Last night's win against the Denver Nuggets may very well have been the best game the Mavericks have played all year. Excluding some sub par first half defense and a poor shooting night for Jason Terry, Dallas played damn near perfect. At the end of the year, this is a game that people will look back and remember as a showing of just how dominant this team really can be when playing at their highest level of play (and they're still missing three rotation members!).
Beating the Wizards last week, however, won't be remembered for much more than that the Mavericks got a win. The game itself was not incredibly special, the Wizards are not a good team, and the final margin of victory should have probably been double digits. However, for me, I will always remember that game for one reason -- it was the first Maverick game I ever attended with a press pass.
I’ve been a Mavericks fan for the better part of five years now. I'm sure there's plenty of people out their scoffing at me, and kudos for you for remembering Brad Davis and Mark Aguirre, and for watching Jason, Jamal and Jim run the floor. But hey, cut me some slack; ever since I became sports conscious in seventh grade or so, I've been watching the Mavericks on TV. Witnessing Dirk splash in jumpers, seeing Terry fly down the court, arms outstretched, after a dagger three pointer, and watching Mark Cuban go crazy after a ref misses yet another call.
But after those years of watching the Mavericks, in my living room on television, they finally became real to me. Tuesday night, in an otherwise boring and dull victory over Washington, I attended my first Mavericks game, and no longer is Dirk just pixels on a TV.
I'd been planning a trip up to Dallas for a while now, and my spring break presented the opportunity. I have to start with a huge thank you to Sarah Melton, the Mavericks PR Director, for letting a 18-year old high school student behind the scenes with a press pass. And of course our beloved blog manager, Lisa, for helping set it all up.
The directions I had to the media entrance were simply that it was on the west side. I’ll be honest, I probably had a pretty smug look on my face as I had to walk around from the east side, staring at the fans outside decked out in their Mavericks gear waiting for the gates to open. Combined that with my plaid button down and khakis that were just a bit too tight in the waist, and I'm sure I looked completely ridiculous. I would later realize that every single of them had better seats for the game than I did, something that would have wiped that little smugness off my face real quick.
The media entrance proved easy to find. What cockiness I had mustered up quickly turned to nervousness. Of course, an overactive mind had thought of all the horrible scenarios which could happen -- they didn't know who I was, they thought I was coming for a different game, David Stern had sent down an executive order preventing my entrance (who knows...that guy's evil). But the lady there found me on her list with no trouble, and in no time I was clutching my very own press pass. I must admit, I already knew right then that this would not be my last press pass.
After finding the elevator that took me down, I was in the bowels of the arena. You always see the tunnels that the players enter and exit through, with a constant orange tint. On TV, it would have not been hard to see it as a medieval castle, lit with torches and of course leading to the torture rooms and dungeons. But when those elevators opened, I was there. No dungeons, but probably even more intimidating.
I found media dining, and in a bit of a daze, stumbled in. I found an open table, pulling out a Subway sandwich which I had brought for dinner because I had been warned that the media dinner was on the pricey side. The people at my table looked familiar, but I didn’t recognize them, probably thanks to the overwhelming nature so far. Well, at least until the one to the left of me started talking. The deep voice of Mark Followill is unmistakable, even if he looked a little weird sans his glasses. The person he was talking to? None other than Chuck Cooperstein, the radio play-by-play announcer. I swear my Subway looked like mush when I saw the pasta, rustic chicken Parmesan, and New York cheesecake they were feasting on.
I hung around the media dining for a while after I finished eating, connecting to wifi and reading some previews to the game. There was a table in the corner of the room with tons of paper handouts, providing all sorts of stats. I took one of the larger ones, which provided a game log for every player, but there must have been a least half a dozen other handouts. I was over by this table when someone approached me asking if I knew the wifi password for the arena, which I actually did and was happy to provide. I chuckled a bit to myself, because even though I knew absolutely nothing of what was going on, I knew more than at least one other person.
I went ahead and went up to the press box early. The word "box" is misleading; it is really more of a long room with a sort of counter stretching the length of the room with chairs. As I mentioned before, it wasn't the greatest seat in the house. There were a few seats that were higher in the terrace across from the box, but we were situation pretty much as high up as possible.
