Having finally arrived back in London, where I was greeted by some extremely cold weather and some light drizzle, I finally have a chance to catch my breath and reflect on my time out in Miami. Not only was I privileged enough to watch two NBA Eastern Conference Final games in the stunning American Airlines Arena, but I was able to gain unbelievable access to the players.
Before both games I was able to head to the arena where both teams would practice in front of the TV cameras, while journalists where then given the chance to go into the dressing rooms and talk to the players. It is somewhat surreal as the majority of the press only want to speak to two or three players, while the rest of the squad generally sit around chatting amongst themselves or listening to music.
I had witnessed press huddles before but this was a new experience. Before the first game, everyone surrounded the youngest MVP in the history of the NBA, Derrick Rose. Britain’s own Luol Deng was another who found himself encircled by a host of written press and I did my best to grab a couple of words on the upcoming Olympics where the Brixton-bred small forward will be a the main face of Team GB.
The game itself is pure entertainment. As I mentioned in my previous blog the NBA know how to put on a show. Fan interaction is rightly encouraged with free pizza slices handed out to the crowd, while if a player from the opposing team misses a free throw the entire crowd can win a free taco. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to claim mine and had to make do with a classic hot dog.
With the match finishing at 11.30, you are quickly ushered down to the press room, where players and coaches are immediately quizzed on the result and the majority of online publications immediately publish a match report. In the States it is all about getting the news out as quickly as possible; this means that newspaper journalists struggle for match reports and it is ESPN and Yahoo that deliver the best coverage.
With two games in just three days you would think that the players would want a day off from their press duties. Not in America. Not only where we able to once again meet all of the players at the arena, we where whisked to the Four Seasons hotel where the Chicago Bulls where staying. Ushered into a conference room, Deng and Rose were immediately jumped upon while the rest of the team strolled round in their pyjama’s. A very surreal experience indeed.
By the time the second game came around I felt right at home elbowing other journalists to get my dictaphone in the face of the players. This proved even more difficult as I am a good foot smaller than the average basketball star. What I needed was a mini step ladder, something the majority of American press carried around with them. Oh well, you live and learn.
Miami again won the second game, but this time it went down to the wire with overtime needed to separate the two teams. A number of celebrities were in attendance, with American rappers Lil Wayne and Drake sat on the front row while sat next immediately to my right was London’s own Dizzee Rascal. The British rapper is a massive NBA fan and was even brave enough to cheer on the Bulls, a risky tactic when surrounded by passionate Heat fans.
By the time the two games had finished and I was sat at the airport reflecting on the whole experience of the trip and I realised that I had fallen in love with American sports. As a journalist you get unbelievable access to the players, while the fans are treated to a rarefied atmosphere in which it is impossible not to get caught up in. It is more than a sporting event; it is pure entertainment.
Get a taste of top class basketball in the UK when the WNBA's Atlanta Dream play the Great Britain women’s basketball team at the MEN Arena on Sunday 29 May. Tickets are available from www.ticketmaster.co.uk. Follow the NBA in the UK at www.facebook.com/nbauk.
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