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Refelections of a First Press Pass (Part II)

This is the rest of Jay’s King (Celtics Town)  running commentary on his first night with press credentials, behind the scenes at a Celtic game.

(To pick up where Jay left off – he is in the room used for press conferences and Paul Pierce was having his say with the press.)

My sweating had ceased to a few drips at a time rather than the downpour it had been prior to the game. I wouldn’t want to say I was comfortable yet with being behind the scenes, but I was getting closer. Baby steps.

I have to say, though, Pierce’s press conference was far from the coolest thing that went on in that teeny, tiny room. That award goes to Bob Ryan, for his chat about Oscar Robertson. Ryan was vehement in arguing how good Robertson was, saying only one guard in the NBA today is in his class. (I’ll let you guess the guard.)

To hear Ryan argue, passionately, about a subject, I felt I was in a real-life version of ‘Around the Horn. I never got the opportunity to see Robertson play, but Ryan’s insights stem from decades of covering the sport and his deep knowledge of the game, so I trusted him.

Doc Rivers came on next, but I didn’t stay. I had to choose between a group media press conference or a chance at one on one player interviews. The team transcribes quotes from the press conference, so I wouldn’t need to be there to get the information. But I’d have to be in the locker room to get the quotes from the players. So I left Doc’s press conference and strolled into the locker room.

(Can you believe I said no to an opportunity to sit in on Doc’s press conference? For something even better? This night was becoming more than I’d ever bargained for.)

I walked into the locker room, where other reporters had already congregated in their natural perch — the middle of the room. Watching reporters wait to interview clearly dejected players was one of the strangest things from my night. They tried to find the right time to interview guys, knowing full well there is no right time to interview somebody after the second-half butt-whooping the C’s had just been administered.

They sat there like a crew of tigers waiting to pounce, looking for an opportunity — any opportunity — to swoop in and ask some questions. Vultures. All of them. And, for the night, I was one of them. Cha-ching.

Big Baby was the first they — we, I guess — attacked. While he was screaming and hollering before the game, the Big Baby I saw after the game was down in the dumps. His voice that had been so loud and enthusiastic prior to the game had dimmed to a barely audible level. I guess mine would be, too, if I had to answer questions about getting torched by Dirk Nowitzki.

Ray Allen was next. Classy Ray. He answered every question thoughtfully, but I don’t think he was in any mood to talk either. By this point, I’d almost gotten used to jamming my audio recorder into a player’s face to listen to him speak. It annoyed even me to see all those damn recorders stuffed in players’ faces; I can only imagine how the players felt. I wondered if I was the only one holding a recorder who wanted to ask Ray for his autograph. I thought probably.

I took a couple steps to the left of Ray Allen’s locker and joined the growing heap of audio recorders around Rasheed Wallace. Rasheed was completely calm, but talked about how “bull—-” some calls were. He knew he’d be probably be fined for the comments, but didn’t quite care. He just wanted to let the officials know he thought he’d been screwed. There was no venom in his voice, nor did it even raise. He was completely even-keeled, and simply thought the calls were bad.

By the end of Rasheed’s interview, the reporters had already gathered around (aka started to prey on) Kendrick Perkins, but by the time I went over for my belated hunt, Perk was already done answering questions. Damn it, I thought. My first — and maybe only — chance to interview Perk and I’d blown it. Oh well, maybe next time. (Wait, there isn’t a next time? At least not in the foreseeable future? *Bashing head into wall.* *Repeat head bash.*)

After they were done with Perk, most reporters left. But I wasn’t going anywhere, not yet. No way. I was staying right until the end. I was going to soak in everything the Celtics’ locker room had to offer. There was no stopping me. By now, the only player left in the locker room was Brian Scalabrine, and he was eating a serving of some pasta that looked like it might be chicken alfredo. (Note: Yum.)

He sat at the locker and just shot the shit with the remaining reporters, still wearing his jersey. (My brother hypothesizes that he was scared to change in front of anyone else. He didn’t want anyone to see his “bro.”) He talked about politics, NFL football games, and what it’s like for him to defend Dirk Nowitzki. It was weird to see that NBA players are regular guys. I always thought they were super-human. Even Scal.

But there I was, watching Scal eat and talk about things my friends and I would talk about. It wasn’t on the record, but it sure was cool.

I finally exited the locker room, thinking my unrealistic night was just about done. I was one of the last — maybe the very last — to return to the media room, where I once again took my seat among all the Celtics writers so very much better than I am.

I sat down, poured over all my notes, and began to write my recap. As I was typing, I floated on air. I’d just done something I never could have even dreamed of. I’d gone into the Celtics locker room, and I’d survived. Even held my own, I thought. Now it was back to writing, something I’ve done so much of recently, but something I still couldn’t do as well as anybody else in the small room.

My fingers pounded the keys, just like William Forrester suggested, and I was in my own little zone thinking about all the thoughts going through my head and how I was going to focus it all into one piece.

I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and turned around. It was Bob Ryan. He put his hand out to shake mine. I shook back. He told me it was very nice to meet me. Very nice to meet ME!? I thought. Your Bob F—ing Ryan. It’s not supposed to be nice for YOU to meet ME!! He told me he hoped he’d be able to see me again soon. I almost feinted. I muttered an inaudible thanks. (Or something like it; I barely remember my own response.)

I’d come into the night hoping I wouldn’t make a fool out of myself in front of the Boston Celtics. For the most part, I thought I succeeded. I thought it would be one of the best nights I’d ever experienced, to meet and even speak to all the Boston Celtics.

And it was. It lived up to every expectation I had, and then some. Being in the Celtics’ locker room was surreal. It was majestic. It was magical.

But if I learned one thing from the night, it was this.

For an aspiring sportswriter, nothing can match having Bob Ryan seek you out just to tell you it was nice to meet you. Nothing.

Not even meeting all your other heroes.

Not even seeing Rasheed Wallace and Big Baby pretend to be spartans.

Thomas Halzack

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