Mavs Media Day – A collection of chaotic events in the bowels of the American Airlines Center in which players, coaches and personnel are shuffled from one place to another while media members scurry in anticipation of getting that one unique quote that will catapult them above the competition.
At first glance, this may seem like an accurate depiction of what transpired this past Monday in downtown Dallas. However, at a second glance you would see the intricate details of a well organized media relations department working together for one common purpose. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
It all starts a week earlier, on Monday, when I received the text message asking me if I could cover media day for MavsFanatic.com. As a fan, my heart immediately starting racing because, this was a life-long dream of mine. I professionally answered the text message with a yes even though inside I was jumping for joy and doing my own little version of the “happy dance.” The week building up to media day was spent preparing questions and trying to wake myself from this dream that I felt like I was having.
Monday arrived and I had to go to work for a few hours in the morning before I left for the American Airlines Center. I couldn’t get much accomplished because I was so nervous and excited about what was happening in a few hours. Media day was supposed to start at 1:30 and I was to park in the Audi Garage. I had no problem with traffic so I decided to grab something to eat. I was starving and knew that if I didn’t eat I would be in a world of hurt around 2:30 or 3. The last thing I wanted was to faint right in the middle of a big interview. People would never believe it was because I was hungry and they would think it was because I was star-struck around the Mavs.
I got to the parking garage about 30 minutes early and decided to go ahead and walk over since I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I kept reminding myself to act like I’ve done this a million times and maybe nobody would know I’m a rookie at my first media day. After finally finding the right entrance, I got inside and found myself in an elevator with one other person headed to the basement of the AAC. I walked out of the elevator into a darker hallway. It was evident we were right under the concourse level of the arena.
I followed the other gentleman like I knew where I was going in hopes that he would lead me to the right place. It didn’t happen. He caught on really fast and let me know he had no idea where I was going. Finally I found myself in a room with a few other reporters. They were all typing away on the computer and I was looking around dazed and confused. It was about that time, Rick Carlisle, walked into the room and right by me. I’m pretty sure anybody who saw me at this moment realized I was a rookie because of my “deer in the headlights” look I had as I stared at him.
Finally we made our way down to the Mavs practice court and watched as players got their pictures taken by different photographers. Dirk stepped in front of the camera, followed by Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, and various other players. About this time, someone from the media department came out and said Coach Carlisle is doing a press conference in the press room. After scurrying to the press room and finding a seat, Coach Carlisle walked in.
Some of the things I took away from the nearly 20-minute question and answer time with Carlisle was the Mavericks are going to have a major emphasis on defense this year.
“We’re going to work hard on our offense, but our major emphasis has got to be the defensive end,” he said during the press conference. “On paper, we don’t have a group of guys that look like individual defensive stoppers,” Carlisle said. “I mean, Shawn Marion is still one of the best guys in the game. Vince has good analytic numbers on defense. Dirk is better than you think he is on defense. But we don’t have any first or second team all-defensive guys on our team, so we have to do it collectively.”
Carlisle went on to talk about how the team last year had too many turnovers that led to easy layups and dunks on the other end of the floor. With the Mavericks facing a season in which they have nine new faces, Carlisle also realizes the challenges in front of him.
“This first month is going to be one of the best challenges I’ve ever faced in coaching,” he said.
Of course I’m listening to him say this and I’m thinking to myself, “You’re the great Rick Carlisle. If anyone can do this you can.”
Carlisle’s time came to a close and Dirk walked into the room and took the podium. The first thing people wanted to know was how being a father was treating him. His daughter is right at two months old and he made sure to let everyone know he’s not getting near enough sleep like he used to. Perhaps the best quote of the day came, though, when he was asked if she was a daddy’s girl yet.
“Not really yet. That’s going to take some time. I don’t have boobs. I can’t really help her that much yet,” Dirk said.
