My Super-Awkward Encounter With the Miami Heat

I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I’m entrusted by certain publications to cover professional sports. I’m credentialed to go to NFL and NBA games every week.

Most people I’m acquainted with probably know that about me because, well, I’ve probably told them. I’ve interviewed a fair amount of professional athletes that I grew up watching. After talking to Ray Lewis, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki or Michael Vick it’s hard not to mention it on Facebook or tell someone the story about what they were like.

But to be honest, I don’t do that because I think it makes me look cool or anything like that. The truth is that I work really, really hard trying to make this whole writing thing work for me. I write anywhere from 30,000-40,000 words each week and maybe 45% of it gets published somewhere. The rest is either pitched to various publications that never follow up with me or just scrapped because I don’t like it. A fair amount of late nights are spent writing. I  typically have a 50 minute drive each way to work. And when everything’s said and done, I’d be making more money if I were working full-time at McDonalds. In fact, I don’t get paid a cent to cover the Dallas Mavericks. All this combines with the general stress of wondering if this will eventually turn into a sustainable career.

So really the only way to stay enthusiastic is to avoid becoming jaded. The fact that I spend a lot of time in places that I would have killed to be when I was eight years old is what keeps me working hard. If getting to talk to Jason Witten a couple times a week doesn’t seem pretty awesome then why am I doing it?

So last Thursday I covered the Dallas Mavericks matchup against the Miami Heat. By the time the night was over I had talked to Lebron James and Dwyane Wade among others. Pretty cool, right?

I would say so. And if that were all you heard about the night you might actually think I’m a pretty interesting and cool guy who chats up NBA superstars on the regular.

But I don’t know how many people that know me would actually buy that description. So I figured that if I’m going to brag about the cool aspects of my job I might as well be a little bit more specific. So I decided I’ll fill you in on how exactly that night went and how naturally un-smooth I was for most of it.

Pregame

I get to the arena about two hours before the game to hear Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle’s press conference. From there I go to the Miami Heat’s locker room hoping I can talk to Wade or James  while they are available to the press.

I go to the visiting locker room in American Airlines Center for the first time (I typically end up in the Mavericks’ locker room). Turns out the Mavericks don’t exactly roll out the red carpet for the visiting teams. The home locker room is nicely carpeted with reclining swivel chairs, flat screen TVs in every locker and other various amenities. The visiting locker room looks is about half the size (incredibly narrow), with metal folding chairs and generally looks like the locker rooms from middle school PE.

So I enter the narrow room and awkwardly find a space to stand. No Lebron, no Wade. The room mostly consists of bench players like Mike Miller, James Jones, Rashard Lewis, Dexter Pittman and also Chris Bosh who looked to be watching a movie on his laptop.

As I find a place to stand, James Jones (who rarely plays for the Heat) took off his shirt and threw it towards the large hamper. He missed. The shirt landed around the general area of my shoulder and fell down my body before hitting the ground. Jones then turned around and inaudibly apologized while facing his locker. Either that  or he just didn’t care at all that he hit me with his dirty clothes.

Wade and James are in a different room receiving treatment from their trainers. I have no real desire to talk to any of the other players in the room. None of them could really give me any quotes that would help me with the story I would eventually write and I didn’t have anything to talk about that would be worth interrupting the conversations they were already having with each other.

So I awkwardly stood about three to five feet away from them, pretending to text, while I hoped James or Wade would walk in. I’m standing there with ESPN NBA writer Marc Stein, both of us looking at our phones. Except he was probably tweeting about serious NBA stuff/texting Steve Nash about when he was going to return from injury. I texted my friend, Tommy, a funny picture of Chris Bosh. Stein and I weren’t exactly on the same level.

Respected NBA veteran Shane Battier then walks in the room and heads towards us. He shakes Stein’s hand and starts talking. I am encouraged by this and think that I’m apart of the conversation. Then I realize that Battier has been in the NBA for 11 years and Stein has been covering the league for about as long. The two of them are catching up. Before I know it they both basically have their backs towards me. I go back to pretending to text.

James and Wade don’t come into the locker room before the media is asked to leave.

Game

The seats near the court that I typically sit at are not available for this highly anticipated game. I go upstairs to watch the game from the press box, which is pretty high up in NBA arenas. You know the cheapest nose blood seats at the very, very top? Well, if I reached down a few feet I could touch the heads of the people sitting at those seats.

I watched the Miami Heat dominate the Dallas Mavericks for four quarters. It was rough.

Post-Game 

So it’s getting late after the game and I have a 45-minute drive back home after the game and have to write the second half of my story before I go to bed.

But I need to try to talk to Wade and James one last time.

This time around they are both available to talk to. Unfortunately, when I walk into the locker room there are already about 40 people swarmed around James’ locker. I immediately stick my recorder in the mass and try to figure out how to get closer.

After a few seconds of barely being able to see or hear James, I see an opening on the other side of the mob. If I could work my way around the mob I could be much closer to James and be able to get a couple questions off. I decide to make the move.

The crowd is backed up all the way to the feet of Wade who is sitting in a towel icing his feet in a bucket of ice water (Wade has various leg injuries and has to ice them after nearly every game). In order to get to the other side I will have to jump over the bucket.

It’s a pretty small bucket and I think I’m athletic and coordinated enough to make the jump. Maybe it was because it was past midnight and I had been working for about 16 hours and I was tired or maybe I just put too much thought into, but for whatever it was, I just barely cleared the bucket. Centimeters were the difference between me hitting the bucket, sending ice water all over the room/myself and hitting the metal bucket against Wade’s shins.

For whatever reason I decide to look back at Wade after I landed the jump. He’s shaking his head and staring at me in way that seemed to say “Are you kidding me? If you had knocked over this bucket I would have lost my shit on you.”

I make it to that small opening in the crowd that I had seen before. It didn’t really make any sense that there would be an opening right next to James, but I never stopped to think about that.

When I got to the opening there was one gentleman who was standing near James, but distant enough to leave some room in between. Having been in these situations before I knew that there is a certain level of assentiveness that you need to have. I give the guy a very slight nudge and start to walk by him. He puts his hand up and very calmly says, “Hey man, hold up just a second.”

He wasn’t a reporter. He was Norris Cole, the back up point guard for the Heat who happens to look exactly like Waldo from Family Matters.(props to Kevin Brolan on the comparison). Cole’s locker was next to James’ and he was still getting dressed. In my defense, he’s not that tall, it was an honest mistake. Cole was actually pretty cool about the misunderstanding. Nice guy that Norris Cole.

I end up getting the spot I needed and get to ask James a couple questions. I leave after a minute or so and head back to Wade and ask him a few questions while everyone else is still focusing on James. Wade is very friendly and answers. He doesn’t act upset about the near ice water disaster a few minutes ago. Apparently Wade’s life is so eventful that he forgets about incidents like these just moments after. I, on the other hand, am writing an article about it four days later.

…..

And that’s that. I pack my things, walk back to my car, get home around 1:00 AM, write the rest of my story and go to bed.

So yeah, I spent my Thursday hanging out with Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. I’m pretty cool…

-Jonny Auping

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