Behind the Scenes: Going to the Finals – The Adventures of a Credentialed Blogger

Howdy, folks. I know, I know... long time no read. At least, it feels that way. For those of you that didn't get this memo, I'm in Los Angeles, credentialed with NBA.com for all home games. I've been a bit quiet around these parts for the last few days – but I can explain! Coming to you in the flesh from L.A. and relating my media experience at Staples Center, I bring you the first installment of Behind the Scenes. This is my experience as a credentialed blogger, and to start with, I'll give you a taste of the complicated web of mishaps that tried to keep me from the game, but ultimately failed.

It all started in Denver, where I had a three-hour layover on my way to Los Angeles. As my boarding time drew near, I left my usual spot at the New Belgium Hub and meandered over toward the loading gate. After a few minutes, the announcement was made that there was a mechanical issue with the plane, which they were working to fix. We would have an update in about 20 minutes. The attempt to fix the problem in a reasonable amount of time failed, and we were directed to a different gate, where we would board a different plane. We waited there for a while, before again being directed to yet another gate – our plane was being switched again.

How did Denver know that I was a Lakers blogger heading for the NBA Finals?

The plane finally took off about an hour late, and I landed in Los Angeles at 10:24 p.m. Having no checked luggage – my dad, who travels constantly, likes to say that there are only two kinds of luggage: carry-on and lost – I first waited for those who risked missing their connections to deplane, then I collected my carry on bags and headed for the doors. Outside, I took my spot under the purple sign indicating the location for rental car shuttle pick-ups.

Perhaps 90 seconds later, the Advantage shuttle came rolling up... and rolled right on by. It never stopped. It didn't even slow down, or look to see if I needed a ride. I waited for it to come back around again – waited for much longer than I should have, not daring to go and call them lest I miss it again. In the meantime, I tried using 1-800-GOOG-411 to find their number, but the listed number was disconnected. Just my luck.

When I finally went inside to call, I found that they had closed at 11:00 p.m. I spent way too much time on the phone with a completely useless Priceline. The woman I talked to in India essentially offered to cancel my reservation – really, that's your solution? – and apparently had no supervisor. In case you're wondering, I determined never to use Priceline again, and I recommend you do the same. Finally, I took a 2-minute cab ride with a $17 minimum to the nearest Motel 6, spending way too much on a "cheap" room. I remember when Motel 6 was $29.99 per night – damn inflation!

I woke up late the next morning, because I was exhausted from getting in so late (I had also had only two and a half hours sleep the previous night). Fortunately, Advantage Rent-A-Car was much more helpful than Priceline. They gladly agreed to comp my motel room and cab costs, and sent a shuttle to pick me up. Soon enough, I was in my car and no more broke than I had been before missing the shuttle.

I set off to buy a voice recorder and some nicer clothes, because as you know, I am a member of the media for these Finals, and I can't show up underdressed and poorly equipped. Unfortunately, I've never driven in Los Angeles before, and I had a hard time finding a good mall. To make things worse, I don't have great fashion sense, and I'm morally opposed to spending $60 each for one pair of jeans and one shirt. Shopping took me longer than expected, though by the grace of God I finally managed to find some decent clothes.

I got to Staples Center far later than I had planned, and once there, I couldn't find the credentials trailer. A phone call to my wife, who looked up the info in my email and then directed me using Google Maps, finally got me to where I needed to be. I went into the "Media" trailer, but they had no record of me. Who was I with? Silver Screen and Roll. No? SB Nation. No? I mentioned I would be doing some blogging for NBA.com, and they sent me over to the other trailer, which did all the NBA credentialling.

Finally, I emerged with my media credentials, but again, I wasn't sure where to go. I wandered around until I found the Media and Employees entrance – but once inside, I again was clueless as to where to go. I asked someone wearing a red jacket, and they directed me to an elevator that led downstairs, where I would find a media table.