After the joking was done, the media first of all wanted to know about his health going into this season. Dirk said he felt fine and he had a good summer of training and lifting this year. He did caution everyone, though.
“Last year I felt good as well,” he said. “I put a lot of work in last summer. It’s just kind of a freaky thing in Barcelona, it wasn’t until the first couple of two-a-days that the knee started to swell up. I had no indication before that.”
When asked about playing with the new guys, Dirk said, “I’ve never played with an explosive guy like Monta so I think we should play off each other really well….I’m pretty easy to get used to. Everyone knows I’m going to pick and pop, face-up and post and shoot, and that’s really it.”
Dirk left and we had a few minutes with Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. Both players seemed eager to be in Dallas. Monta said, “As much pressure as we take off Dirk, I think he takes more off us.”
Calderon said, “My job this year will be to try and get the ball to the right guys at the right moments, try to know where they want the ball.”
After the press conference, we all left and I went back to the practice court. I still had no idea what I was doing and by now I’m pretty sure everyone could tell. As much as I wanted to seem like a veteran and a professional, I think rookie was stamped all over my face.
So, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I decided to blend in. That’s right I sought out a rookie to talk to. Actually, there were two people on my list to talk to going into the day and both of them were rookies – Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel.
I watched Larkin shooting a little bit with Ricky Ledo. I decided to make my move and I walked up to him, introduced myself, and asked if I could ask him a few questions. He obliged. It was very obvious to me that Larkin was glad to be here in Dallas. He said he wouldn’t be ready at the start of camp, but would hopefully be back in the middle or so.
“I’m not practicing tomorrow,” he said. “But I’m probably not going to be able to sleep tonight just knowing I’m going to an NBA practice and with being on the roster. It’s a crazy experience.”
Larkin was taken with the 18th pick in the first round of this year’s NBA draft and is the son of baseball Hall-of-Fame player Barry Larkin.
“You dream your whole life about making it this far and I’m finally here.”
After a few minutes with Larkin I shook his hand, wished him good luck and walked away. I had just conducted my first interview with a professional basketball player and I felt good. I was ready to take on the world. I walked back to the darkened corridor and decided who my next victim should be, now that I felt like I could conquer the world.
That feeling quickly left, however, as Dirk walked by me, looked at me and said, “What’s up?” I could feel the “rookie” sign flashing on my forehead as I stared back at him and repeated the phrase he had just casually spoken to me. Somehow, I thought, me saying it didn’t have the same flare as his German accent did.
Never-the-less I had to stay professional and act like a genuine reporter, right? So I did exactly what a genuine reporter would do. I followed him in hopes of getting a good sound bite. Unfortunately, his handler had a grasp on the situation and wouldn’t let anyone near him that wasn’t on the agenda. Each player had a handler assigned to them to make sure they were where they needed to be at the right time.
After I realized it was a hopeless cause with Dirk, I moved on. I saw Vince Carter standing by someone talking to another media person. I decided to try and get a few quotes from him. He gave me perhaps the best answer when I asked him what he thought his role on the team would be.
“I don’t know. We haven’t started practicing,” he said.
I couldn’t argue with him on that and it pretty much shot my wheels off on that interview. I thought maybe I should find another rookie. They seem more my speed right now. Of course I couldn’t do that and let the Vince interview end like that. So I thought of the hardest question I could to ask him. I wanted something so profound and so great that he would think I was the best media person ever. Apparently there was a disconnect between my brain and my mouth because I swear the question was way better in my mind then it was when it came out.
Me: “What are your expectations for the season?”
Wow. As soon as I asked it, I thought to myself, “I’m an idiot. Even I know the answer to that question. They want to win a championship.”
Vince: “To win; to get back into the playoffs.”
Yup, I could have told myself that one. I thanked him for his time and he shook my hand and said nice to meet me. I’m sure he meant it too, because I probably gave him hours of comic relief later on when there were actually hard questions being thrown his way.