There was no huge issues with seeing the action on the floor, although it took a little while to get used to the angle from the press box. At least a couple times early in the first half there were shots that I thought went in until the other team didn't inbound them. One I realized was an airball, the other bounced out the back of the rim (I think…still not sure on that one). Embarrassingly, it also took me several minutes to realize where the shot clock was. But for someone who had watched games on television all my life, my natural reaction was to glance down at the corner of the TV, not look behind the basket.
As for the game itself, it was everything I could have asked for. Watching at home, on television, I'm sure I would have happy for the win, but unhappy with the struggle it took for the Mavericks to put them away. Seeing the game with my own eyes, however, and I wanted to watch the magic happen, and it did. Dirk was his usual self and then some, hitting practically every shot he put up. Twenty-seven points on fourteen shots only tells half the story, because he was no doubt on his way to getting forty if not for foul trouble. Roddy Beaubois has always been a favorite of mine, and he displayed all of his outstanding skill set -- everything from long jumpers to slashing layups to incredibly defensive plays to save a basket. In fact, through three quarters, the loudest the I heard the crowd was after he batted the ball loss on a breakaway by John Wall, then hustled his ass to save it back in. Clearly, he's an inconsistent player, which have led some fans to say some pretty harsh words about him. However, at the heart of every Maverick fan, there's a desire for the young, explosive guard to finally get his stuff together and be a difference maker night in and night out.
Don't fool yourself into thinking my night was over. Far from it, in fact. For those who don't know me (in other words, every single person reading this), I always find a way to make things more difficult than they need to be. This time, it was me losing my press pass. How or where, I'm still not sure. I told you the press pass I received at the beginning was not going to be my last, and I meant it -- I just didn't think I meant it like this. I was told when I first got it to tie it to a belt loop, which worked fine until I glanced down and realized it was missing. Now, I was not about to get kicked out of the press box or anything, but I wanted to be sure there was no issue with getting into the locker room afterwards for post game interviews. I headed back down to media dining at halftime, and fortunately ran into Alan Rakowski, Basketball Communications Coordinator, who was gracious enough to take the time to hook me up with another pass. I've never been a boy scout, but I had some sort of crazy knot on that string this time around, let me assure you.
The second half went by like a blur, and it seemed to be barely ten minutes before Sean Heath, PA announcer, was announcing, "Mavs win, Mavs win!".
I still had no clue where I was going, but was able to join the crowd of media members headed to the post game interviews. While waiting on the elevator (a very slow process, the only complaint I had about the AAC), I was able to chat it up with several writers like myself. A highlights of the night was a man in a suit asking me about Mavs Moneyball. He said he had started following us about a year ago, asked a few questions about our writers, and seemed surprised when I told him just how many people we have on staff here. I really wish I had got his name and who he wrote for so I could give him his proper due.
For obvious reasons, the players had some time to themselves before the locker room opened up, so there was a bit of a wait on that. It wasn't too long until they let us they let the horde of reporters in. The first person I saw was Lamar Odom.
Holy crap he was tall.
I'd tried to prepare myself for the height, but no matter how many times I warned myself in my head, the only real way to solve this mystery was to see them in person. Odom, several inches shy of seven feet, was quick simply a monster.
It really wasn't hard to adjust to the height difference, though. Yi Jianlian was out next, and by the time Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi came out, I pretty much knew they were all going to be huge and that was that. The weirder thing was standing by a guard like Roddy or either one of the Jason's. Obviously, they seem short on television next to post players like the aforementioned, but they're all way taller than you and me. Ask me their heights, and I can tell you Roddy and JET are listed at 6'2" and Kidd at 6'4", but it takes a while to realize that NBA "short" is regular people tall.
One of the last people out of the showers was the Big German himself, Dirk Nowitzki. What a stud. I had recorded a couple previous players, but Dirk got my full attention from start to finish. I wasn't alone, as several big sports media names were gathered right around me as well. I regret to report that while I wimped out. I had a question formulated, something about Jason Kidd and how he excels at getting the ball to Dirk and his teammates at the right moments, but the pace was just so fast.
This was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I have to go back, if only to remedy my mistake and actually ask Dirk a question this time. I can't wait.