The first thing I notice is that�I have no locker.�
STAT chats with the media after Thursday night’s game.
(Josh Greene/Suns Photos)
With the Suns in Los Angeles to play the Lakers in the first round of the 202007 NBA Playoffs, Suns senior staffers Jeramie McPeek and Julie Fie have generously finagled me a press pass for the game. “We figure it might give you some ideas for future blogs,” they tell me.
So here I am, completely through the looking glass, technically press in that I write for Suns.com, but not exactly a respected member of the media corps, more of a typical fan given an incredible opportunity to see a pro basketball playoff game featuring his favorite team from an unbelievable angle – from inside. And I’m in the Suns’ visitors’ locker room at Staples Center before the game, feeling about as much a part of the team as a typical fan can possibly feel. And there’s only one problem: I have no locker.
What’s up with that? Don’t these people know I’m Superfan?!�
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A short time before, I went to the press entrance at Staples, and asked the gentlemen at the desk if there might be a credential with my name on it. Indeed there was. So I affixed it to my belt, entered the arena, and hopped on an elevator down to the Chick Hearn Press Room, where I found Jeramie and fellow Suns staffer Josh Greene in line for their pre-game meal. Act like you’ve been here before, a little voice in my head said. So I complained about the food.
The only seats available to us happened to be at the same table as Lakers Assistant Coaches Frank Hamblen and Tex Winter. Act like you’ve been here before. So I mumbled something about the Triangle Offense by way of greeting, and sat down. I took a casual look around the room. There was former NBA No. 1 draft pick Mychal Thomspon, now a color commentator for the Lakers. There was TNT broadcaster Doug Collins. There was former Suns great Paul Westphal, now serving as a studio analyst on Laker broadcasts (and I can’t begin to tell you how that makes me feel). And there was TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, noted for his, um, eclectic taste in suits, tonight wearing an eye-meltingly blue number with alligator shoes to match and a luminescent orange tie, flitting around looking for tidbits and anecdotes he could use during tonight’s broadcast. He asks Tex Winter his age, and Winter replies, “Eighty-five.” I’m genuinely shocked. “You shouldn’t lie to the press,” I admonish the coach. “You don’t look more than sixty.” (Which is true) He smiles politely and goes back to his food. Maybe he didn’t hear me.
After dinner, we head for the dark tunnel underneath the stadium so Jeramie and Josh can get shots of the players arriving. Sager’s hanging around down there as well, his blue pants providing us with illumination to film by. We follow the Suns to their locker room (at the far end of the hall, past the Lakers, the L.A. Kings dressing room, and the Laker Girls’ locker room – Jeramie has to pull me away from that door, and doesn’t seem to buy my excuse that I mis-read the nameplate next to the entrance).�
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And then, there I am, in the Suns’ locker room before a big playoff game, players changing into their game gear, Assistant Coach Marc Iavaroni scribbling game instructions on a dry-erase board, locker room attendants scurrying this way and that, and press everywhere, trying to get a few pre-game quotes as the players stretch and loosen up. So I figure I better do the same – stretch and loosen up, that is. After all, I have a strenuous night of blogging ahead of me.
I look around for my locker…but there isn’t one. Probably just an oversight, I imagine. I consider pulling a diva act and complaining, but… Act like you’ve been here before. So I play the good soldier, drop my bag at an empty chair and sit down. I’m about to unpack my stuff when a locker room attendant taps me on the shoulder. I look up to turn down the inevitable autograph request when he gestures to the uniform hanging behind me in the locker. “Stoudemire,” it reads.
So I get up and move to the next unavailable seat, but apparently Boris Diaw has claimed that one for himself. I’m about to ask Shawn Marion if I can share some of his space when the locker room attendant chases me away. I should’ve known the Staples Center Lakers staff would be unfriendly.
Okay, no locker for me. I can take it. I drop my bag in the middle of the locker room and go about my pre-game ritual anyway. I strip down to my shorts (I don’t want to get my game gear all sweaty ahead of time) and start into my stretches right there. I’m starting to feel good, feel loose, when I look up and see the players, coaching staff, trainers and media all staring at me with wide, wide eyes. I don’t blame them – I’ve seen this look before. I’m pretty flexible, and proud of it.
