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Reflections on My First Press Pass (Part One)

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The following article was written by Jay King (Celtics Town) who recently represented Celtics Central at the Celtics/Mavericks game.

Jay is a former player at Skidmore College and is a senior there. Jay has fueled his love of the Celtics by starting an active and credible fan website called Celtics Town. Jay has been assisting Celtics Central with a little writing of late.

As a writer, and as a fan of basketball and the Celtics in particular, Jay shares his thoughts and experience going behind the scenes. I think you will enjoy sharing in his experience.

A couple nights ago, I had the surreal experience of having press credentials to a Boston Celtics game.  Today, I share my experience.

After spending about 10 minutes trying to find the media entrance to the Boston Garden, I finally spotted a security guard who let me know where it was.  My heart raced as I walked through the entrance to media security.  I had always been the biggest Celtics fan in the world.  Now, I was going to get the chance to be in their locker room, to talk to the same players I’ve idolized for years.

One of my biggest dreams had always been to meet a Boston Celtic.  Suddenly, I was going to get to meet all of them, to see them in their comfort zone, to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life in the NBA.  I’d always wanted to talk to an NBA player; now, it would be inevitable.

I got my press pass from the table, and proceeded to pass through security.  As my bag was searched, I heard my heart do a little pitter-pat.  And my hands?  They weren’t just sweaty, they were like Michael Sweetney’s body after an hour-long sauna.

I walked down a hallway to the media room, which was on my left.  A hallway to the right led to the Celtics’ locker room.  I looked down the hallway and, chatting it up, stood Kevin McHale.  Just another day at the office for him.  The day of my life for me.

I walked into the media room to find a spot to put my laptop down, and saw a room full of some of my biggest idols.  The most easily recognizable was Bob Ryan; the legend has been writing about the Celtics for quite a bit longer than I’ve been alive, and I’ve admired his work since I became able to comprehend it.

Behind me were the rest of the Globe’s writers, and the Herald’s writers were also in the room.  Sadly, I couldn’t recognize some of them.  I’ve read enough Frank Dell’Apa that I could recognize one of his columns if I read only two or three sentences, but I didn’t know what he looked like.  It wasn’t until later in the night, when Ray Allen called him by his name, that I realized who he was.

As I sat at my table, Ryan took a seat across from me and began reading the newspaper.  I tried to tell myself to go make an introduction, but I couldn’t.  He’s Bob Ryan.  For someone who wants to get into sports journalism, that’s like meeting Larry Bird or Bill Russell.  As far as Celtics writers go, he’s the best of the best.  The single greatest Celtics writer.  Ever.

Finally, after watching him read a couple pages of the newspaper, I gained the courage.  As I put my hand out and said, “Mr. Ryan, I’d just like to introduce myself…”, I wondered how he would react.

But I never thought he’d be so welcoming, so gracious.  I told him how much I admired him, and he gave me a heartfelt thanks.  He asked me a bit about myself, and we had a little bit of a conversation.  After I was done bumbling my way through talking to one of my inspirations, I staggered back to my seat.  That didn’t go too badly, I thought.  What a nice guy.

After meeting Ryan, I had to go to the bathroom. (It’s amazing I hadn’t just peed my pants.) So, after asking a reporter where to go, I headed off to do my thing.  There was already somebody else in the bathroom.  Wouldn’t you know it, as I waited there Mike Gorman was two feet away from me prepping for the night’s telecast.  There was no denying it, my life was sweet.  Even if I knew it would only be for the night.

Then I walked onto the court, to sit courtside as I watched the Celtics warm up. Rajon Rondo took jumpers with his iPod headphones in his ears.  Brian Scalabrine worked up a sweat while he shot jumpers.  Bill Walker sprinted the sidelines, either trying to rehab his still-healing knee or to stay in shape during a season full of DNP-CD’s.  Shelden Williams stroked free throws.

And I, who hadn’t even been to a Celtics game this year as a fan, was sitting courtside with a media press slung over my neck.  Can you believe my lucky stars?

I wanted to soak in the experience, to savor it for everything it was worth, and I was.

But it would only get better.

I left courtside to go listen to Doc Rivers’ pregame interview. As 20 or so reporters circled around Doc in the hall, with their audio recorders thrusted in his face, Rasheed Wallace came strolling by. “Fire hazard,” he shouted about the hoard of reporters clogging the hallway, as Doc laughed.

