Ever since I can remember, I have been in awe of NBA players. At the age of five I would cut out newspaper clippings of my favorite players like Allan Houston and Patrick Ewing and put them in a shoebox. I have basketball cards in stacks of binders that I’ve been buying since around the same age. My autograph collection is deep, ranging from guys like Houston, Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson to Primoz Brezec, Moochie Norris and Brandon Armstrong. Any time I had the chance to meet one of my favorite players I remember being more nervous talking to them than talking to girls.
I remember in eighth grade, there was an event for Nets season ticket holders during March Madness and I was practically trembling as I approached Richard Jefferson to ask what he thought of my bracket.
While I won’t necessarily say these guys were my role models, I will say that NBA players were awe-inspiring. I spent hundreds of hours watching them play and that “holy crap, this is Jason Kidd” feeling never wore off for me. Until now.
Upon entering college at Vanderbilt University, I became involved as a student manager with the men’s basketball team. I was around an SEC college basketball program day in and day out and was still kind of surprised by some of the things that happened to me. I only managed part-time as a freshman, but the weekend we were scheduled to play Kentucky, none of the full-time managers were able to let them into the gym for a shootaround. They asked me if I could do it. My heart probably skipped a beat.
This was the team with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, No. 1 in the nation, with John Calipari as the head coach. This was the best team in college basketball, one with gobbles of NBA talent and here I was letting them into the gym. I kept pinching myself at the thought as I waited for the team to arrive, and when they finally did I was starstruck. Coach Cal shook my hand and then asked if I could give him a tour of the locker room and I just nodded my head, and then led him into our locker room.
Following that, I went up to the court to make sure the team had everything they needed, and Erin Andrews was waiting there to interview some of their players about the game. Right as I first saw Erin Andrews, I remember turning around and seeing DeMarcus Cousins roll in to the gym with huge glasses, sweatpants rolled up above his knees, and flip-flops with knee-high socks, plopping down to be interviewed by Erin Andrews. At that moment I was thinking, Cousins either has more swag than I could ever imagine or was not aware he was being interviewed by Erin freakin’ Andrews. I think it was a combination of the two, but either way that experience was one of the coolest of my life.
The summer following my freshman year was when I first interned for Dime. I began actually interviewing and meeting players as a journalist as opposed to a fan, but I must admit it was incredibly hard to suppress the urges. I had to act unprofessionally. The first event I ever covered for Dime was a Nets draft workout featuring Tiny Gallon, Larry Sanders, Elijah Millsap, and Magnum Rolle. After getting interviews with Gallon and Sanders, I strongly considered asking for their autographs because I thought it would be cool to add them to the collection as the first players I interviewed for Dime. I teetered back and forth with the issue for 10 minutes – “should I, shouldn’t I, should I, shouldn’t I” – and ultimately decided not to do it. But to say I didn’t regret asking them would be lying. I knew asking them would have been unprofessional and would’ve reflected poorly on me, but I was 19 and covering NBA Draft workouts and talking to future NBA players. How many people would kill to be in the position I was in?