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?
I covered about five or six more workouts, in addition to Derrick Favors‘ introductory press conference, throughout the process and at each one I was tempted to do the same thing. It was awesome being taken seriously by these players, but in reality, I wasn’t even taking myself seriously at the time. I still had to try and sound even-keeled during interviews because I was so giddy about the fact that I was talking to these players for one of the premier basketball publications in the world. Despite the fact that some of the guys I was interviewing were my age, that never really registered with me as I saw them in a completely different sphere than I saw myself.
This feeling was one that lingered throughout my sophomore year as a Vanderbilt manager. As a sophomore, I became a full-time manager and was on the bench during games in a much more official role then I had as a freshman. However, I was still kind of shocked at how much access I had to teams, and players who would be at the next level in a matter of months. I still felt like a kid in the candy store when it came to letting teams like Kentucky and Tennessee in to our gym for shootaround, and that sentiment carried over into last summer when I continued to cover draft workouts for Dime. I can finally say that as of May 24 of this year, around 4:30 in the afternoon, that feeling disappeared.
At that moment, because of a string of tweets from ESPN’s Chad Ford, I came to the realization that the players I grew up worshipping, the guys I’ve interviewed over the past few years, and the players I’ve met as a manager, were at the end of the day just normal people. These athletes have exceptional talent, but as people, they are just like you and me. No different. I realized this because Chad Ford tweeted about John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli, Vandy’s three stars from last year, and talked about their NBA potential. Then it hit me: I know these guys, and I know them really well.
I’ve hung out with John since the beginning of my freshman year and we’ve been through a lot of good times together. Jeff has kicked my ass in FIFA on more than one occasion. I’ve had to move Festus’ car multiple times because he parked it in the referee’s spot before a women’s game. I always thought of these guys as future NBA players at Vandy, but that was never my first thought when I saw them. These guys were friends of mine and normal college students and for some reason I guess I thought that when they went to the NBA that would change, that I would suddenly be in awe of them.
In reality, nothing has changed. They are the same guys I’ve gotten to know over the past three years, and now they are on the verge of achieving their dreams. I couldn’t be happier for them. They are people; they just have exceptional athletic talent. That shouldn’t change how we view them, or how we talk to them, and that is a lesson that John, Jeff and Festus taught me and one I will carry with me the rest of my life.
What do you think?
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