Today I was William Miller. A 6'5", almost 30 year old William Miller. I went backstage and got a taste of what its like to be near the band. Only in this case the band was the Boston Celtics and the backstage pass was really a press pass. This tour stop was Washington DC and they came out strong, were up and down, and finished well. But that part you already know. Let me take you with me backstage.
I got there around 5:00 PM knowing that the locker rooms open to the press at 5:30. Picked up the badge that gets you just about anywhere you want to go ("Sir, that's security. You'll want to go downstairs.") Even once pointed in the right direction, its still easy to get lost in the endless tunnels in and around the MCI Center. The press have their own room complete with Internet-ready cubicles and a dining area and free buffet (sign on the table says "no seconds please" - insert stereotype writer joke here). Found the cubicle labeled Boston Herald occupied by one of my favorite beat writers Mark Murphy and had a quick chat with him. Always great talking with a guy that knows his Celtics except this guy had weekly access to the team and knew the personalities of the guys. I already had a great respect for the sports writing profession, but I was even more impressed once I got to see these guys in action - not to mention watching myself (almost out-of-body like) butcher my attempts to play the part.
At first I had thought of having a list of questions for each player ready. Then I decided that I didn't want to get in the way of professionals doing their job and I would just play off of whatever the real reporters were doing. For the most part, that was the best call, but I should have been a little more prepared. For instance, walking into the locker room, I found myself face to face with Raef LaFrentz. "So Raef, you happy for Roy?"
"Yeah, I really am. He deserves it."
"So, ...um, he's a great coach huh?" (Noooooo, not the Farley routine! Find something meaningful to ask, use your depth of Celtics knowledge!)
"Yeah, he is great I'm really happy for him." (side note, even though he's obviously busy getting ready and not interested in talking, he pauses twice during the "interview" to look me in the eyes and give me a genuine answer - classy)
I notice him putting on bullet-proof ankle braces - hey, I know he has a history of injuries, I'll ask him about that.
"How are the ankles?" (Wait! ...too late to pull the words back into my mouth, but I know that he hears the same question every... single... day from some idiot like me that has nothing better to ask. Abort, abort!)
"I feel great. I've been strong all year."
"Thanks, take care."
Moving on, there's a USA Today reporter covering Ricky Davis and his run at the 6th man award. A few minutes back, while we were waiting for the players, I had spoken with him about what he was doing there. He hadn't heard of Sunday's promotion where the fans in the crowd with the best 6th Man sign gets free playoff tickets. "Ha," I thought. "I know more about Ricky than this guy." So I spent the next few minutes making sure he knew that, from my perspective, Ricky was largely misinterpreted elsewhere and is really just a funloving guy that made a mistake that one day with the triple double thing. Once the USA Today guy started talking to Ricky, I took that as my opportunity to listen in.
Its not easy to focus on him right away as Gary is motormouthing to one of the coaches but I do my best. USA Today reporter is very smooth and asks his polished questions and lets Ricky give his responses. Nothing earth shattering, Ricky's heard the same thing city after city and gives his pat answers about his commitment to the team, willingness to do the 6th man role, hopefully people's opinions will change in time, etc. The article should run on Friday, I'm sure he'll do a fine job on it, so I'll let you read his quotes there.
Once he was done, I decided I'd add my $.02 and play the role I am better suited to play - the fan let lose in the locker room.
"Hey Ricky I like what you are doing here. I like the attitude you bring."
"Thanks, I appreciate it," he said genuinely.
"I think it was Bill Simmons that said you would 'have fun shoveling crap at a circus.'"
(Laughs) "Yeah, I guess I would. Man, just living life." (ok we're not discussing rocket science here, but at least he's being real now)
I tell him that I write for a fan website and that, as fans, we are enjoying watching him, regardless of what the other guys are writing about him. My questions aren't really producing anything really quote worthy, so Shira Springer steps in to follow up with a question about the how the ABC announcers Sunday were talking a lot about "the Old Ricky vs. the New And Improved Ricky Davis"
"There ain't no difference." He says.
At this point, Gary Payton has snuck up behind Ricky and is staring at the back of his head (well, at that height, it was his shoulder). Once Ricky feels him and sees what he's doing, it produces a good laugh and anything resembling a quote for Shira is lost in the shuffle. Gary walks away speaking in a cartoon villain's voice saying "Trrrricky Rickaaay." Smiles all around. Gary is just what you'd think of him. He's that loud, fun-loving guy you meet at any local court. Always running his mouth, always making people laugh.
There really aren't that many people changing at this point. There's a back room where they can have more privacy and avoid people like me and the real reporters. The rest of the time I pretty much kept to myself and observed. Blount was stoic and detached. Justin Reed was wandering about. Marcus is cool and confident. Then Paul comes in, trailed by the NBA Entertainment film crew, desperate for a shot. So desperate that they keep the camera trained on him as he goes into the bathroom area (no door). That leads to Paul shouting over his shoulder "Can't ya even let me go to the bathroom?" Embarrassed, the cameraman obliges. Paul gives a "no comment" to Shira even as she tries to talk about Roy Williams. (Note: Paul, like several players, doesn't like to talk to the media before games)
I think he finally was coaxed into a few words on Roy, but by then I'm distracted as a slew of other people breeze through the locker room. One of which is Antoine. He's walking slowly, but without noticeable limp. Most quickly head to the back room. Danny flies through too. None really interested in talking, all apparently trying to be focused for the game. Pretty soon, its obvious that things are closing up, time for Doc to address the media out in the hall in his allotted time.
That's all the player interactions I had tonight, but I'll tell you about what Doc had to say and name-drop a little more in part 2.