To openly plagiarize the beginning of “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Working as a reporter for Suns.com for a game night at US Airways Center certainly has its ups and downs. Okay, make that one “down.” Being employed by the Suns, the usual media impartiality of covering a professional sporting event is admittedly a bit skewed to the home side. That being said, we obviously root for the team, but professionalism wins out, meaning most of our cheering stays on the inside when mingling with regular media (with the exceptions coming on those game-winning shots and wins). When you grow up a sports fan, suppressing those natural emotions to cheer along with every home three-pointer and slam dunk is a bit odd, but those disapproving looks from outside media keeps you in your place. Usually.
As with just about every area of the arena on a game night, plenty goes on before, during and after every event at the arena. And that’s includes Suns.com’s responsibilities covering the defending Pacific Division Champs. And that’s where “the best” happens. The website not only gets some pretty enviable access to the team on a season-long basis, it’s also a great chance to see the inner workings of an NBA game. And thankfully no night is ever exactly the same.
About 90 minutes before the start of a game, the media filters into the locker room to get player quotes about any breaking stories or in most cases try to work the room for any bits of info that can be used as fodder for their columns or newscasts later in the night. On Wednesday, the biggest questions making the rounds included the team’s concerns on dropping the last two games and the condition of Toronto’s T.J. Ford, who left Tuesday’s game in Atlanta on a stretcher with a neck injury.
For the players who dress in a hurry (either because they really want to hit the training room/court as soon as possible or they just want to high tail it out of there before the inevitable onslaught of voice recorders and cameras begins), they are usually long gone by the time media access begins.
For the late player arrivals and/or the slow dressers, they’re left to mentally prepare for the night’s action while handling media chit chat, getting in a quick snack and watching any one of the plethora of NBA games airing on the locker room big-screen TV.
If I owned a big screen TV as large as what’s in the player’s locker room, I’d probably take my time getting out of there, too. Still, the locker room tends to fill up quick, eliciting that familiar cry, “TV,” meaning you’re blocking some seven-footer’s view of the boob tube and you’d better get out of the way, right quick.
Sitting in on Head Coach Mike D’Antoni’s pre-game press conferences reminds me of those basement scenes from the TV sitcom “That 70’s Show.” Of course there’s no drinking or smoking of any kind going on in there… then again I don’t remember Kelso, Hyde and Fez ever watching a countdown to tip off clock, either.
My point is, what there is a lot of in the coach’s office is hanging out. The media uses the allotted time to plant themselves on one of the couches and very informally ask the coach just about anything, and with D’Antoni you’ll get just about any answer possible. One of the most amiable coaches in the NBA (except maybe when a call doesn’t go his team’s way out on the floor), he holds court while flipping TV channels between the multiple other NBA games on the docket for the night. And no, this TV isn’t as big as the players’ version, but in there, the media know well enough not to block the view.
Some of what is discussed in there is “on the record,” meaning the media is allowed to run with it and attribute it to D’Antoni. Tonight’s gamut of topics included him praising Brian Skinner (“Brian’s fooled me. He’s better than I thought. We’ll put him out there more and see where it goes.”) and Jazz point guard Deron Williams (“He’s got the body, the shot… He’s got all the tools, except maybe experience, which he’s getting now.”), the Suns’ defense (“We just have to buckle down and guard somebody. It’s been like this for two years and it’s our biggest weakness… guarding and rebounding. Until we solve that problem, were going to have some ups and downs. Everybody knows that. We’ve improved some but the last two games we took a step back and it cost us.”) and a partial travel itinerary of Team USA Basketball next year (“Macao, Shanghai, Beijing… It’s tough.”)
And then there is the stuff which is “off the record,” too, which includes… well, I should probably save that for what will undoubtedly be a final blog entry at a later date.
I’ll spare you what happens during the game, especially since it’s very reminiscent of what the average NBA fan does – a lot of watching the game.
Win or lose, post-game press conferences are much more structured than what transpired before the game. They are held in a neutral room of the arena a few minutes after the final buzzer, where D’Antoni fields questions from the media on the game. No matter how well the Suns do on any given night, he usually always hints that there’s always room for improvement, but tonight he seemed pleased with the overall result that ended Phoenix’s two-game skid, especially on the topic of defense.
“There were some really good things, and it started on the defensive end,” he said after the Suns’ 103-98 win over the Jazz. “I thought we were active, and that’s what we need. We need guys who aren’t hesitating and are using their instincts – especially on defense. I thought the energy was there the whole night and low and behold we scored 36 points in the fourth quarter because of the energy and because of the way we played.”
And then the mad rush into the Suns locker room begins. The media jockeys for position for all the major players of the night, camping out at their respective lockers to break down the game. Fans of ESPN’s “Sportscenter” or the local sports segment of their favorite news channel know the drill, all too well.
From Amaré Stoudemire talking defense, “When I missed my first three shots I kind of figured I would step it up defensively. Tonight wasn’t quite my night shooting the ball from the field, but it happens that way sometimes and you just have to find a way to will it out defensively,” to Shawn Marion on a season-best 26 points and five blocked shots, “You can definitely score, but if you can get that big stop when you need to, it seals the win and makes it that much easier.”
As for Suns.com, well, the end of the post-game is the start of crunch time for us, whether we’re writing stories or posting game night videos. Not saddled with the same deadlines as those of most media outlets, our motivation is to get our content up on the website as soon as possible, and hopefully, as entertainingly as possible, too.
So, while I’m at it, I may as well wrap this up by lifting yet another very appropriate final line from that same Dickens novel: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
Thankfully, my “rest” does not include a trip to the gallows like in the book. It’s of the sleep variety, and with that, “from the US Airways Center where the Suns beat the Jazz 103-98 tonight,” that’s a wrap.