(NBAE/Getty Images)

Perception is an interesting phenomenon. Many average fans think that an NBA player can roam wherever he wants and do whatever he pleases.

But that’s just not true; even within an NBA arena. Just ask Suns center Marcin Gortat.

A lot of fans would assume that because Gortat is a rising star in the league, he’d have an unlimited supply of All-Star tickets available given to him, even though he wasn’t even playing in the game. But like most of the fans that attended the All-Star Game in Orlando a few weeks ago, Gortat coughed up a decent amount of dough for his ticket.

The 6-11 center purchased seven $750 tickets for his friends to enjoy the game, but there was a slight problem.

“I had information that I had good tickets,” Gortat said. “I thought that they were pretty close to the court.

“So I get to the arena and I’m sitting all the way up top. I could touch the ceiling!”

Upon arriving at the game, the Suns center was given one outstanding perk by the NBA: he was allowed to walk virtually anywhere in the arena. So Gortat took to the event level to mingle when he ran into former head of Suns team security, Jerome Crawford.

Crawford, who was Shaquille O’Neal’s personal security guard for years, was Suns team security when Gortat was traded to Phoenix from Orlando.
After catching up for a few minutes, Crawford invited the “Polish Machine” and his friends to join Shaq in the TNT suite. The Suns center thanked Crawford, but told him that he had seven of his friends with him.

That’s when Shaq arrived.

Having just finished Shaq’s new book and excited to see his role model, Gortat instantly started chatting up the author.

“I just finished his book about a month ago and I wanted to tell him how much of an influence his book had on my performance,” Gortat said. “I actually learned a lot from his book and I understood his mentality, so I told him that I enjoyed the book and how it had an impact on me.”

Flattered by the rave review, Shaq invited Gortat and his crew down to the TNT section so they could enjoy the game. It was a move that wasn’t lost on the Suns center.

“He’s the big man (papa),” Gortat sad. “He’s taking care of all the young big guys. He’s a true role model.”

Gortat’s reverence for the former Suns center goes back quite some time. Besides admiring him as a youngster in Poland, Gortat said defending Shaq for the first time left an indelible effect on him.

“He really impressed me the first time I played him because when I first checked into the game and walked out on the court to guard him he asked me how my dad was doing,” Gortat recalled. “That was really impressive because he knew my dad was a boxer. I was really surprised that a superstar player would know who I am and who my dad is.”

His first time defending Shaq was also memorable for Gortat because he was outweighed by more than 60 pounds. However, the task of guarding one of the most dominant players to ever grace the hardwood also left an impression on Gortat.

“(Orlando Head Coach) Stan (Van Gundy) always said that of all the things that you need when you play against Shaq, you need one thing,” Gortat said. “The most important thing is courage. You don’t need anything else, you just need big (guts) when you play against that guy.”

But to get into his suite, you just have to read his book.