Rife with bewildering uncertainties, crushing disappointments, bittersweet changes, wrenching goodbyes, tremendous hopes, and dreams dashed upon the cold hardwood surface of broken knees, it would be a gross understatement to say the 2011-12 Trail Blazer season has been a tough one for fans. Teased with greatness, tortured by late-game meltdowns, frustrated by talent that failed to deliver, and finally, reduced to hoping for a good draft position. Throughout it all, the Trail Blazers’ media group has propped us up, offered us hope, entertained us, and been a source of boundless optimistically slanted realism. They work tirelessly to bring the fans a satisfying and interactive experience, regardless of the win-loss column. They are to be commended (go on, stand UP for them!)
As part of that heroic effort, a blog contest was born. With a simple premise and a straightforward parameter, it provided fans an opportunity to earn media credentials to a game, based upon how well they crafted a blog that responded to a provided prompt. The full implications of the prize? Keep reading, because I am about to tell you! Winner of the fourth round, I was honored to accept a night in the company of Miss Sarah Hecht, who escorted me through a full-access media experience on Wednesday, April 11. The game itself was perhaps a throwaway, but the fan experience was most definitely not.
Tuesday afternoon, I received notice that I won. Excited would be an inadequate term. I have attended numerous games at the RG, but have never been anywhere other than the arena. The idea of gaining some behind-the-scenes perspective was pie-in-the-sky ridiculous! When Sarah told me to meet her at 5:00 pm in the Will Call area, it hit me full force that this was actually going to happen. Unbelievable.
The only accurate word for Wednesday night is surreal. Occasionally, as I floated through the evening, I would abruptly realize I was actually there, sitting courtside or standing around a player as they gave a post-game interview. I cannot possibly do it justice, but here is a quick run-down of the night. Hope it satisfies curiosity!
5:06 pm – I arrived at Will Call, whereupon Sarah escorted me upstairs to the media workspace for a quick tour.
5:20 pm – Onto the arena! After winding through an elevator, hallways, and doors we arrived on the concourse near the visiting team’s tunnel. I received my credentials that allowed for Locker Room access, and then followed Sarah into the media room. We left our belongings here and headed out through the visitor’s tunnel to sit courtside during pre-game shoot around.
5:35 pm – Sitting on seats next to the Blazer bench, Sarah and I discussed local media, league rumors, and player/organizational tidbits as one by one, Craig Smith, Jamal Crawford, Ray Felton, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum put up shots. Antonio Harvey stopped by to shake hands, Kurt Thomas handed out high-fives to Sarah (she’s a good luck charm), and Coach Kaleb Canales joked around. All too soon, Sarah was telling me it was time for dinner. I could have sat there forever!
6:30 pm – Enjoyed a nice meal in the team dining room, surrounded by media, ESPN announcers, and members of the organization.
7:10 pm – Dinner done, we headed back into the arena, climbing to the top of section 207 (no small feat in heels I have to say!) Here, we watched the game and participated in the Live Chat. I must say, the ability of Sarah, Kevin, and Casey to watch the game, stay abreast of stats, moderate the chat, offer their own observations, and tweet is simply remarkable! Add to that a no cheering directive, and it is hard to imagine doing what they do night in and night out.
9:40 pm – At
the final buzzer, we made our way back to the media room, stowed our
bags, and headed to Kaleb’s post-game conference. A few minutes later,
we headed for the inner sanctum: the Trail Blazer Locker Room!
10:00 pm – Sarah led me to a set of non-descript double doors, benignly asking, “Have you ever been in here before?” to which I respond, “The LOCKER ROOM?! Um, no.” With some relish, she pushed open the door…
My immediate impression was that I did not belong there. I hid behind Sarah, as she explained that everyone waits for an unspoken signal from the players they are ready to talk. I took a few nervous glances around. The first thing I saw? Batum walking out of the shower area with just a towel wrapped around his waist. I quickly realized there were a number of players at their lockers, in various stages of getting dressed. To be honest, I was a tad embarrassed, and gratefully moved along with the media who suddenly surged toward JJ Hickson, who was ready to address them.
If you do not know us, let me just say, even in heels, Sarah and I are both rather short. It is tough to get your microphone close enough to pick up what the players are saying. While at the back of the pack, pitifully attempting to get closer, one 7’3” player very generously pushed his chair aside, inviting us into his personal space alongside his locker. Smiles of gratitude up at the big man, we both thanked him and moved behind JJ, catching the end of his interview. Afterward, we moved down a few spots to listen in on Jamal Crawford’s thoughts.
At the back of the pack once more, I chanced a few more glances around the locker room. I was struck by how quickly the players get dressed and leave. Big Joel and Luke, whom I only saw briefly, were already gone. I did not see Nolan or Craig at all. Flynn was readying to leave, while Hasheem was walking out the door. I realized that most of these guys never address the media, are never surrounded by lights, cameras, or microphones, and are probably just ready to go find a good meal. It really hit me that this is their job. This is what they do for employment. For them, this is the everyday grind. Kind of crazy when you think about it.
Sarah literally made my year when she led the way to Wesley to get his impressions. I stood there, in front of my favorite player, barely able to think as I recorded his answers to Sarah’s questions. When Sarah drifted away to talk to Nicolas, I found myself rooted to the spot, unable to move, listening intently, trying to come to grips that I was actually there! Finally, I tore myself away in time to catch the last few comments Batum made. Disappointed I missed most of it, I reluctantly followed her over to Ray.
After a moment of listening to Felton talk, I stepped back across the locker room to where Matthews was gathering his belongings to leave. Very graciously, he chatted with me briefly. I told him about the contest and showed him my credentials. He congratulated me. A few moments later, he left. I stood watching him walk out the door as Sarah returned to my side, saying, “Well, that’s basically it!”
10:30 pm – We returned to the media room, gathered our belongings, and walked back through the hallways and out into the garage. After hugging Sarah, and expressing my thanks, I walked out into the night air to find my car.
Before I drove away, I sat in my car, overwhelmed. As a fan, I could not have asked for a more complete experience. The access allowed, the trust granted, the graciousness shown…. There simply is no reason for a professional sports organization to go to this length to give fans so much. I mean, I am not even a season ticket holder! I know it has been a hard season, one that many of us would probably like to forget, but I have so much faith and hope in this organization. The people, the ones on the ground, the ones who actually make it all work, they care so much, and it is clear that they value us, the fan base. So no matter how discouraged you feel, even amidst the draft busts, bad luck, losing records, and broken dreams, remember, we Blazer fans truly are blessed.