All Access

by February 21, 2012

by Ben Taylor

If you follow me on Twitter (@benitaylor) then you might have noticed a number of hyperactive posts over the last week. This is because I got to spend a pretty incredible week in New York. I hit the SLAM dome and MSG for the first time, and got a professional workout at the Masaryk gym. But, most exciting of all, I got the chance to head down to Philly for my first 76ers game, with SLAM EIC Ben Osborne as my tour guide.

First things first, we absolutely had to make a stop at the Mitchell & Ness store. It isn’t so much a store as it is a shrine to sports. The day we were in town, the Michael Jordan ’96 All-Star jersey released, and they were selling like hotcakes. Lynn Bloom, M&N’s Director of Merchandising, popped down to give us the full tour—hats and jerseys from every team imaginable, the most insane stock room you’ve ever seen, and a cool mezzanine space with a floor made from an old high school basketball court.

The whole place is covered with photographs and little reminders of back in the day, and I have it on good authority that they’ve got plans to make the store bigger and better. If you are ever in Philly, you have to check it out.

After a quick stop to experience the legendary Philly Cheese Steak, we jumped on the train to the arena. I headed down to the press entrance while Ben O went to grab the tickets.

After a slightly embarrassing exchange with security, during which I pronounced my name, London, and SLAM incorrectly, I was given my pass and headed in to find out exactly what goes on behind the scenes at an NBA arena.

First thing I saw—the Sixers’ dancers limbering up. Good start. I walked out towards the court, thinking someone would eventually stop me. They didn’t. So I stood on the baseline and watched Dirk hitting jump shots. Yes, this access-all-areas thing is alright.

It was getting pretty close to tip-off, so I headed up to find Ben, who had located the awesome seats the Sixers had given us.

The pre-game atmosphere was great. One of the nice touches anyone who has been to the Wells Fargo Center this season will have noticed is the pre-game video they play on the big screen before the players are announced. Seeing Wilt and Julius and AI and those guys got the crowd totally hyped. Even Ben O was excited…

Onto the game itself. The Sixers opened up really well, moving the ball around nicely, creating some great looks, and working hard on defense – exactly what had worked for them all season. The Mavs on the other hand looked sluggish. Shawn Marion couldn’t buy a bucket, and Dirk hadn’t got it going (unfortunately, that didn’t last long). We went in at the half 14 points up.

The second half didn’t go to plan. Twenty-one percent from the floor, 0-for-8 from 3-point range. Lou Williams looked most likely to be the guy to take control, but the Mavs did a great job smothering him, and nobody else could get it going offensively.

At the other end, Dirk took over. It was a privilege to see the guy at work in person, you just wish it was against someone else’s team. He had 24 in second the half, shooting 8-for-11, including a couple of ridiculous makes over Thad Young that defied physics.

The final buzzer went and I headed down to the post-game press conference and the locker room to see what the guys were saying.

Doug Collins was first up, and I have to say, is great in person. No excuses, brutally honest, and funnier than I had expected. My favorite moment was when the press guys were trying to push him to talk about Jrue Holiday, who had an off night (shooting 0-for-9). Collins laughed and responded, “Gotta keep fighting man, it’s a tough business.”

Then we got ushered down to the locker room. As a fan, it was so cool to get to walk around and check it all out. The locker room itself was smaller than I expected, but a really cool space to look around. Then I remembered everyone else was there doing a job, so I headed over to see what Andre Iguodala had to say to the 15 people with cameras, mics and phones shoved in his face.

It was interesting to hear him talk about importance of staying confident when you are missing shots—he said Dirk had been pretty quiet, but he hung in and eventually knocked a couple down, and that got him going. “You start thinking too much, instead of just letting it be fluid. You forget the mechanics of just catching and shooting.”

One thing I learned being in an NBA locker room for the first time: a good number of the press guys don’t ever ask questions, which seemed pretty weird, but maybe that’s just because I was (unsuccessfully) trying to get in to ask something, thinking I might never be allowed in again…

Nik Vucevic was pretty humble after top scoring for the team, and Thad Young spoke honestly about the problem with trying stop a Dirk fadeaway: “When he pivots and kicks his foot out, it does take away from you being able to get to the shot. Plus, he is seven foot.”

He’s not wrong. I stood next to Dirk twice—once pre-game when he was getting some shots up, and then after the game as he headed to the bus. The guy is huge. I wanted to say something intelligent, but my brain kept telling me I was going to instinctively say something stupid about England and Germany, so I just said hi.

And with that, it was over. There was just enough time to find Ben O in the bar for a quick beer before we jumped on the train back to New York, and I headed back to London.

All in all, it was an incredible experience. A huge thank you to Michael Preston from the Sixers for arranging my press credentials (hope I didn’t let you down too much, Michael!) and our tickets, and thanks again to the awesome people at Mitchell & Ness for showing us around.

All I need next time is a win.