When having a casual conversation with my boss on Wednesday, I mentioned that someone should go to the Raptors-Celtics game that night in nearby Hartford. Sometimes I forget I work at ESPN. Within ten minutes I had a press credential. My initial excitement quickly turned to fear as I realized I would have to venture alone into the scary foreign world known as the locker room.
Full disclosure: I'm a lifelong Celtics fan but I'm also a 5'1 female and there are some things I just don't want to see if you get my drift.
As I head to the Hartford Civic Center, excuse me, the XL Center, I feel like I'm going to the first day of high school and wonder if anyone will talk to me. Being overly paranoid, I convince myself that they will not. Anticipating this social nightmare, I decide to write a running blog of my night being a member of the press. No player quotes required. Whew. That's a relief. Probably not for you but definitely for me.
6:00 PM: Get my press pass and instantly check out the media lounge. Dinner spread is chicken, rice and mixed vegetables. There's nothing I like better than free food.
7:00 PM: Find my seat. Right on the floor. I really hope someone is here who I know to see me sitting here. Scan the crowd. Multiple times.
7:05 PM: I'm sitting about two feet from the Raptors bench. Realize right away I can hear almost everything they say to each other. With a team like the Raptors that combine to speak approximately 3,948 languages, this could be entertaining.
7:22 PM: I'm sitting in a row of middle-aged men. I stick out like a sore thumb. Bad for socializing. Great for my chances of getting seen on television.
7:26 PM: Can't figure out how to connect to the internet. There goes my plan to make this a live blog.
7:30 PM: Game time. Former UConn star Ray Allen addresses the crowd. The place goes crazy.
7:35 PM: Kendrick Perkins gets called for fouling Chris Bosh. Crowd starts screaming death threats. Realize that Connecticut needs a pro team. There is far too much pent-up anger in this state not to have a team.
7:37 PM: Basketball players swear a lot. I'm trying to keep this a family-friendly blog so I won't get into detail but I wouldn't recommend anyone with children to sit in the first four rows of a game. That's the only parental advice you'll ever get from me. I promise.
7:42 PM: Chris Bosh dunk. I'm sitting about 10 feet away from the basket but I can still feel the floor shake. Watching Bosh in person is even more impressive than on TV. He might be one of the most incredible athletes in the league.
7:47 PM: It's really hard to watch the Celtics and not cheer. I'm glad I practiced my stone-cold death glare all day. I hear an unnamed player on the Raptors bench say, "That girl hasn't smiled once." Mission accomplished.
8:01 PM: Guarantee of the night: Jose Calderon will one day be a coach. He yells far more from the bench than any actual coach.
8:15 PM: Girl a few rows behind me cries (yes, cries) after getting on the jumbotron dancing to the Montell Jordan classic, "This Is How We Do It."
8:22 PM: Michael Sweeteny is HUGE. He's listed at 275 pounds. Pretty sure Sweetney hasn't seen 275 since the 7th grade.
8:25: Shelden Williams enters the game. UConn beat writers start talking about Candace Parker. Welcome to Connecticut.
8:28 PM: Timeout. Crowd goes bananas for a guy dancing with a cardboard cutout of Brian Scalabrine's head. The actual Scalabrine looks unfazed. Thus proving my "Scalabrine is the luckiest guy in Boston" theory. The guy is the 11th guy on the bench and averages approximately four minutes a game and yet is the most popular guy in the arena night after night. Talk about living the dream.
8:34 PM: Calderon is quickly turning into my favorite player. Watching him explain something to one of the Raptors assistant coaches, I feel like he's trying to sell him a used car. And you know what? I'd buy it.
8:35 PM: "Thriller" is playing on the loudspeakers. Have a sudden urge to dance but try to contain myself. No one else on press row seems to be having this issue.
8:35 PM: Realize the man on my left is a scout for the Pacers. I attempt to cover my screen so he can't read what I'm writing.
8:40 PM: Halftime. Check my phone to see several text messages from people telling me they saw me on TV. My sister likes my shirt but thinks I need to sit up straighter. I make a mental note to do so in the second half.
8:57 PM: Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett connect on an alley-oop. Raptors bench goes totally silent. Crowd goes wild.
9:02 PM: Andrea Bargnani hits a three-pointer. Raptors bench goes nuts. In the words of Jarrett Jack, "the dude's a center!"
