Last night at the Verizon Center, I had my media member baptism. I use the word baptism for several very specific reasons:
· I had already been covering the Wizards, but hadn’t had any type of official ceremony.
· It was practically a religious experience.
· For moments, I felt like my head was being doused in ice cold water, either to dull all my senses, or wake me up from a dream.
It was awesome. I was there to cover the NBA’s Harry Potter Marquee Match-up, Wizards vs. Magic, and for me, it really was a supernatural experience. Flashback starts now:
5:03 PM: Irfan K here, coming to you for Hoop District, and I have one question right now:
“Where is the freakin’ press entrance?!” I was supposed to meet up with my Hoop District colleague Joe Glorioso at 5 o’clock. I exited the Gallery Place metro at 4:45. Any of you who know your way around the Verizon Center know that it’s about a 5 minute walk from that stop to the Verizon Center Press Entrance.
“Eff…I’m lost.” I walk around in the rain, taking the longest way possible (maybe there’s a longer way, but I doubt it), until I find the press entrance. I walk in with a dazed expression, and review the fancy, professional sounding sentences I plan to use in my brain to convince these people I’m actually media, since they won’t recognize me.
“I’m with Hoop District.” It worked! Press pass acquired!
5:30 PM: Joe gives me the quick tour, walking around with the stride of a veteran reporter. I follow him around like a freshman at a senior party, consciously maintaining a solid posture and look of confidence. (So of course, subconsciously, I look like an idiot). We walk through the press lounge. Joe says “hello” to Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier. My brain says “Oh snap! That’s Phil Buckhantz and Steve Chenier!”
5:45 PM: We walk through the hallways, past the Wizards locker room, towards the visiting locker room. Fact: The visitor locker room, from what I could tell, was labeled “Mystics.” This HAS to be some sort of massive psychological home court advantage right?! I mean, if I were an NBA player, and had to get ready in a WNBA locker room, that would definitely throw me off my pregame rhythm.
5:47 PM: The following conversation takes place within my brain:
Left (shark) side of brain: “That’s weird. Those Verizon employees are wearing sweats and are super tall.”
Right side of brain: “Um, of course they’re super tall, they play for the Magic you idiot!”
Left side of brain: “Ohhhh, you’re right!….that’s Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier!”
Right side of brain: “WTF is Fournier doing with his hair?”
Left side of brain: “WTF is Fournier doing with his hair?”
In the meantime the following words are coming out of my mouth: “Yup, got it Joe…understood.” (Still have no idea what he said that whole time).
6:05 PM: Courtside. I don’t really know what exactly happens at a baptism, but whatever the climax of the event is, this is it! If you’re a fan of a team, because of region or success, the game matters most. But if you’re a fan of a sport, if you’ve played that sport your entire life, if you love the entire aura of the sport itself, the pregame moments are fascinating. Marcin Gortat working on every possible move he may use later tonight. Hooks, layups, jumpers, free throws. Gortat goes through the longest pregame warm-up of any of the players I catch tonight.
Over on Orlando’s side, Channing Frye shoots a few threes. Enough to make sure he has his rhythm, but few enough to make it clear that “I’m Channing Frye. I already know how to shoot.” Ben Gordon goes through a short shooting session, and a nice long stretching routine. At his age, you have to get your stretching in so as not to get tight during the game (Or as it turned out in Gordon’s case tonight, not to cramp up during his DNP).
7:03: Game time! I look around the Verizon Center:
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) February 9, 2015
It’s game time right?! I guess it could be worse…there could be organized groups of fans wearing purple chanting “MVP” for Kyle Lowry, so I guess we’ll take it. The lights go off. John Wall gets the loudest ovation during intros, naturally. And then, seemingly right after tip-off, Nene does this:
Oh my bad. It just seems like Nene was doing that all night. He was actually doing this.
