In the first installment of Behind the Scenes, I shared with you the process of getting to the 2009 NBA Finals, and all of the complications and setbacks that tried to keep me away from my basketball Mecca. Today, we pick up where we left off, with the game about to start. Click on through for an insider look at the game from a media perspective.Before the game, I scouted the court and the arena. Already, many of the fans had arrived at Staples Center, and more were pouring in through the front doors, but most of them were out on the lower concourse, checking out the merchandise or buying food. On the concourse, it was a maze of foot traffic, as people weaved in and out, passing each other as they headed in all different directions. Everywhere you looked, a constant sea of yellow shirts. Most people had their own Lakers gear on for the game, but they were also selling special shirts at the door. They were a big hit – those who weren't wearing Lakers gear outside the doors were by the time they entered the arena, and even many of those who wore their own gear bought shirts and wore them over the top.
I headed into the arena, and right down near the court. I was about five steps behind the courtside seats, and the view was incredible. I looked around, determined where I would stand to watch the game, and then decided to check out the nosebleeds. I took the elevator to the top, then climbed the stairs to the very top row. With my back against the arena wall, I looked down at the court. It was very high, and the court appeared pretty small. I don't do very well with heights, and even though I was at the back of an entire section of stadium seating, I still felt a mild twinge of vertigo. It takes a special kind of devotion to watch a game from up in the nosebleed section, which explains why the fans up there were so intense when I returned during the game.
I headed back out to the concourse, wandering around and talking to people here and there. Everyone was excited. Soon, the announcement was made that the game would be starting, so I headed in to take my spot.
Behind the coutside seats is the first section of stadium seating. Behind that, in some sections, is a wall, slightly shorter than me. At the top of the wall, another section of seating began and went backward; in between the wall and the last row of seats from the lower section was a small expanse of standing/walking room, several feet wide. I chose that wall as my position, leaning up against it. From there, I could easily see the game; while I was not courtside, it was as though I was watching the game from the bleachers in a high school gym – the view was fantastic. This would be my post for the first half; a similar one on the other side of the arena would be my station for the second half. During timeouts, commercial breaks, and halftime, I would jump into the empty seats of those who had run to the concession stands or the bathroom, to talk to the fans still seated.
Unlike most of the media at the game, I did not have a seat. I was a roamer. This is partly because these arrangements were fairly last minute, and partly because my primary function as a credentialed blogger is to get a pulse on the atmosphere at the game and the mood of the fans, which requires me to roam around and talk to people.
I have not been to a regular game at Staples Center, so to a certain extent, I don't have much of a frame of reference in terms of intensity and noise level. I have, however, seen the Lakers in the Rose Garden (I used to live in Eugene, Oregon), and I have to tell you that I was impressed by the crowd. You've read my initial piece on Game 1, in which I discussed the atmosphere in the crowd at length. Everybody was into it. Whenever anything went right, the noise was almost deafening.
Watching the game live, from so close to the court, was an incredible experience. I was at the Finals! I'll admit I did miss some aspects of seeing the game on television; I've become quite accustomed to instant replays, a variety of camera angles, and even the voices of the commentators. I'm a big fan of Jeff Van Gundy, and while Mark Jackson can be a buffoon, the interaction between the two of them is top notch in my book. (Timbo, feel free to let us know how vehemently you disagree.)
On the other hand, there are elements of watching the game live that you just don't get at home. A loud crowd doesn't just inspire the players – it got me pumped up, too. I enjoyed seeing the fans go absolutely nuts on Bynum's first dunk, leaping out of their chairs and throwing their hands into the air, almost as much as I enjoyed the dunk itself. I like to talk about the game, and when I watch with my dad and sister, I tend to get shushed quite a bit. At the game, the fans are the game sounds – talking, cheering, and simply going crazy isn't just tolerated, it's encouraged.
Here's where I need to clarify my role as a member of the press at the Finals. The number one rule of press access to sporting events is that you do not, under any circumstances, act like a fan. If you are in the press box, you don't cheer or applaud. When you come into contact with the players, there are no autographs, pictures, or, exclamations of "Kobe! I'm your biggest fan!" Not having a seat near other media members, I was watching the game alone; still, I felt the need to put on my best media face, attempting to play the role of studious observer rather than rabid fan. Nonetheless, there were moments when I couldn't help letting go a solid fist pump, before remembering myself and pulling it back.
Watching the game live is a tradeoff. Some things are not as easy to see live. For example, you generally have to go on your first impression of a foul; you're not going to get several replays from several different angles, and there is slow motion. And those Kobe Bryant facial expressions? The jumbotron does its best to capture the most obvious ones, but you know you're missing things.
At the same time, some things are infinitely more obvious. When Kobe comes around a screen, they're not just keeping a hand on him; they're grabbing him, wrapping an arm around him, forcing him to pull them along with him. You sometimes get a sense of this when watching on TV; standing not far from courtside, it couldn't be more obvious. Another example: Pau Gasol ran his ass off in this game. I cannot state that strongly enough. He was not jogging; he was not running briskly. He was sprinting down the court, running at full bore – and the guy is very fast for a big man. I noticed this on numerous occasions; it's something that is easy to see when the entire court is spread out right in front of you. Watching on TV, you might see this once. The commentators might draw attention to it, making mention of Gasol's fantastic conditioning. But most of the time, the camera is on the ball, and you don't see Gasol booking it to the defensive end of the court on a regular basis, throughout the game.
It was a fantastic game. As enjoyable as it was from home, that's how intense it was in the stadium. After it was over, as the fans were streaming toward the door, I headed down to the media room again. I took some notes, wrote my piece for NBA.com, and when I got a chance, stopped in for some of the post-game press conferences. These guys are really tall, but sometimes, even in person, you underestimate it. The most noticable was when they came up onto the podium and then sat down on the chair behind the microphone. They sit way down on that chair. It would be like me sitting on a foot stool – and I'm not talking a foot stool that allows you to reach the upper shelves in a library; I'm talking a foot stool that comes no higher than mid-shin level. This isn't sitting; it's assisted squatting. Watching these guys sit their butts way down into such low seats – seats that would be very comfortable for you and me – really emphasized how tall these guys were.
Lamar Odom is a lanky guy; Pau Gasol is just a tree of a man. And I'm not talking a bit oak tree – more like a eucalyptus tree, reaching fan into the sky and oh, so slender. This guy is the daddy long legs of human beings. The fact that he is so coordinated, has such great foot speed and body control, is astounding to me.
I finished up my NBA.com piece, packed up, and headed out. Everyone was gone; the streets were empty, the parking garage was even emptier. I was exhausted – but this was L.A., and I was still an hour from where I was going.
On Sunday, I will beat this city. Traffic and parking be damned, I plan on being at the game at least five hours early. I will talk to fans while they wait in line. I will be there when the players come through the hallways, and I will be there when Kobe comes out for his first pre-game workout, and then Gasol after him. And I will get some great pictures of Staples Center for you guys; I'm buying a digital camera this afternoon. (I have a digital video camera that takes pictures, but it does not have a flash and doesn't do me much good inside Staples Center.) And if I work efficiently, I may even get a chance to get into the locker room.
All I really ask is that the Lakers deliver again, as they did in Game 1. Enjoying a win with 20,000 other Lakers fans in the heart of Staples Center is about as good as it gets.