain with all these twists and turns. As Snuffy is climbing over these guys sprawled out on the bus, they wake up and see that I'm driving."

Buck Showalter

Miller wasn't built for long stints at the wheel, either. Showalter says one night when most of his teammates were asleep, Miller turned to him suddenly and said, "Take over." Showalter slid by him into the driver's seat without pulling over, and Miller began making his way to the back of the bus.

"Suddenly," Showalter recalled, "I find myself driving down Lookout Mountain with all these twists and turns. As Snuffy is climbing over these guys sprawled out on the bus, they wake up and see that I'm driving. I'm like waving, 'It's OK, I got it,' but they were scared out of their minds."

Snuffy's reason for having to get up right then, right away? He realized he had to empty his colostomy bag.

Where's a skycap when you need one?

Losing a suitcase is a common curse for travelers. But sometimes, it's bad even when the luggage does arrive.

Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy broke his hand in 2012 when his wife's suitcase fell on it, which prompted hateful Facebook messages to her for interrupting his hot hitting. In '97, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Huck Flener was flying to spring training when a briefcase flew out of the overhead rack and chipped his collarbone.

When Expos pitcher Dennis Martinez strained a muscle in his side in the early '90s tossing his suitcase onto the team equipment truck, Richard Griffin, the team's media relations wise guy, told the media that Martinez would miss his next start with "Samsonitis."

You'd better pack thoroughly

Tennis legend Billie Jean King tells a story about one of her stints as U.S. Fed Cup coach. King was persuaded to take a player who had an uneven early career but had been enjoying a renaissance. Once at the competition, however, that player kept mis-hitting shots or even whiffing completely, and King was flummoxed. When she went to team member Lindsay Davenport and asked what the heck was going on, Davenport blanched and finally stammered, "She didn't want to tell you this, but she left her contact lenses at home."

Home-field advantage to the extreme

Early-morning hotel fire alarms? Child's play. Kidnapped mascots? Pffft! Mack Brown found out just how rough the road could be for a rivalry game when his 1999 Texas football team faced Texas A&M and stayed at an Inn That Shall Not Be Named in College Station (OK, so it was a Ramada). "I have never seen a situation where people were treated as poorly as our team was treated at that hotel," Brown said.

At 4 a.m. the day of the game, which had a 10 a.m. kickoff, Brown's phone received obscene calls even though the Texas coaching staff had asked for all calls to blocked. Then the hotel cook didn't arrive to prepare the team's game-day breakfast of steak and eggs. Pancakes and cereal were served eventually, but there were no plates or milk. Most of the players went to the game without eating rather than choking down dry cornflakes or hitting the fast-food place across the street.

When asked years later for a College Station breakfast recommendation, Brown dryly replied, "I've never had breakfast in College Station."

Gastronomical hazards of recruiting

As Cutcliffe hinted, college recruiters know to go with the flow on home visits if they want to land a player. You don't just sample Mom's famous clam pie or granddad's fried squirrel -- you clean your plate, or else. But it's not always easy.

Sonny Cumbie, TCU co-offensive coordinator: "We were recruiting a kid, and the head coach and the assistant went in for breakfast with me. ... They had boiled fish. You don't want to offend the family and not eat it, so you're sitting there and scarfing down boiled fish at 8 o'clock in the morning."

Tony Alford, former Notre Dame recruiting coordinator and current Ohio State assistant: "I was out with one of our coaches recruiting in Chicago. ... He ended up in the hospital with food poisoning. He asked, 'Did you eat the finger foods?' But I decided not to eat at the time, and he did. He picked and prodded at it and had a 6 o'clock flight the next morning that he missed because he was in the emergency room."

Phil Bennett, former SMU head coach and current Baylor defensive coordinator: "One time, Johnny Ringo and I were on the road when I was at SMU. We had home visits at 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and then 8:30 p.m. I swear to goodness, I had no idea we ate at all three places. We're driving down 635 in Dallas, and I told Coach Ringo, 'I have to undo my pants.' I didn't realize I ate so much because I was too busy trying to impress Momma."

Don't lose that number

Yes, in case you are wondering, the hotels do all blur together after a point. Van Malone recalled one busy week when, as Oklahoma State cornerbacks coach, he made recruiting stops in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans.

"All those cities equal different hotel rooms each night," Malone said. "I made the mistake of going to 527 one night when that was my room the last night. Trying to get my key to work at 10 p.m., and a lady comes to the door in curlers.

"Not a pretty sight for her or me."

When life gives you snow ...

The team buses of the Niagara women's basketball team and Duquesne men's basketball team were each stranded on impassible highways for more than 24 hours during separate blizzards as they returned from away games. The Niagara players were stuck so long they resorted to melting snow to make sure they had enough drinking water. But, like the Dukes, they cheerfully kept outsiders abreast of what was happening via social media.

The Dukes tweeted photos of their ordeal this season, including one of a team member making snow angels on the shut-down Pennsylvania Turnpike pavement next to the bus.

Check the schedule

In the Unhappy Ending Dept., figure skater Johnny Weir lost his chance at a medal at the Torino Olympics after misreading a bus schedule and arriving at the arena later than intended. He blamed his ensuing lackluster long program on his "biorhythms" being out of whack.

"I didn't feel my inner peace. I didn't feel my aura," he said. "I was black inside."

Don't get left behind

For athletes who aren't lucky enough to travel by charter, there's nothing worse than missing a flight -- or a train.

Tennis pro Madison Brengle experienced that in 2014 when she played a tournament in Slovakia that ended so late she couldn't get a train to Prague for a qualifying match the next day.

Brengle and the friend she was traveling with ended up spending the night in a hotel near the Bratislava train station -- a "cash-only, basically nightmare" hotel, Brengle called it. The two women were so terrified they piled all their luggage against the hotel room door.

"My friend travels with a pocket knife, so she took it out and put it on the nightstand," Brengle said. "We're in our little track suits and we sat on the bed with our tennis rackets [as weapons]." Which gives a whole new meaning to "put-away shot."

Brengle didn't sleep at all, caught a 5 a.m. train to Prague, showered quickly at her new hotel, rushed to the tennis grounds and won her match. At least her travel nightmare had a happy ending.

ESPN's Arash Markazi, Jayson Stark, Jeremy Crabtree, Jim Caple, Pete Bodo and Steve Wulf contributed to this report.