After the interview was finished, I wandered into the Celtics’ locker room. Are you kidding me? I thought. If you told me six months ago that I would be reporting from a game in the Boston Garden, I would have laughed in your face. Good joke.

But sometimes in life, unforeseen events happen. I started a blog, wrote up a storm, and before I knew it I was in the C’s locker room interviewing the players, living my absolute dream. Okay, maybe not my absolute dream, but my second option. My number one choice would have been to play in the NBA, but as a 6’2″, slow whiteboy without much of a handle, that dream never materialized. I wonder why.

I walked into the locker room and saw a crowd of reporters around the middle as some players sat at their lockers. As I stood awkwardly for a few seconds, wondering what to do, I realized the reporters were just waiting for an interview to break out. But it was my first day and, as anxious as I was to talk to the players, I wasn’t about to wait for something to happen; I was going to make something happen. Carpe diem, baby.

I walked over to Shelden Williams, who was sitting at his locker writing a text message. Shaking on the inside while I tried to maintain a calm exterior, I introduced myself and asked if he would answer a few questions. After he said yes, I not-so-calmly ran through the questions I’d prepared for him. Coming into the day, I had questions prepared for everyone. I figured you never know who you’re going to get the chance to speak to, so when it happened I told myself I’d be prepared.

And I was… except for the stutter in my voice I’d never heard before and the waterfall coming off my palms. I battled through the unexpected obstacles and finished the interview, thanking Shelden for his time and rejoining the rest of the reporters in the middle of the room.

Shelden Williams may not be widely considered a star in the NBA, but — to me at least — he is. I’m the type of guy who would be star-struck meeting a Division Three All-American, never mind a top-five NBA draft pick playing for my favorite team, who used to star for my favorite college team. But he was more than willing to speak to me, to offer me his thoughts. I almost pinched myself when it was over.

Then it was on to Ray Allen, who was next to answer reporters’ questions. He was giving thoughtful answers to all the questions, no matter how lacking in originality they were…

Until Big Baby announced his presence with a loud scream. Talking to nobody in specific, he yelled that he was a beast, the last beast off the court in pregame warmups. He had a sandwich in his hands and sat in front of his locker room to eat it, calling the sandwich “The Last Meal.” Then Rasheed Wallace followed him into the locker room, and hilarity ensued. It was my first trip to an NBA locker room, so I had no idea what to expect.

What I didn’t expect, though, was Wallace and Big Baby doing a full-fledged comedy act, pretending to be spartans from the movie “300″. (Which Big Baby accidentally called 3,000.) Ray Allen half-jokingly said we should conduct the interview in the locker room; Sheed and Big Baby were too wild for him to focus.

After the interview, I briefly returned to the media room and transcribed quotes from the interviews. Then, off to the game. The person who told me where I was seated said I might not like my seat. It was ten rows away from the court. I’m used to the nosebleeds. Let’s just say I liked the seat.

For a guy who goes to one game a year, usually sitting in the uppermost area of the arena, to experience a game ten rows away from the court was unbelievable. Not only did the players not look like little dots on the court, but I could even sometimes hear what they were saying.

As you know by now, the Celtics blew the game, letting Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd combine to tear their defense apart in an extremely one-sided second half. But for maybe the first time in my entire life, I didn’t care that the Celtics lost. I was just glad the game was over so I could check out the postgame scene.

I returned my laptop to the media room, almost running into the room. I didn’t want to miss a single thing that happened in the postgame interviews. I speed-walked my way to the room where Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce would hold their press conferences. I don’t know what I really thought the press conference room would be like, but I thought it would at least be a little bigger.

This room was the Earl Boykins of all rooms, and there were 20-25 reporters stuffed in, to go along with three or four camera crews. Talk about a tight squeeze. I stood on the far wall, afraid to take a seat for fear of making one of the (far) more established writers stand up. Still, I was only eight or ten feet away from Paul Pierce as he conducted his presser. (By the way, I only used presser to say I hate that word. Can’t we just call it a press conference?)

As he talked about the game, I thought to myself, Can you believe this? I’m in Paul Pierce’s press conference. I watch this on t.v. every night, but now I actually get to be here. This can’t be real.

But it was, and I was there.

Part Two…later.

Thomas Halzack

One Response

  1. Casey says:

    This is an awesome article.