If you remember the movie Almost Famous, you'll remember the kid, William Miller, that got to cover the band Stillwater for Rolling Stone. I'm in my mid 30's and far from a kid, and maybe I tried to play it off as if I belonged there as best I could, but inside I could certainly relate to that wide eyed kid who was living a dream just by peaking behind the curtain.
I've been lucky enough to use a press pass in the past, but I've never been to the Finals before, never mind covering them from behind the scenes. So this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn't resist. So when I found out that SBNation had a press pass for me, I hopped on a plane and headed to Boston.
Arriving at the arena, the tone for the night was set early when I was waiting for the elevator and noticed an unmistakable man just ahead of me. Standing no more than 10 feet from me was Magic Johnson himself. He was with Marc Jackson and the guy next to me kept talking about how he was taller than he thought. Having grown up hating the guy, then learning to have a tremendous respect and love for him (mostly because of Larry Bird's friendship with him) I couldn't help but feel a bit starstruck.
First thing I did when I got into the arena was call Jimmy Toscano, who has been doing a great job covering the team for CelticsBlog all year. I figured if all else failed, I could follow him around like a very tall puppy dog and I wouldn't get in too much trouble. Jimmy was kind enough to show me where to sit and when to head to the locker room. I have virtually no internal clock so that alone was a blessing.
So first of all, you have to understand that even though they let the press in the locker room, the players aren't all standing there getting dressed. There's the training room, workout room, and shower rooms all around the locker room, and they are all off limits to the press. Bottom line: if a player doesn't want to talk to the press, they can find ways to avoid it. (KG - who doesn't talk to the press before games - was nowhere to be found)
That said, there were some players in there getting ready or just chilling. Tony Allen was playing hip hop on his earphones and singing along for all to enjoy. Rasheed Wallace came in making a siren noise (which is apparently part of some kind of tradition he has been keeping all year long). Then in the corner were the eventual stars of the game Big Baby and Nate Robinson.
Nate was mostly listening to his iPod, playing games on his iPhone and messing with his iPad. Baby was having too much fun messing with the press. At one point some folks from the Herald were asking him about Twitter. These clearly weren't the typical beat writers, so I'm sure they didn't even know about the whole Big Baby free agency fake twitter account controversy, or they would have asked. He pretty much just avoided talking to them about it by picking up a dirty workout shirt and exclaiming about how smelly it was. "Smell this" he said, while offering it up to anyone that wanted to stick their nose into it. This guy is just as goofy as he seems on TV, maybe more so.
The other players would either not be seen at all or would blow through there in the blink of an eye (like Rondo did). Some members of the press were hoping for some quotes from Ray Allen but he came in the door, and (with a smile) underhand tossed a balled up shirt over the heads of the press crew (I had to duck) and it landed in his locker. Jessica Camerato said "he would get it right in his locker from across the room."
We went back to the press room where they have row after row of tables set up with internet connections. As I looked around, it was like a who's who of media types. Over there was Bob Ryan, over there was Jackie MacMullen and Ian Thompson, I walked right past Jeff Van Gundy. I introduced myself to some of them (I'm a big Jackie fan) but I mostly stayed out of the way and let the folks do their jobs. They really don't get enough credit for the work that they do and seeing them in their environment was fun.
I hung around the new, up and coming media crowd mostly. Beyond Jimmy Toscano there was Brian Robb from Celtics Hub, Chris Forsberg from ESPN Boston, Jeff Howe from NESN, Jessica Camerato from WEEI, and others (briefly saw Kevin Henkin from CSL).
At one point I had to get out of Jimmy's way and let him do his thing, so I wandered onto the court area where I had free reign to walk along press row. I saw Sean Grande (who I've had the pleasure of meeting before - really nice guy) and Bill Simmons talking so I decided to head over to them and introduce myself. I didn't want to but into their conversation but I didn't think I'd ever have another chance to meet Bill so I waited for an opening. When there was a lull in the conversation I introduced myself and thanked Bill for the kind words and advice that he had offered me back when CelticsBlog was still an infant blog. He remembered me and was very pleasant to talk to. Of course it wasn't long before the conversation turned to TV shows and I didn't have much to offer in terms of conversation there. So we said goodbye and went on our ways.
Finally came time to head to our seats. There isn't enough room for all the press to sit on press row or even down on the court, so guys like me have to sit in what's called "the Halo." It is highly appropriately named because it is the ring around the top of the Garden that actually looks down on the banners. Yet somehow the action didn't seem all that far away - but maybe that was just the excitement of being there for the Finals.
There's a long counter that serves as a desk for everyone and again there were places to plug in and connect to the internet. Now there's an unwritten rule that says that you shouldn't cheer on press row because it is unprofessional. So I tried to scale it back a few dozen notches. That said, this is the Finals, and none of us could resist a few high fives here and there. The crowd was obviously jacked up, especially during that 4th quarter run when the bench was extending the lead.
After the game, we were faced with the option of heading back to the locker room or waiting to see who would show up at the podium for post-game interviews with the media. When we heard that Baby and Nate would be part of the fun, we sat right down and enjoyed the show. Those two could do a talk show or something, they were simply hilarious to watch. It was almost as entertaining to see Kobe fend off questions about the game and give smug, disinterested answers to the typical media questions one would get after a loss.
So that was it. My night was over and I still had a long drive ahead of me, so I thanked Jimmy and headed for the exit. I couldn't resist one last visit to the court, which was now empty for all but a few workers and post-game analysts. It was a night to remember, and I have the pleasure of going back to do it again for game 5. Here's hoping the result will be the same. I'm 1-0 in Finals appearances. Gotta keep the streak alive.