9:06 PM: Decide to twitter during a timeout. Trying to make it very obvious to Chris Bosh. Because I can twitter right now and he can't. You may have 300,000 more followers than I do but I win this battle.
9:11 PM: Bosh gets called for a personal foul on Glen Davis. Calderon comes over and says, "No, that's a great foul." With all respect to President Obama, I think I'm giving this kid the Nobel Peace Prize.
9:12 PM: Davis makes his first foul shot. Looks pretty pleased with himself and goes to fist pump his teammates. Only problem is no one is there to participate. He fist pumps the air. Ray Allen just watches.
9:14 PM: Don't mess with Perkins. He just exchanged words with someone on the Toronto bench. Now that's a death glare. I take notes.
9:14 PM: I'm not sure on this but I think the Raptors have a play called "Raptor" which can't bode well for the rest of their season.
9:28 PM: Bosh, Calderon and Hedo Turkoglu are sitting at the end of the bench looking like the best of friends. I'm not sold on this team as a playoff contender but I'm pretty sure this would make a great reality show. I hope someone from TSN is reading this.
9:33 PM: Scalabrine enters the game. The crowd is the loudest they've been all night. Within seconds, the crowd starts chanting "Scal-a-brine" and I'm correcting my theory - Scalabrine isn't just the luckiest guy in Boston, he's the luckiest guy in New England. Hands down.
9:37 PM: Notice J.R. Giddens has a shamrock tattoo next to his ear. I love team spirit and all but has he even made the final roster?
9:42 PM: Crowd still chanting for Scalabrine. The guy can't get any offensive rhythm going, but the crowd doesn't care.
9:46 PM: Lester Hudson steals the ball. Not sure if he knows this is a preseason game but I like the effort.
9:55 PM: Game over. Final score: Boston 106, Toronto 90
10:01 PM: The game was over but I knew my real work was just starting. I slowly made my way over to the locker room. On my way I encountered two teenage boys painted from head to toe in green. They asked if I could get them a Sweetney autograph. Seriously? I obviously said no because that would be unprofessional. Hear that boss? I stayed professional.
10:05: Doc Rivers emerges from the coaches locker room to a mob of reporters. He's forthcoming about his team's effort and acknowledges the need to work on their defensive game. While I'm taking notes, I get nailed on the head by a microphone.
10:12 PM: Enter the locker room. It's exactly what I imagined except with a lot more food. Because I hope to have this opportunity again sometime, I'll leave out the most awkward details but let's just say I spent a lot of time looking away.
10:17 PM: Muster up the courage to tell Scalabrine my theory. He seems initially insulted but after a few silent moments corrects my theory. "If we win it again this year, I'm the luckiest guy in the world." I can accept this change. Congratulations Scal, you might be on your way to being the luckiest guy in the world.
10:20 PM: Wow. Players actually will talk to me. This is way better than high school.
10:23 PM: Head over to talk to Eddie House. Just as I was patting myself on the back about being professional, House totally outdoes me. He is all business. Some guys assume female reporters want to talk about off-the-court topics. Not House. We talk about the team's growing emphasis on defense and his plans for self-improvement. I'm impressed.
10:29 PM: Walk over to Ray Allen who is fielding a number of questions about his UConn days and what it's like to return to Connecticut. After the group disperses I stay in hopes of getting a few questions in by myself. Allen proved he is one of the nicest guys in the league. I think he would have stayed as long as people were asking questions. He provided some philosophical wisdom I was not expecting to get from a locker room. "We are who we are because of our past and the people in it," Allen said. "Connecticut has always been so good to me so this is such an enriching moment to be here because so many people here tonight have made me who I am today."
10:33 PM: As I'm talking to Allen, Glen Davis accidentally bumps into me. I practically fall over. That's a big baby.
10:45 PM: Notice Kevin Garnett hamming it up with a few reporters. I decide to get in on the action. He looks over at me and goes, "First question. Knee question. It's over. I'm back. Next question?" By the end of the interview, I discover that Garnett is pleased with the team's offensive rhythm and chemistry, happy Rasheed Wallace is on the team and didn't notice Chris Bosh had gained 20 pounds over the summer because he doesn't "check out other dudes."
11:00 PM: Attempt to find the Raptors but it looks like they've already left. Too bad. Totally convinced Calderon would have been a great interview. There's always next time. Well, maybe. Hopefully.