Time to move on, though. After walking around for a little bit, I saw a player sitting in a nice leather chair. He looked like he was waiting to go do an interview so I thought I’d jump in and see if I could get a few questions. As I got closer I realized it was Bernard James, the second year center for the Mavericks. James told me he fully expected this team to get back into the playoffs this year.
“This team has really good chemistry,” he said. “We should be able to finish some of the close games we weren’t able to finish last year….it was tough watching the playoffs. I took those extra few weeks and months to work on my game and really focus on my offense so I can be more of a factor this year on that end of the floor.”
I walked away from this interview thinking I really like this guy and I hope he succeeds in a huge way. As I was walking away from James I saw Mekel. I made a mad dash to get to him. Just as I walked to him, he was taken away by the TV crews to do some promo videos for the season. I stood there and watched him for a while. I’m not sure why but this guy has me fascinated and I can’t wait to watch him play. While I was waiting, though, Samuel Dalembert walked by. I couldn’t miss my chance to talk to the Mavericks starting center.
First thing I wanted to know was how he felt about being the anchor of a defense that was really iffy last season, especially when it came to rebounding the ball.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I watched the team last year and they’re a good team. They just need a piece [that is] missing.”
He said the key for him is going to be using the preseason to learn the system and get things down. Dalembert was also ecstatic to be playing with someone with the caliber of Dirk.
“This is the first time in my career to have another big guy to play with like that….I think I’m going to get that twin towers thing going,” he added.
About this point in time, I realized the notion that NBA players only care about money is a myth. Sure there are those people out there but I realized when talking to these players that they really do love the game. Some of them, like Larkin, were so humbled by the experience and the chance to play for the Mavericks.
At this point in time, Mekel was finishing up so I wanted to tackle him. Not literally of course. I asked him for a few minutes and he said, “Sure.” Mekel was a superstar in his own right. Here I am standing next to a two-time Israeli league champion and a two-time Israeli league MVP. First question up was what the difficulties he thought would be in coming from the Israeli professional league to the NBA.
“Good question,” he said and I felt excited. I wanted to ask if he could go tell Vince that I can ask good questions but refrained. “I’m new around this league,” he continued. “I really don’t know what to expect. I guess the speed will be a little different.”
When asked about fighting for minutes with the other point guards, Mekel said,
“I don’t look at it like a fight. I need to concentrate and do the stuff I know. If I do that, everything will be fine.”
When asked about playing with Dirk, Mekel was excited. They have played against each other on the national teams and he knows the big guy will help provide spacing for him and the other players on the court.
Again, I thanked him and walked away thinking about how amazing this is. I fully expected to wake up at any moment and realize it was all a dream. As I was getting ready to walk away, I saw one last person just standing there. I thought, why not do one more interview before I call it a day.
I walked up to Jose Calderon and introduced myself. By now, after six different interviews, I was starting to feel a lot more relaxed and comfortable. I asked him right off the bat how excited he was to be a Maverick and his response was “I’m really excited.” He explained that he thought Cuban and Donnie Nelson did a great job during the summer assembling a really good team.
Calderon will be the starting point guard on this team and he is excited about taking on his role as mentor for some of the younger guys. He said he talks a lot and tries to help everyone on the team as best as he can.
With nine new faces, Calderon says, “We have to be ready every practice.” After playing for the Spanish national team, there was some concern about him being tired coming into training camp but he assured me he feels great and he’s ready to get the season going.
As I exited the American Airlines Center and I walked to my car, I had to one last time pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I wasn’t dreaming because the pinch really hurt. That was an amazing experience and one I won’t forget for a while. I wish every sports fan could have the ability to do what I did for one day. For one day, I wore my “rookie” sign with pride. For one day, I was on top of the world.
Greg Higgins is a contributor for MavsFanatic.com and writes for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter
Photos courtesy of Greg Higgins, Mavs.com and Rant Sports
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