It's a day after the fact and it is still hard to believe what happened. Media Day a few weeks ago was an incredible experience but the preseason finale on Friday for the Mavericks was the first game I attended as a reporter. It's still the same game of Mavericks basketball that I normally watch, but there was SO much more than that on this Friday night.
I arrived about 15 minutes before the designated time for the initial meeting with Coach Carlisle. Before Media Day, I never really noticed the entrance at the American Airlines Center that was specifically for the press, but that will be the door I walk through every home Mavericks game now. As I walked in, my credential was waiting for me at the table and I soaked the moment in for a few seconds and it was definitely a special moment.
It was image overload as I made my way to Interview Room 1 for Carlisle's pregame meeting with the press. As I walked towards the room, I passed by the Mavs Dancers prepping for the night, slowed down to allow Shawn Marion to get some light work done on the court and Mark Cuban was leaving the Mavericks office. Needless to say, that's quite a bit to take in your first 2 minutes of the adventure.
I took the invisible gold medal in arriving first to the Interview Room as others arrived just a few seconds after me. There weren't many people there but the cast was quite a bunch: TV voices for the Mavericks, Mark Followill and Bob Ortegal, Mavericks Inside Reporter, Earl K. Sneed, Radio Voice for the Mavericks, Chuck Cooperstein and Dallas Morning News Report, Eddie Sefko. It's all of those guys...and me. I am low on the "depth chart" but I am hopeful I can climb up the ranks with time.
Carlisle arrives and sits down in front of us and the questions start to roll out his way. He mentions that, "we'll have to generate our own enthusiasm" for the night. The Rangers were battling the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS and the home crowd at the AAC was lighter in attendance but they definitely did an admirable job in supporting the Mavericks. He went on to explain the idea of Jason Terry as a point guard, "we're better when he's playing off the ball, but he can do it." Terry went on to start the night at shooting guard and until Roddy Beaubois comes back from his injury, it appears that Terry will be the starting two guard.
After the press conference was over, I made my way "snooping around" and eventually found myself in the Rockets locker room and saw Yao Ming stretching and do some exercises. You get the idea that teams might fudge the actual height for their players but that's not the case with Yao Ming, he is every bit of 7 feet 6 inches. I eventually felt dirty being in the enemy's locker room so I made my way up to the press box.
It really was interesting walking around on my way to the box to notice that a credential leads to everyone giving you a smile and nod instead of a glare and vibe of "who the heck is this guy?" The game didn't feel any different than normal, like I mentioned, the crowd was light but they were very energetic. The crowd lit up any time the big screen showed an update on the Rangers game. The AAC went crazy with the well-designed play where Jason Kidd lobbed the perfect pass. Postgame, Carlisle mentioned that, "it seemed like the ball was suspended for five seconds."
Carlisle's daughter created some unexpected comedy over the course of the postgame meeting. She was standing on the podium and she had face-paint on and she was playing with the microphone. I believe the coach was the only person who could keep a straight face and avoid laughing as his daughter was just having fun and enjoying a new toy. As we were listening to him comment on the game, you could hear the fans screaming and clapping. We obviously got the news that the Rangers were able to seal the deal and punch their ticket to their first ever World Series appearance. Carlisle even threw out a, "Go Rangers!"
The highlight from his postgame meeting was Carlisle's assessment on Marion, "His approach during the entire preseason has been awesome. I think a guy like that, that's been a franchise player, to accept this type of role is so important for us, not just in terms of what happens between the lines, but to the soul of the team, the spirit of sacrifice and trying to win at any cost this year." Carlisle wrapped up on Marion with even higher praise, "I've always had great respect for Shawn, but this month has led me to a new level of respect for him." It appears for now, concerns of discontent are non-existent and players are buying in to role acceptance.
The last step of the evening was heading towards the Mavs locker room. As I walked in, you could see the nice lockers, the TVs and fancy leather chairs for the players. Players were watching the celebration the Rangers were participating in and you could get a feel that the Mavericks were definitely excited for them.
I went up to Brendan Haywood and asked him about playing against Yao Ming, "I just look at as a challenge. When you're playing someone that tall, that skilled and that gifted, you just have to go out there and try to be aggressive." The Mavs big man only scored two points but he was a force with nine rebounds and five blocks. "Some nights the points are going to be there, some nights it's going to be blocks and rebounds," Haywood said, "But my thing is, as long as you make an impact on the game in some way it's a positive."
This doesn't have a specific fit, but it definitely needs to be mentioned. Most of the players had their own personal items in their locker but the one thing I noticed was other than the fun-loving bobble-head of himself, there was one picture in Dirk's locker: the Larry O'Brien trophy.
As the night wrapped, I was making my way to the elevator to leave the arena. Steve Novak, his wife and their newborn were trying to find their way out as well. He was laughing and saying, "I am new here." I was glad to know I wasn't the only guy in the building having that feeling as well. Coach Carlisle mentioned in his interview, "time passes by very quickly, Wednesday Night will be here before we know it." As the rush of the evening still hasn't really been taken in yet, I know that the fun is only just beginning.