When I initially agreed to take on the responsibilities that came with Spurs media credentials, I accepted each and every one as a single unit, then I quickly dismissed them all in lieu of discussing more current projects. The season was still very much in doubt, and I've never been one to over-think any sort of responsibilities I undertake. I prefer to let the chips fall where they may on any particular occasion, and genuinely feel more uncomfortable if I actually prepare for any kind of speaking engagement. Taking that mindset with me to Spurs Media Day was, I felt, the best way to go about things, bearing completely in mind that I had previously had no experience whatsoever with the undertaking for which I'd volunteered.
Arriving at the Spurs training facility, which is consequently the most overt, non discreet unmarked building on the planet, I spoke with JRW over the phone as I made my way from the periphery grounds to the sidewalk leading up to the media entrance. He implored me to go over a link he'd sent me, which directed me to Wayne Vore's own reflections about the media day he'd attended in 2009. The requisite amount of anticipation I'd gotten from simply being on the grounds of the facility made it difficult to read the post line by line, but I was still able to appreciate the genuine sense of joy that Wayne had conveyed in his entry. Bringing a sort of levity to the situation, I found myself feeling more and more like a kid going to bed the night before Christmas morning, and I was only minutes away. I read until my excitement got the best of me, and walked in.
It should be mentioned here that walking into a professional media room with a less than conventional hairstyle can and should be likened to being the new kid at high school. People in the room, established beyond my own level as they were, met me with quizzical gazes, before simply returning to their own worlds. The media room itself is small, not unlike the size of the kitchens some of you may have in your homes. Taken with the sounds of people conversing back and forth, the room was hung with the audible hum of several different conversations all taking place at once. Had I not been brazen enough to walk directly into another group's banter, there wouldn't have been enough of a pause for me to hear something difficult to describe insofar as the way it made me feel. My interruption had set the rhythm of the exchange off just enough so that, between the introductions I found myself a part of, I could hear the squeaks of shoes on a basketball court coming from the next room. The sounds themselves didn't permeate the formalities in which I was engaged as things I'd never heard before, but the realization of whose shoes were making those noises was enough for me to have tuned out long before I received the last person's name in the group.
As I stood there, listening to the sounds of the practice taking place just one room over, I alternately focused on the shouts that accompanied the sneaker squeaks, and my own desire to actually have something to say once those doors were opened. I'd loosely gone over a few things in my head, just as a template, on the way over from Austin, and I felt confident enough that I'd be able to spin freely enough off of those, in the event that improvisation was called for. It was an odd feeling though, me shoving the actual task at hand out of my head so I could listen to the sounds of the shoes just a little bit more.
When the doors finally did open, I waited for the other reporters to pass me, so I could follow them in and be certain that I wasn't doing anything they hadn't done. This was it, I sighed. As I broke the plane of the doorway into the court, I found myself immediately frustrated that my brief moment of resolve had been so fleeting. I walked onto the Spurs practice courts looking like a bumpkin staring at a skyscraper for the first time. Tony Parker, shooting lay ups at the near basket, noticed. I'm certain of it.
As the players finished practicing on their respective ends of the side by side courts, I milled around with the other reporters, and tried to hide the completely unprofessional smile on my face by taking a bunch of pictures with my iphone pressed very neighborly to my face, like it was some 80's Nikon wind up, before realizing that such a device alongside the infinitely more advanced tools of my more established colleagues only served to betray me even more. Quietly, I shuffled to the back quarter of the throng and peered out with only enough frequency to ascertain that, yes, that really was Tim Duncan doing something over there. As the last whistle sounded and the players disembarked from the court, I moved with the rest of the reporters to the designated corner of the courts where we wouldn't interfere with more established outfits like ESPN and Univision. We began jockeying for our own positions as Coach Pop sauntered over in his put-out, confrontational style. After a few jokes about the length of the lockout and knowing glances towards media with which he was obviously more familiar, the back and forth began in earnest.
Before I'd entered the building, I'd spoken with JRW about my plans for approaching the players and staff. In a move which I considered to be wise for teeth cutting purposes, I'd stricken the possibility of communicating with either Pop or any member of the Big Three in any way. I rationalized this by telling myself that the rookies had essentially just been out-of-work college dropouts in the intervening months between the draft and that day and should therefore, be infinitely easier to approach. In the face of Popovich's purposeful walk toward me, I appreciated the wisdom of the decision to avoid asking him anything.
Of all the pictures and videos I took, only one was able to be successfully downloaded, compressed and sent to Josh. But in it you'll note the patented maneuver I take (through glorious POV perspective, thanks to the iphone's convenient and easy to use video feature), in which I sidestep the converging swarm of reporters and find myself a comfortable distance away from a man who genuinely intimidates me, all with minimal effort. I say this to forbear the fact that, even though I just claimed the maneuver helped me, it would very shortly fail me in a potentially life-altering moment. As Pop continued his by-the-book dismissal of media opinion and query, I found my resolve to stay off his proverbial lawn rewarded when he quickly shut down one reporter's questions about the league intervening in the now dead Chris Paul to Lakers trade. After gracing us with an amount of time he felt was reasonable, he strode off as quickly as he'd arrived.
