WASHINGTON — P.J. Tucker walks into Capital One Arena with a smile on his face. Dressed in a flashy green jacket with matching pants and a wide-brimmed tan hat, he and James Harden pace down the hallway to the locker room. Tucker is ready to take on the Wizards because he’s gone through his essential game-day routine: he’s eaten his stack of pancakes.
“That’s my thing,” he tells me in front of his locker as he unlaces a brand new pair of “Bin 23” Air Jordan 9s he’s set to debut. “I like to try different restaurants in every city. I look up on Yelp and look at what the best breakfast places are, specifically who has the best pancakes in every city.”
The proof is in the Instagrams, as Tucker uploads a brand new picture every game showing the world what he ate. It’s usually accompanied by a heartwarming caption and a set of emojis set to capture a feeling of love.
Like: “Hey there gorgeous. Been thinking about you all day.” Or, when he played the Cavs: “Cleveland!!!!! Y’all ok wit me love & joy.”
To be clear, he’s truly loyal to pancakes. “Waffles are fake,” he tells SB Nation. “They’re not the real deal.”
Tucker has good reason to stick by pancakes, too. They’re fueling him to play more than 36 minutes per game, the most he’s averaged in his 10-year career and the seventh-most anyone in the league is asked to play. Despite his pancake routine — or maybe because of it — the 33-year-old Tucker has become one of the league’s iron men.
Tucker’s order is usually basic. He loves plain ol’ pancakes, which he always washes down with apple juice for lunch. (Tucker doesn’t really eat breakfast, though he has nothing against when you decide to eat pancakes. “Pancakes are always good,” he says.)
But he’s a sucker for a specialty stack, one that makes his specific choice from Yelp unique. That’s why he rarely goes to mainstream breakfast places, though he confesses he has a soft spot for Cracker Barrel, saying it “holds the crown to me as the best pancake.”
In Michigan, the afternoon before a Pistons game, he took a leap of faith on the “Pebbles pancakes” from Rochester Grille. Yep, that’s a pancake with fresh cream, topped off with fruity pebbles. That quickly emerged as his favorite pancake of the season. “It was bomb,” he says.
He posted about this pancake on Instagram, of course, dubbing himself “The Pancake King.”
Tucker doesn’t usually eat his pregame pancakes with teammates. Occasionally, he eats with the team’s assistant coach, Irving Roland, but often, he’s alone.
I might know why.
In the locker room, I approach Rockets center Clint Capela, who unknowingly accepts an interview solely to talk about pancakes. He tells me he knew about Tucker’s pancake obsession from Instagram, but then looked in horror as I ask if he’d ever eat the fruity pebbles pancakes.
“Ooof,” Capela says as a reflex to his disgust. “I can’t eat that. That’s too much for me. I don’t ... no.”
Tucker does have one pancake-eating accomplice he can always rely on, though. His son King, who’s almost seven years old, is his protege.
“Me and my son finish up everybody’s stuff,” Tucker says. “If you don’t finish it, me and my son take over. He can really get after it. Especially pancakes because he loves pancakes. He’s being himself and falling in with it.”
There are eyewitnesses to Tucker’s pancake devouring. Like any good journalist, I searched “PJ Tucker pancake” on Twitter, which led me to Jesus Garcia from California.
Here was his tweet:
Carmel and I sat next to PJ tucker at this breakfast place in Boston when the rockets played the Celtics. When I see him drop all these 3 pointers all I see is some dude that scarfed down like 4 plates of pancakes— Jesus Garcia (@Jesse_ochodos) May 25, 2018
I read the tweet to Tucker, who smiles to himself, acknowledging that this probably happened.
Garcia was on his yearly vacation, and happened to be seated near Tucker at North Street Grille in Boston, just hours before the Rockets-Celtics game was to tip off last December.
“I look to my right and I look at his table and I can’t even see the table,” Garcia says. “It’s full of pancake plates and his kids’ food. I look at my girlfriend, and I’m like ‘Is this guy planning on eating this whole thing by himself?’”
Garcia estimates Tucker ate nine pancakes, some of them cinnamon roll favored, but mostly plain. That’s more than the 4-to-5 Tucker says he typically averages.
“To see him sprint up and down a basketball court after eating all that is really what blew our minds,” Garcia says.
Tucker plans to keep posting pancake Instagram posts all season, if not longer. Though he just started going public with his lunches, he assures me this isn’t something new for him.
“I consider myself a pancake connoisseur, because of all the pancakes I’ve eaten around the world. I’ve been everywhere in Europe, I’ve eaten everywhere.”