A first for everything: Covering an NBA game press-side

May 7, 2012

Tension, anxiety, and raw excitement could all be words used to describe the initial feelings I had when covering my first NBA basketball game a week ago in Memphis, Tenn. as the Grizzlies played the Cleveland Cavaliers in the penultimate game of the 2012 NBA regular season. A classmate of mine, Katie Vaughn, also went with me to cover the game for our Sports Journalism class at Ouachita Baptist University.

Within a minute of finding out that I was going, I had a hundred different thoughts cross my mind.

What would I wear? What type of questions would I ask? How many other people will be in the press conference room? How willing would the players be to be interviewed?

I ended up wearing a suit with a striped blue shirt with no tie. Looking for the professional yet casual appearance, and I believe it was the perfect attire for my first time ever as a member of the press.

The other questions were eventually answered one by one with this simple mentality I told myself: I will enjoy the game, the experience, and not worry about being embarrassed regardless of what happens. Besides, most of these people would never see me again, I said to myself.

Specific instructions were given about where to go once in Memphis and also where and when we could visit as temporary members of the media. Once Katie and I arrived at the FedEx Forum media entrance, we received our press credentials for the evening, which basically gave us (at least me) free access to the locker rooms and press conference room during the allotted time.

The media area consisted of a few offices as well as the press conference room on the left upon entering the hallway. At the end of the hallway was the media lounge, where members of the press could get a meal for $5, which for that night included meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and rolls.

We walked up to our seats from the court after going through a few corridors to get to the floor. When we found our area, section 110A of the arena, we found slips of paper with our names and Ouachita Baptist University written on it.

Something I kept telling myself was that if it looked like I knew what I was doing, people would not say anything crazy to me. It is a necessary evil to ask questions if you do not know where you’re going or what you’re doing, but fortunately, everybody that we met was cordial to us and treated us as if we were a big deal in the media world. Mike Conley walked up to another reporter in the locker room beforehand, shook his hand, and then shook my hand as well. The players were very approachable for the most part I discovered.

The locker room was pretty much what I expected it to be. Nothing special. Just a bunch of clothes and shoes strolled out all over the place. What was interesting though was the big board that had tendencies from each of the Cavalier players, their keys to victory, several diagrams of plays, and their standings in the conference as well as a television showing the previous game Cleveland had played.

After a few minutes, game-time had finally arrived. As each quarter passed by, a Grizzlies employee would come by the auxiliary media section and pass out statistics and play-by-play sheets for each quarter. By the third quarter, the final attendance of the game was calculated and submitted to the press for extra information.

For the most part during the game, I didn’t take stats because I knew that I would receive a stat sheet after each quarter. I did, however, take notes of the ebb and flow of the game. For example, I noted that there was loose refereeing early on in the game with a few no calls and that Lionel Hollins, head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, decided to rest his three main players, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley Jr., for the entire second quarter.

One of the most interesting aspects of the evening was the relationships that we built with members of other media outlets in the Memphis area. As the game progressed, Katie and I ended up talking to the reporters around us just about the game and where we had come from to cover the game.

The looks on their faces were priceless as they discovered that we were mere college students covering an NBA game. Our wardrobe looked like it had payed off in terms of the professional aspect of our journalistic journey. They were speaking to us earlier like we had been in the industry for five years but it was a pleasant surprise for them to find out we were still students.

Networking is an important part of working in the sports journalism industry. Many of the guys that were working the game knew each other very well and were working for different outlets such as the Memphisport magazine. I asked them about how they were involved in sports journalism and they told me about some of their experiences and how you have to be willing to think differently in order to get that perfect story. After the game, Preston McClellan, an intern for TigerMedia, followed Katie and I on Twitter and we communicated with each other after the game.

Following the game, which Memphis won 109-101 over Cleveland, Katie and I headed down for the press conference and sat in as a few reporters asked Coach Hollins some questions concerning the game. One was the health of Quincy Poindexter, who left the game with a knee injury, and another question about resting the starters.

I honestly did not have any questions to ask the players other than their comments about their performance. They won the game and got one step closer to getting that 4th seed in the West. We left the press conference and before we knew it we were headed back to Arkadelphia.

I do not know if I will ever get the chance to cover an NBA game again, but after my experience with the Grizzlies-Cavaliers game, I feel that I would be ten times more confident going into the game. Sometimes it takes you going out into an unknown place and adventure in order to live life more fully. I feel like this was in incredible experience and one that I hopefully have the opportunity to do so again in my lifetime.

Photo by Katie Vaughn

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