EL SEGUNDO -- When you walk into the Time Warner Cable SportsNet offices it's as if you're walking into a purple and gold temple. Relics of the Lakers are everywhere. Autographed jerseys are framed and hung for seemingly miles, promotional banners cover the white walls; a reminder that this isn't your average workplace. The first steps you take into the office are on the Lakers' logo itself -- the network was given the old hardwood floor from Staples Center and they bring that piece of art front and center.
This is the home of the Lakers.
The network opened its doors to Lakers bloggers for a night, bringing in the grinders who cover the Lakers from afar. What they allowed us all was an opportunity to learn what the lifeblood of their operation is, all while enjoying what felt like a "once in a lifetime" experience. It was an event that left everyone in attendance in a whirlwind of wonder.
Before the lights, cameras and action, though, we were given a look into the great work happening behind the scenes to bring a network dedicated to the Lakers to life. Peter Bothe, Director of Studio Operations at Time Warner Cable Sports met us before we embarked on our journey through the studio, beaming with a sense of pride he couldn't contain as he described what's happening behind the scenes.
"We are not a news source, but we are a source of information," Bothe explains to us. The studio never tries to hide its allegiance to what the Lakers represent to Southern California. Because of this, they can't be considered along the likes of CNN or even ESPN, but that's just fine with what they're trying to accomplish in El Segundo. They strive to be a haven for Lakers fans rather than just another objective outlet, and they accomplish this because of their strong ties to the franchise. Part of the charm while touring the facility is how openly they embrace their fandom.
There's no facade or mirage being painted. This is a place filled with Laker love, and they're completely open and honest about this simple fact. Once you enter the gates, it's hard not to be swept up by it.
The on-air talent is just one piece of the puzzle Bothe helps bring together every day in El Segundo. 15 people -- not counting their studio analysts -- shift their version of a Rubik's Cube into alignment 82 games a season. Without their specialized support this operation would come to a grinding halt.
We walk through the a maze of cubicles seemingly filled with multi-monitor setups and go straight to their control room, which Bothe described as the "central nervous system" of Time Warner Cable SportsNet's shows. We enter silently and get nary a look while a crew of professionals are locked in to the countless rows monitors in front of them. Some big, some small, but all with a purpose. They're communicating with John Ireland as he prepares to lead in to his next segment, filling him in on what Kobe Bryant said before the game. They're making television, on the fly, and it's an impressive process to watch.
But a look over at their personal wall is a reminder of what we're learning about the SportsNet studios; they love the Lakers and aren't afraid to wear it on their sleeves. The wall is lined with the kind of things you'd just as likely find pinned to the walls at any other office job. At the top, a Jordan Clarkson is BAE sign stands as the most memorable of the bunch.
We exit the control room after asking Bothe to see more of their visual presentation. The impressive in-studio play breakdowns that "Coach" Dave Miller often presents? We learn both Miller and James Worthy spend time before games with a technical crew that goes through film. They pick out plays, explain what they see from a basketball perspective, then hand it off to the wizards of the studio to make incredible presentations with. Everyone in the studio is working together to bring the best product possible to Lakers fans every single day. Win or lose, these people take pride in what they do.
After checking out the behind the scenes magic, we got a live and up close look at what the whole show hinges on: the on air analysis. When entering the Time Warner Cable SportsNet studios, the first thing that hits you is not, as many would expect, a feeling of "Oh my gosh I'm in the same room as James freaking Worthy" (although that part is cool too). No, the first thing you notice is the screen used by the analysts. The display for all of those slaved-over highlights and graphics is a gigantic, 23' x 7' Leyard USA LED wall with a 1.6 mm pixel pitch and it is a sight to behold. It's such high definition that Bothe explains there's not even a technical term for it yet, though it would be considered 6.5K, and is more advanced than anything even the studios of ESPN hold. On many large screens, action can look washed out or stretched, but not here due to the 3-degree arc curve of the screen, with pictures and video coming through in true high definition that makes you wonder how you ever got by watching film on a laptop or grainy stream.
Once we were done briefly drooling over the brighter-than-the-moon screen, we were introduced to the on-air hosts for the night; Chris McGee and Jaime Maggio. Joining them on the set were analysts "Coach" Dave Miller, Antawn Jamison, and of course "Big Game" himself, James Worthy, whose handshake not only swallows your entire hand but is simultaneously strong enough to make you wonder if it will be crushed whenever it reappears.
"BLOGGERS!" Worthy shouted to greet us before going on air and promising to do one of his famous victory laps around the desk if the Lakers defeated the Nets that night (they did, and he did two laps that left him visibly winded when going to analyze the game. The Lakers need to win more if for no other reason than to keep Worthy working).
It's all so seamless as they bounce from topic to topic, to commercial break to pre-taped segment then back in for live analysis, and from camera angle to camera angle. Four cameras bring the presentation together, with a "jib" camera swinging around the studio to bring the kind of dynamic shots that are the cherry on top of what they do like clockwork. It's the kind of polished process expected from an experienced operations team of veterans who've worked in the television industry elsewhere.
The crew finishes breaking down Kobe's usage, and it was off to watch the first quarter with the studio team for the night. Each member varies in how they approach their preparation to go on air. Worthy spouts the kind of observations you'd expect from someone as knowledgeable of the game as he is, wondering aloud things like why D'Angelo Russell picked up his dribble so early. Coach Miller joins him on the analyst front, bouncing his own observations off of the group. Jamison and McGee were more quiet; the former focusing on statistics of note on his iPad while McGee jotted down information on his notepad.
In between bites of Hummus Factory catering, the studio talent took some rapid fire questions. Highlights included Worthy comparing Julius Randle to a young Charles Barkley and Jamison's zero hesitation "no" when asked if seeing Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace back in the league has him considering a comeback.
While watching the rest of the game in our own little bloggers room (and by little I mean it had multiple televisions, a conference table, and more free food, the lifeblood of bloggers), every single member of the studio team stopped by at least once to point out the Lakers are on track to be undefeated with bloggers in studio. The team held on to win, but it probably had more to do with the moribund state of the Nets than any magical powers bloggers possess.
You could hear whoops and yells from all different directions, people running through the halls in excitement, and smiles all around. There was genuine excitement, perhaps even relief, that the Lakers -- the team they cover for work but with love -- finally broke the win column.
It felt like we were still in a purple and gold haze walking away from the studio as the night ended. We were just in the presence of the amazingly charismatic James Worthy, an all-time great. We were nearly blinded by one of the biggest and brightest screens we may ever see in our lives. It was a night to remember, but a night that wouldn't exist without the hard work of a team dedicated to opening its doors as the best home for Lakers fans on a nightly basis. Some may want Time Warner Cable SportsNet's analysis to be more critical at times, but these are not impartial observers. They consider themselves partners of the Lakers; part of a team that wants the purple and gold to be great as much or even more than any fan.
After spending just a few hours in the presence of the wonderful world they live in, it's impossible to blame them.