By Brian Vigna
I have been a fan of basketball since I first remember being tossed the orange bouncy ball as a toddler. For most of my early life I even believed I would be one of those giants on TV battling for rebounds and shooting jump shots. By the age of 14 I knew just how unrealistic that dream was — the chances of being drafted in the NBA are slightly worse than winning the lottery.
Even with the knowledge that I would never get to play in the NBA, I never stopped loving the game of basketball and everything about it. The image that the NBA works so hard to maintain is that of compassion and caring within the community, but do we really believe that if these multimillionaires weren’t required to donate time to charities they would?
Call me naive, but I really thought that these icons of athletic ability were the kind and caring people they were marketed as. I always believed that if I ever got the chance to meet a true NBA star we would instantly become friends because of our shared love of basketball. But the reality is that many of the players in the NBA simply don’t care about the fans or anyone but themselves, but are they supposed to?
In the recent dunk contest, Bull’s rookie Tyrus Thomas told reporters, “I’m just into the free money. That’s it.”
Wow. What a greedy and completely unnecessary comment. Thomas’s agent later made the standard apology to fans and the league, but the comments weren’t so easily retracted.
When I was given the opportunity to go to an Orlando Magic game, and possibly interview members of the team, I was shocked. I wasn’t even excited because I honestly thought it wouldn’t happen, right up until I got in the car to drive to Orlando.
The experience started out with my entry into a media entrance at the back of the arena. I was pushed through several security screenings where my belongings were searched and I was told to keep going. After I got my official press pass, I was ready to explore with all access granted.
Three hours before the game, the players who knew they wouldn’t play this time came out and practiced. Eventually the big names players came out and casually shot around. With the game an hour away, the players returned to the locker room for final preparations.
The game was a blowout. From the start, the Magic were seemingly unstoppable. With a steady 10-point lead coming out of the first quarter, Orlando never trailed in the game. I could hardly concentrate on the game itself; I had so many questions swirling inside my head. Normally I would have been content with free ticket to a basketball game, but this didn’t seem like that type of situation. I hadn’t driven to Orlando or researched every interview Dwight Howard has ever done for tickets to a free game. No, I was there to do what I had set out to accomplish, an interview with Howard.
After the game, media people, as we were referred to throughout the game, hurriedly made their way through the players’ exit toward the locker room. This was it; whatever was going to happen was going to happen right now.
After a minute-long press conference by the coach, we were granted access to the locker room, the farthest behind the scenes you can get. My eyes the size of quarters, I followed the pack into the locker room, unsure what to expect. At that moment I thought that I was set to do a personal question-and-answer session with whichever player I wanted.
Wrong again. The crowd of reporters shoved microphones and cameras into Howard’s face and pushed to get a few short answers out of the exhausted player. I tried to squeeze in, but the obviously experienced reporters kept the circle around Howard tight and didn’t leave much room for a young naive communication major.
When the commotion subsided I was still there staring at Howard, probably creeping him out just a little bit, hoping for my big chance. I asked about two questions before I decided to ask for an autograph on the Jersey I had bought a few hours before, worst, most amateur mistake I could have made.
It was explained to me later than there is a very serious difference between press and fans. Fans ask for pictures with players. Press takes the pictures. I had crossed the line and my inexperience showed through. That was the end of my time as a reporter at an Orlando Magic game.
I left the game with a sick feeling in my stomach, remembering only the look Howard had on his face as I crept out of the locker room, ashamed and embarrassed. On the long, long drive home I began to realize that this was my first time, why was I so embarrassed to have been seen as a beginner? I was a beginner. This was that crash-and-burn experience each journalist had to suffer through.
If I hadn’t learned anything else that night at least I could say with confidence that the greatest skill in the business is persistence. Even if I didn’t accomplish exactly what I had originally set out to do, I had at least done something worth talking about.