For all the perks that come with being a professional athlete, the schedule has its drawbacks. It is difficult, for example, to take part in any sort of class that requires consistent attendance. A couple of seasons ago, Toronto Raptors center Lucas Nogueira decided to learn how to play bass. He signed up for lessons, but quit after a few weeks because it demanded too much of his time.
Nogueira, 25, played percussion and sang in a samba band called Connection last year. The band played some shows in small Brazilian bars in Toronto, but broke up when one of its members moved back to Brazil. After a recent practice in midtown Manhattan, he took out his phone and played a video of three men -- one of them 7 feet tall with a hairdo that has been described as "a rainforest head cloud" -- drumming and singing on a couch in his apartment.
"They start to come to my house, then they invite me to be part of the group," Nogueira told me. "Then every time I can -- because I have a lot of games and practices -- every time I can, I participate in concerts."
People recognized Nogueira, of course, but he loved that he was able to play music without causing any sort of uproar.
"Brazilian people, they chill out," he said. "They did not ask for autographs, pictures. They don't care. They just want to enjoy their time. And it was nice. It was fun."
Without the band, Nogueira hoped to revisit the bass class this season. He lamented that it didn't make sense given how often the team has been on the road.
"I live music 24 hours," Nogueira said. "I try to live like a musician, but I don't make money from it. Every day I'm studying different songs. Like, I like to pay attention to instruments. Like, this is what I'm looking for. I love it so much, music. I wish, one day, if I retire from basketball, to start, like, a career in music. This is my goal that I have."
It is hardly unusual for an NBA player to display a passion for music. Damian Lillard raps under the name Dame D.O.L.L.A., Victor Oladipo is an R&B crooner who released an EP in October and Iman Shumpert freestyled for Funk Flex in November. Nogueira, though, has little interest in what most of his teammates are listening to. He has the Red Hot Chili Peppers' logo tattooed on his elbow, and he is taking recommendations on spots in Toronto that cater to his taste.
"It's a Drake city," Nogueira said. "Everywhere you go, it's Drake, Drake, Drake. And I like some Drake songs and Drake is a very nice guy and he's very talented. But you know, he's Canadian, he's so famous, so everywhere you go, they're playing Drake. Actually, I don't know any bar that's like, oh, that bar plays rock."
Before practice that day, Nogueira listened to the piano-driven English pop rock stylings of Keane. "Every day, I gotta listen to Keane," he said, "and I don't listen just to one album."
In addition to them and the Chili Peppers, he easily puts Oasis and Creed in his top five. He cannot, however, settle on who else should make the cut: "Five, you can split. Aerosmith, I like Sublime, Bon Jovi. This is my music style. I don't really listen to hip-hop."
When Nogueira was a teenager in Brazil, he loved Green Day, Blink-182 and Simple Plan. He now goes back to pop-punk when he feels nostalgic, but there are some bands from that era -- Hoobastank, for example -- that he continues to listen to.
"One of the bands that I love so much and Canadians, people hate: Nickelback," he said. "I don't understand why people — because Canadian people, when you're famous, they support you so much. They love to support famous Canadians. And I don't understand because I grew up thinking Chad Kroeger is amazing, I love him. And when I came to Canada, people are like, 'You like Nickelback?' And everybody starts laughing in my face."
Never is Nogueira more earnest or endearing than when he is talking about how surprised he was to find out Nickelback was seen as a punchline. He said this does not bother him, though -- in his line of work, he can't find musical common ground with his peers, anyway. Raptors equipment manager Paul Elliott likes some of the same stuff, Nogueira said, but Elliott's taste leans more aggressive.
These days, most of Nogueira's singing is done in the shower and around his apartment. He loves Keane singer Tom Chaplin not only because "he's too good, live and in studio," but also because Chaplin has taught him new words.
"I can speak English, I can communicate, but I'm not like amazing at speaking English," Nogueira said. "So when I listen to music, I'm not just listening to music, but helping me become a better English speaker."
In November, former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher played a show in Toronto, but Nogueira was on the road with the Raptors. During February's the All-Star break, ex-Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher's High Flying birds will play in Toronto, but Nogueira will be in Florida visiting his daughter. It is reasonable if you don't have endless sympathy for an NBA player missing out on extracurricular activities, but to understand Nogueira is to know that this is genuinely frustrating for him.
Asked how many of his tattoos are music-related, he said "a lot," then estimated that 85 percent of his skin is covered in body art. The day before, he looked at himself in the mirror and decided he wanted to add "like 40 more music notes" to surround the radio on his stomach.
"Everybody needs music, but some people take it more serious than other people," Nogueira said. "I take it serious as f---."