As most of you know, I was honored with the ability to receive a press credential for the NBA Finals. It was a pretty awesome experience. My intent was to show you a good portion of it, but as it turns out, I am a horrible pictographer. I forget to take pictures too often, and even when I remember to take them, they aren't very good. So you'll just have to settle for a running diary of the events, with a few of the better pictures thrown in there.
2 P.M. Left work. Along the way to Staples, I had an interview scheduled with Chris Craft of Fanscribe radio. It was only set up this (Thursday) morning, so I didn't even have time to properly publicize it. If you care to listen, you can find it here.
2:30 Arrived at Staples. Parked in the Convention Center parking lot, and contributed 20 bucks to the cause. Press credentials don't come with free parking.
2:40 At this point, I didn't actually have a press credential. You pick those up (for the Finals at least) from a couple of trailers they have parked outside of Staples Center on Chick Hearn Way. After I picked up my credential, I placed a call to Andy Kamenetzky. I had been in contact with AK (and his brother Brian) since it became likely that I would be doing this, and they've been incredibly helpful in keeping me from looking like an idiot. If you don't know who AK and BK are, you must have been living under a rock, but they run the Land o Lakers blog at ESPN LA, and were formerly doing the same thing for the LA Times. In any case, I called AK, who said he was a few minutes away, so I decided to wait for him outside Staples. While waiting, I went to check out the statues outside the front of the building, and caught a little bit of Steve Mason and John Ireland interviewing assistant coach Jim Cleamons.
Then, I paid homage to a Lakers legend.
I headed back towards the media entrance when some dude started asking me questions about my credential. Not an official security type, like just some dude. He asked whether I could just go inside with that, and how he could get one. As I walked off, he congratulated me. I made sure to check my pockets afterwards.
3:10 AK showed up and took me downstairs into the inner workings of Staples Center. The bottom of Staples is a big oval with lots of rooms off on either side, and 4 paths from the oval to the court in the middle. Right as we came out of the stairwell, there was a media dining area (which I think was free, but I didn't find the time to partake in it), and a media stationing area, where I was introduced to Shelly Smith of ESPN. She and Ian Thomsen (CNNSI) were the most "famous" people I actually met (shook hands with) the entire evening. She also was the first person I heard the news regarding John Wooden's failing health from, which was a crappy way to start off the experience. The Wooden thing really hung over everything like a black cloud the whole night.
3:20 We walk from one media stationing area at the entrance, to the other stationing area, just adjacent to the press conference area, and check the court out along the way. Ron Artest is on the court (2.5 hours to tip) having somebody feed him the ball at the top of the key, and draining shot after shot. He would take a shot just like this in the game.
We get to the 2nd staging area. This is literally just a very large room with the press conference area in one half, and a bunch of tables with surge protectors set up in the other half. Later on, space would get real tight but we were here (by design) early enough that it wasn't too chaotic yet. I was then introduced to the other half of the Kamenetzky Brothers combo, Brian, as well as the LA times blogger Mark Medina, and the aforementioned Ian Thomsen. All these guys were super nice.
3:40 After walking back to the first staging area to obtain a password to the wireless network, I set up shop in the press conference staging area. Perhaps one of the coolest things (for a nerd like me anyways) about the press room is that they have these packets that have shit loads of information about the two teams. Stats on everything, random tidbits, it's basically like a Cliffnotes for basketball fans.
3:50 I read the wireless password sheet and realize that it requires up to date virus protection, which my computer doesn't have. It says if you don't have it, they'll automatically cut you off, so the first think I do is renew my virus protection (Norton is $70 bucks?!?!?). It's cool. Even adding up the parking ($20), the anti-virus ($70) and the digital recorder I bought ($60) doesn't even get halfway to the ticket for one of these games. I get into all four in LA (if there are that many).
Kurt Helin (formerly of Forum Blue and Gold, now with Pro Basketball Talk) and Kelly Dwyer (you know who he is) set up shop close to me, so I introduce myself. I'm proud to find out they both know of me (or at least pretend they do). I meet Kevin Arnovitz as well. Thus concludes the list of people I actually introduced myself to.
4:15 My shitty laptop burns out. I might have to replace it before game 2, but for now, I just have to wait for it to cool down. So I walk around a bit. Just past the press conference area are the locker rooms for both teams. The Clippers have their own (dormant) locker room. I asked about whether the Sparks have a locker room too. They apparently use the Lakers'.
4:30 Doc Rivers has his press conference. It lasts maybe 2 minutes. After answering 2-3 questions about team health, nobody has anything for him. He is happy to go, quipping "looks like you guys are as tired as I am" on his way out.
4:45 I miss most of the Phil Jackson press conference because I had to go to the bathroom. Some professional I am. It's alright though, because each press conference is immediately transcribed and distributed by guys in suits to anyone and everyone in the media staging areas. This entire operation is amazing if you've never been a part of something like it before.