As the others in the group dispersed a bit, I exchanged a word or two with the press members on the fringe of the collective and found myself caught completely unprepared for what happened next. One of the things I've long felt was certain, is that a seven-foot tall person cannot sneak anywhere. Chief among the details surrounding such an assertion would be that a seven-foot tall person you have publicly admired for a large part of your meaningful life would definitely not be able to walk right up to you without having ever been seen. Being a day for firsts though, I volunteered myself to science and utterly disproved that notion as Tim Duncan seemed to appear instantly before me.
What you'll see on the video I took of Duncan's interview (when said footage cooperates with compressing and sending) will look a lot like a typical mob interview. The crowd packed together a little more tightly than it did for Popovich, but was by all regards the same thing. What happened to me personally, however, can thankfully not be seen on any camera of which I am aware. Duncan spoke about the circumstances surrounding the lockout, as well as his personal reactions to it, and the scrum was entertained to the tune of a ten-minute info session where pretty much everyone's questions were answered. During that expanse of time, I somehow managed to mold my own sense of inadequacy into a Jurassic Park "He-Can't-See-Me-If-I-Don't-Move" assertion, all without ever becoming truly awed. Which was, of course, the proverbial pill I'd told myself to take if things got tense.
During Duncan's back and forth with the rest of the media, I had two main thoughts - the first of which was a simple appreciation that somehow I'd managed to parlay three years worth of making fun of things on PtR into a bonafide encounter with a person whom I truly admire; the second was just the hope that I didn't mumble or drool. As Duncan neared the end of his session, the writer next to me fired off a question loud enough to get his attention. Duncan, thinking I'd been the one who asked, looked me dead in the face and began talking as I literally froze in my tracks. Had my initial plan to simply roll with the punches not been my agenda, I can honestly say that maintaining a poker face at that immediate point wouldn't be a badge of pride. As his portion wrapped up, Duncan backed away and jogged off to the locker room, as if nothing had even happened.
As I reevaluated my own existence, and any purported meaning it might have had up until that point, Richard Jefferson approached the undulating mass of reporters and seemed to immediately regret doing so. Of the probably six or seven questions that were simultaneously thrown his way, only one refrained to mention his amnesty status or his short term future with the team. I had known that Jefferson's role with the team had come into question, but still felt badly for him, if for no other reason than knowing it had to be difficult going through the motions at practice and wondering if there was any point in wearing the uniform. As Richard did his best to wade through the ceaseless queries toward his job security, I started wondering why there weren't more reporters and members of the media who weren't at least a little more original with their questions, if not completely prepared to go in a totally different direction. It simply seemed as if everyone was angling for the same scoop, if only to have the bragging rights as to who fired off the obvious questions first.
When Manu walked up behind Richard, the shift in interest by the media was so sudden and sharp that even Richard, who seemed relieved to be dismissed, took awhile to actually manifest the look of relief on his face. As he traded places with Manu and sauntered off towards the locker room, the frenzy of questions immediately struck a new chord and I was once again forced to simply stare and point my iphone at his head like I was offering him a bite of a candy bar. Though I was admittedly awestruck by my own proximity to him, I found that I spent what would be the third and final round of questions attempting to divine a rhythm to the cadence by which the reporters asked their questions. I had resolved that, were I given a wide enough window, I would ask Manu how his arm injury had affected his offseason training, and whether he considered such a change beneficial, but I could gain no such opportunity. It seemed as though each time I thought I'd anticipated a break in his answers, I managed to be a split second behind someone else in the crowd. As competitive as I am, I didn't ever have the urge to raise my voice over the others, as some in the group were content to do. Something about that has never seemed right to me, though it's probably just a by-product of being forced to eat as a family when I was younger. Still, I kept trying to work my way into the line of questioning, falling a hairsbreadth short each time. By the time Manu had said goodbye to us, I'd become physically tired from trying to conversationally box out my colleagues.
As Manu marched off towards the locker room doors on the farthest end of the double courts, my fellow members of the media began to disperse. I hung around awhile longer, hoping to catch a word or two with some of the team members who loitered around the court, practicing free throws or three pointers, but in reality I simply had no idea that the session had ended. The preceding hour had seemed so surreal to me that, even after having been told by another straggler that everything had wrapped, I caught myself staring at no one particular remaining player, telling myself that I had in fact just been privy to the San Antonio Spurs on a level that had never seemed attainable. I hadn't actually asked any questions, nor did I receive any shooting lessons, but I'd stood almost toe to toe with people I'd previously only ever admired on TV. For someone who'd volunteered for the job with the hopes that I'd become a better writer for it, I found myself content with just being awestruck for the time being.