Downstairs was pure chaos. How many media personnel do you think were present at this game? Pick a number. Literally, do it now, in your head. Sorry, that's not even close. The place was swarming with them. There were easily over one hundred of them, and I'm probably still low-balling it. This just added to my confusion. On a conference call, the NBA had said I'd set up in a general media workroom, but no one was sure which room that was. When I told people that I was blogging for NBA.com, they were sure that there was somewhere specific I was supposed to go, but none of them knew where that was. Finally, I found someone who seemed to know things about things. I told him what I was doing, and mentioned what the NBA had told me, and he was able to direct me to the right room.

In the first room, there were no remaining spots at the tables. There was, however, a second room connected to this first one, and it was full of cubicle desks, plenty of which were still open. Walking around, I found the Kamenetzky brothers from the LA Times Lakers Blog, introduced myself (they knew who I was, but not what I looked like), and took a seat next to them. They were very helpful, always open to answering any of my questions – and I had many. I set up my computer, plugged in my phone and camera battery, and then headed out to check out the court and the stands.

I cannot emphasize enough what a monstrous operation this is from a media standpoint. The equipment alone would take a few truckloads to transport. As a tech junkie and an occasional sound guy, I was drooling at all the sound and video equipment they had on hand. What these guys had on hand for a single basketball game makes Radio Shack look like a kid playing with a yellow and red, plastic handheld microphone toy. Guitar Center would have been jealous of their setup. The thought of putting this all together was truly daunting.

Before I bring this first installment of Behind the Scenes to a close, here is some insider info that you'll want to hear about. I saw several of the players coming through the tunnel. The height issue was a curious one to me; you assume that players will look even taller in person than they do on TV, but the truth is, some of them do and some of them don't.

The first (former) player to walk by was Bill Russell. You saw him on TV; I saw him first. I made an effort not to stare. The word on Russell? I was surprised that he didn't look taller. I expected him to tower over everyone, which he did, but not to the extreme that I expected. Robert Horry came next, and this really confused me. He seemed very tall. Much taller than I expected. The man was a pole! But how could I be surprised by how tall he was, and at the same time surprised by how tall Bill Russell wasn't?

Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu came by; Lewis seemed about normal to me, but Turkoglu appeared very tall. He also seemed quite slender, certainly much more so than he seems on TV. Jordan Farmar came cruising through without fanfare, and the dude just isn't that tall. If I saw a guy his size in the grocery store, I probably wouldn't even stare. The same went for Shannon Brown.

I know what you want to know. Andrew Bynum is a very tall human being. He's not as broad in the shoulders as I expected, and in fact, he is one long and lanky guy. Given the strength I'm sure he possesses, his appearance is very deceptive. I also saw Dwight Howard, but he didn't appear quite as huge as I expected. Certainly not as tall, and like Bynum, his shoulders didn't seem as broad as I thought they would. At least, not at first. Take another look, and you realize it's all an optical illusion, with his length making his breadth appear diminished. Take about half a foot out of his mid-section and half a foot out of his legs, and those are some very large shoulders.

I wasn't there early enough to see Kobe Bryant, but I did get pretty close to the court during warm-ups. You know what surprised me? He's taller than I expected. It's strange, because to me, Kobe seems like the NBA average, when it comes to height. Not tall, not short. Also, the fact that he's actually about 6'5", rather than the 6'7" he was listed at when he came into the league or the 6'6" he's currently listed at, probably predisposed me to expect something shorter than what I got. He really is a very long, tall guy. On Sunday, I plan on being there nice and early, to get a closer view.

It had been a hectic couple of days, and I was tired, running on empty. I'd averaged about three hours of sleep for the past couple days, and had eaten about one meal a day. But despite everything that conspired against me, I was at the game. A win would make this rough start simply melt away, and you know how that story went. And in fact, soon enough I'll tell you about it, from the perspective of a credentialed media blogger – but that will have to wait for this afternoon.

Come back later, and I promise you an inside look at Game 1 – and now that I'm no longer scrambling to keep up, I also promise these Behind the Scenes looks won't be so late in the future.

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