5:00 David Stern's press conference is clearly the main event of the pregame activities. He takes the podium and answers questions for about 30 minutes. There was lots of talk about the pending Collective Bargaining Agreement, a couple questions about the free agent "summit", and of course a question about Wooden. Stern responded to that by saying "Wooden meant a great deal to the game, and we're not going to write his obituary just yet", which was strangely prescient because the Washington Post ended up reporting that Wooden died a full 24 hours before he actually did.
5:40 I start heading up to my assigned seat in section 322. To get there, I have to fight my way into an elevator, which is quite the scrum.
For the Finals, the press has so many credentials that the normally assigned seating isn't enough, so they convert entire sections of seating normally reserved for fans into additional press seating. It's not an efficient conversion, as it takes 3 rows of seats to create one row of press. They basically build a table over the row of seats in front of you, and they wire that table with power and a little mini tv that has a few of the important sports and network channels, and an entire channel that is just an updated box score.
5:55 I arrive at my seat. I'm against the back wall of Staples, as high up as you can possibly get, but I'm not complaining.
6:05 The players are standing around center court for a looooonnng time waiting for tip off. Thanks ABC.
- You already know what I think about the game, because I was on the game thread, and I've already written about it. So I'm going to skip ahead to the game's end. However, these are a couple of my thoughts about watching the game from where I was.
- Staples Center gets pretty damn cold up in the rafters.
- I'm told the crowd was particularly good in this game, and it certainly seemed like it. The Lakers were loud
- Celebrity highlight of the night: Dustin Hoffman and his female companion get put on kiss cam. Dustin leans in ... pauses ... leans out ... turns around and plants one right on the lips of the other person sitting next to him, who just happened to be Jason Bateman. This was serious business, too, there may have been some gum exchange involved.
- Runner up: During a commercial break, the Lakers play a Snoop Dogg song over the PA .. and the cameraman cuts to Snoop himself. Huge ovation from the crowd, possibly louder than anything brought on by the game.
- The rows in Staples are already small, but when you have a table in front of you and a laptop on your lap, it's brutal. My knees barely survived the experience.
Back to the diary. The game ends and, at this point, I lose track of time. I got some recording of the crowd as the game comes to an end, including the glory that was Ron Artest's final three pointer.
Then, back to the elevator. It's a bunch of media rushing to get downstairs, and one elderly woman and her companion who couldn't use the stairs/escalators. When the old lady needs to get off, one guy is telling them to hurry up because he has to get to work. Classic.
When I got to the press conference area, I found one of the last remaining places to set up my computer. I don't even bother plugging it in, just set it up like I'm there, and then rush to get in line for the locker room. AK saves me again, explaining how the whole process works. Basically, you stand in a huge line until they open things up, and then the crowd all rushes in there at once to get prime position. Being in the locker room, its truly every man and woman for themselves (unless they are working in teams). Questions get asked by way of who can be the most forceful or loudest. You simply talk over other people trying to ask questions. But my favorite part of the locker room experience is the strategies people use to gain an edge. People put mics on poles, cameras on poles, all the usual stuff, but that's not the stuff I'm talking about. There was one interviewer/camera team where the camera-person was 6'3" or so and the interviewer was, I shit you not, like 4'3". She would almost crawl through the scrum to the front of the pack.
Then there are the people who just get what they want by being obscenely and rudely forceful. When in the group listening to (SSR favorite, I was paying attention to the poll) Ron Artest, a lady came up next to me and just started slowly pushing her mic towards Artest, regardless of whether there were people in the way or not. At one point, she was pushing into another lady so hard that the lady nearly fell over, and was forced to go to her knees to keep her prime position.
I'm a decently tall guy with decently long arms, so I was usually able to go to the back of a crowd and just reach in with my recorder to get some decent soundbytes. I didn't ask any questions on this night, but perhaps next time. I don't want to ask a question just to do it though. In any case, I got some decent copy of Shannon Brown, then Ron Artest. Lamar Odom, and Derek Fisher. I tried to get some Andrew Bynum, but couldn't really get in. Also, at one point, I was just standing there, and somebody bumped into me. I turn to look over my shoulder, and Pau Gasol is barging past me. Good thing I didn't curse him out =). After those locker room interviews, I went back to the press conference room just in time to get Pau and Kobe Bryant's dual press conference as well.
After that, the festivities of the night were pretty much ended, and since Dex was on the postgame, I headed home. It was an amazing experience, though not nearly as intimidating as I was expecting it to be.
The one thing I came away truly impressed with is a new respect for the journalists. These people are operating at a mile a minute all the time. They've all got their Blackberrys and smart phones out all the time, listening to the press conference in one ear, a video file in the other, and typing out their pieces along the way. I'm glad I wasn't trying to keep up, because I would certainly have failed to do so.
All the sound bytes are below. I can't vouch for the quality, though they sound OK to me.