The Wizards are off to a fantastic start. They push the pace at every opportunity. Nene dunks. And dunks. And dunks. And dunks. I try to keep up on @HoopDistrictDC, via TweetDeck (I had no idea what “TweetDeck” was. Apparently it’s some kind of ultimate Twitter program designed to keep journalists from watching a SINGLE minute of any actual live game coverage. My regular @aIRFAN_2 account currently has 23 followers. Now I’m dealing with thousands. So THIS is what being followed, favorited, and retweeted feels like!) After a dominant first quarter, the Wizards lead 24-16. “Up by eight points?!?! That’s it?? After all those dunks?! Did I miss half the game trying to multi-task with this whole TweetDeck business?!”
No, I didn’t. The 1st quarter box score tells the story. Wizards with six first quarter turnovers. No wonder.
The second quarter begins, and features a few bricked threes by both teams. “Man, this is ugly. It feels like no one can make a single three tonight,” I think to myself. Checking the box score, my feelings are depressingly confirmed: The two teams combined to shoot 0/18 from three in the first half.
Then the second half starts, and everything changes (for the Wizards) “DC3!!, DC3!!, DC3!!” The Wizards start with back-to-back-to-back threes.
The crowd gets really into it for the first time all night. But as Orlando fights to stay just barely within striking distance, and you can feel the stale feeling of the crowd in the air. We aren’t nervous, or disengaged. No. Instead, we are hesitant to express too much excitement. We’ve seen the Wizards lose control of games like this before. And then, #OptimusDime does this:
And then he does this!!
And then he does this!!
HOLY SH*T! With the crowd already roaring and the Wizards already rolling, #OptimusDime just dove head first for a loose ball!! And got the timeout called! The perfect storm: A sequence of stellar, All-Star caliber plays, followed by an all-out effort in the midst of a blowout. THAT’s why we love John Wall (and courtesy of Mike Wise, there’s now this as well). And the crowd lets him know. They rained so much love on him, you would’ve thought it was time for the Chick-Fil-A 4th quarter free throw shooting promotion !
The rest of the game is a formality. The Wizards finish with a 96-80 win, their second victory in a row. They overcome a 20-11 deficit in turnovers by outrebounding Orlando 53-33, achieving a 25-18 advantage in assists, a +9 edge in 3 point shooting, and a 46-35 advantage in bench points (46 bench points!!). Wall finishes one point shy of a triple double, with 9-10-10.
9:45 PM: I wait for Joe to pack up, so I can freshman follow him to my first Randy Wittman press conference. While we walk, I try to think of a brilliant question to ask him:
OK then, guess I’ll just listen!! Someone asks coach Wittman how he explains the burst in bench production the last two games.
Wittman: “Good coaching.” He laughs. It’s much easier to have a sense of humor after back-to-back wins.
9:50 PM: “I could’ve had 40 tonight!” Rasual Butler says in the locker room after the game. That’s the first thing I hear in the locker room. Up until that point, I’m only hearing my own voice in my head:
“You’re in the Wizards locker room. You’re IN the Wizards locker room! That’s John Wall with a towel on. Marcin Gortat is a good dresser, that’s a nice belt…”
Rasual’s comment shakes me out of it. It sure feels like he had enough looks to get 40. We gather around Drew Gooden, whose 10 points off the bench provided a great second half spark. He’s the surprise star of the night.
10:05 PM: I walk out of Verizon Center. Rain is falling, but I don’t register the drops. “THAT WAS AWESOME!” That’s all I’m thinking. Wizards win. Ben Gordon stretching. Free cookies. Reserved seats. I can’t choose the best part, but if I have to, I choose “all of the above.”
10:15 PM: I hop on the red-line train to Glenmont. “Doors closing.” And I lose service.
I’m aware that’s not your typical game recap. But for me, it wasn’t just a typical game. It was a Magic night. Thank you, Washington Wizards.*
Now…that’s the end of the sentimental sh&@!…last night I was a fan, today I’m media. Time to act like it.
*And Hoop District, Abdullah Sharif, Joe Glorioso, and Wizards PR man Daren Jenkins!