After being escorted outside by security, I quickly dress and follow Jeramie and Josh out onto the Staples Center floor to get a few shots of Suns players doing early shooting warm-ups. If you’ve never been down on the floor of an NBA arena before a game, it’s pretty impressive. The lights, the glitzy fans filing in, the players starting to put on their game faces…I look around and wonder how players can keep their focus with so much going on around them. The place isn’t close to half full yet, and it’s already loud down here.
Overwhelmed by the spectacle, and by the simple fact that I’m actually here, I plop down in a chair near the Suns’ bench to catch my breath. But before I can, I’m tapped on the shoulder by an usher. “You can’t sit there,” he tells me. “That’s Jack Nicholson’s chair.”
Oh. At least that explains all the gold statues under the seat.
I retreat to the tunnel that serves as the players’ entrance onto the court, as well as the VIP entrance to the seats of the highest-rolling fans. The Suns sprint past me toward the floor. I stick my hand out and get a few slaps. I’m still reeling from the excitement of that when I notice Queen Latifah about to pass me by, on the way to her seat. Act like you’ve been here before.
“How’s it going, Queen?” I ask, friendly.
Maybe she didn’t hear me, and only made that face because she had something stuck in her teeth.
I climb into the elevator that will take me to the press box, from where I’ll watch the game. The press box at Staples Center is high above the court. Very high. Higher than the cheapest seats. So high that, if it were any higher, the press would actually be watching the game alongside late Lakers announcer Chick Hearn.
I’ve never been to a press box before. But I’m prepared. I’ve watched movies. So, after reaching my seat, I pull out my fedora (the one with the card that says “PRESS” sticking out of the brim) and a tweed sport coat with patches over the elbows. I set up my manual typewriter. And I pull out a handful of thick, smelly cigars. I can’t decide which one to smoke first, so I light three of them. Then I get a tap on the shoulder.
You can’t smoke in press boxes anymore? Really? When did they make that change?
Anyway, after a wondrous first quarter in which the Suns look like they never got the memo that Game 2 actually ended, the Lakers gamely battle back, chipping away at the Suns’ lead to take command and protect their home court with a win. The Suns still lead the series 2-1.
After the game, I head back down to the Suns’ locker room, digital recorder in hand, to try and get some quotes from Suns players. The atmosphere is quiet, more subdued than pregame, and understandably so. But we members of the press still have our jobs to do, so we crowd around players and jam our microphones uncomfortably close to their faces and ask questions like, “What happened?” Again, I marvel at the players’ ability to keep their control. Personally, I’d bite someone’s arm.
As it is, I can barely get a microphone anywhere near the players, so fierce is the battle among cameramen and reporters to get good “spots.” I’m reduced to snaking my arm through a tangle of torsos and hoping my recorder is in the general vicinity of a player’s mouth, and not directly beneath a cameraman’s nose, or something worse. In this manner, I get quotes from Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion, Kurt Thomas, Leandro Barbosa and James Jones.
By the time I get to the crush around Amaré Stoudemire, I’ve been battered, bruised and bumped. I finally have a good “spot,” and my microphone is right up (way up) where I can get Amaré’s deep voice loud and clear. But that’s when a veteran NBA reporter shows up and crowds me over so he can get his recorder close to Amaré. He’s only doing his job. I shouldn’t get mad. I should act like I’ve been here before, but I’m as frustrated as the Suns after a loss, so I do my best Pat Burke imitation and, like I’m fighting for position underneath the basket, I block out for all I’m worth, forcing the reporter back, back, back…until he falls over a pile of sweaty towels. Flush with success, I pound my chest, kiss my bicep, and I wag a finger in his face, Dikembe Mutombo-style. “How ya like me now?” I scream. Then I look around, smiling, expecting to be offered a three-year contract as a power forward.
After security escorts me out, I move across the hall to where Steve Nash is meeting with the media. He’s tired. I’m tired. The “PRESS” card in my hat’s brim has completely wilted. But I suspect I’ve had a lot more fun than he has tonight. As the press conference winds down, I whisper thanks for this incredible opportunity and farewell to Jeramie, wishing the team well on what I hope will be a long journey through the playoffs. I’ll be with them in spirit, sending blog dispatches along the way.
Steve Nash rises from his stool behind the podium, having answered the last question. He smiles wearily. “Buenos noches,” he says.
Good night, everybody.