It's been awhile since I've posted a behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to have a press pass and sit on press row. Part of the problem, like for any NBA rookie or even sophomore, is finding your role.
Am I a wily veteran like a Jarrett Jack who can cooly drop in a "barcalounger" jumper with nary a moment left on the shotclock? That'd be an Art Spander effortlessly collecting quotes during the night, then weaving the tale almost on the fly, like a marshmallow roast by the campfire that remains a happy childhood memory. Me? Heck no, not even close.
Am I a Harrison Barnes showing such talent that the general public is clamoring for him to play more minutes, but with management stubbornly not wanting him to shine just yet? That'd be the prodigy Ethan Sherwood Strauss delivering poignant tidbits on a consistent basis, yet still not retained and commensurately long-term compensated by the likes of maybe a Grantland or any other credible sports outlet, for that matter (yes, he's currently writing for ESPN.com, which is great, but without a grand announcement, we'd have to assume that's not a permanent position). Me? No way, that's a ceiling beyond my reach.
Am I an up-and-coming journalist akin to the thrilling and energetic Kent Bazemore in the absence of, say, an Stephen Curry? Perhaps even comedic a la Michael Levin's brilliant post from the 2010 NBA Draft (which I also attended and will someday comment on after-the-fact). Welp, I have an eight-year-old daughter, a full-time job and then some. I couldn't fit in a (fake) journalism career path if I wanted to.
So I think, quite honestly, my role is this. This, right here. The how-to of the how-to. The reporter of the reporters. Now, after writing some of these paragraphs, I realized things were getting long, as a lot of this is in chronological order and merely informational and observational (read: perhaps boring, if you're not into behind-the-scenes renditions). Therefore, I've decided to divide it up into three parts: Part 1 will talk about the pre-game conferences and locker rooms. Part 2 will talk about pre-game in the Media Room and on Press Row. And Part 3 will be about the post-game.
So here's your first inside look at how the media gets to tell its stories. Let us begin at the beginning...
All media and employees enter Oracle Arena through the south gate. At the credential table, Don greets and hands you your media credential. You then look for your name on the seating chart. The big-wigs like Marc Spears of Yahoo, Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times, Rusty Simmons of the SF Chronicle, Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury, and Matt Steinmetz of CSN Bay Area get to sit in Section 101.
Thompson and Simmons are there at almost every game, with the rest of the family at most of the games, but not all of them. The rest of us sit in 102, which is a little bit to the left of center court, from our angle. On big game days, such as versus the Los Angeles Lakers or when the Golden State Warriors are on national TV and there are a few more members of the media than usual, the rest of us might get relegated to Section 124, which is to the corner right of the viewing angle from behind the scorer's table. All of the press row seats at The Oracle are above the lower level, in front of the luxury suites if you're in 102, in front of the "windy corridor" if you're in 124.
Six o'clock is when things begin, assuming the usual 7:30PM weeknight tipoff. That's when Coach Mark Jackson speaks at the pre-game press conference. That means I have to leave The City (of San Francisco) by no later than 5PM to be on time. Think about that for a sec. The game will end at about 10PM, post-game interviews take about 45 minutes to an hour, and then most journalists stay in the media room to type up their stories. That means they're out no earlier than 11PM, getting home by probably midnight. That's seven hours, door-to-door. For a game that lasted, on average, 2.5 hours. Yikes!
I'll usually leave SF much earlier than the peak rush hour of 5PM and get some work done at a cafe somewhere in the East Bay, if I want to make the pregame press conference at 6PM.
So after obtaining the credential, it's pretty much a bee-line, showing your badge before hitting the locker room corridors, to the conference room, which is across the hall from the Warriors' locker room. At the press conference, the first thing I do is get my phone hooked up on the Oracle wifi because the 4G outside the arena can't reach the bowels of the building, and login to Twitter. As I frequently lament on the Game Threads here, the SB Nation Android app is insufficient for posting from my phone and I'm not about to lug my computer to the conference room when Twitter is just fine.
Simmons, Kawakami, and any other usual beatwriter typically sit in the front or no more than two or three rows from there, where they can be clearly heard and seen by MJ. Others are scattered here and there. It's kind of like picking a seat on the first day of class. I usually pick one closest to the exit, but that's just me. Sometimes there are fan guests who are invited to view the presser, then take group photos with MJ afterwards. Warriors PR head Raymond Ridder and second-in-command Dan Martinez are always there to facilitate this, as well as move the media along to the next session, and make sure communication with media flows in an orderly fashion, also with respect to the coaches' and players' time.
The media will ask your standard questions. Current trends, the momentum of the team, the opponent. Spander, who doesn't attend a lot of games mind you, is particularly good at making his questions seem almost conversational. He probably isn't even trying, either. Kawakami will sometimes ask a challenging question, but afterwards Jackson and he will kind of joke about it. Simmons is pretty straightforward. I don't think I remember Thompson asking a question as part of the audience. He might go up to Jackson after it's done and chat a little bit. Strauss for sure is there to ask a good question. Each journalist has their own style and approach. And everybody knows when the lights and cameras are on. When they're off, it's buddy-buddy. That's just kind of how it is in America, I think. The days of the pesky reporters tossing out little shouted questions, donning hats while photographers pop off light bulb flash after light bulb flash, are long gone.
One thing I've noticed is that there really isn't much about specific strategies. If and when the day comes where I can devote more time to blogging and tracking the Warriors, as well as their opponents, I might muster up enough courage ask a challenging strategic and specific question, as that's just in my blood. Obvious concerns are certainly almost always addressed. For example, before the Houston Rockets game, as expected, someone asked Jackson if the Warriors would do anything differently after two straight losses to the same team (Jackson said, "No," which brings us to the next issue: Was he telling the truth or not wanting to reveal his cards? Only an analysis of previous game tape can answer that question).
However, even if one were to try to shoot an arrow into the castle, you can tell that Jackson is quite good at not only delivering politically-correct answers, but also shielding his players. So whatever you ask isn't ever really going to penetrate that wall. C'est la vie. Keith Smart was also good at this. I imagine that's a pre-requisite for being an NBA coach.
During this time, the entire press conference is being videotaped and much of it appears live on the Warriors CSN Bay Area broadcast. Often times, I find the only real value I can provide is a realtime tweet of the more interesting things he's said, and that's if the Twitter follower happens to not be watching the same thing on TV.
The special, once-in-a-lifetime, press conference with David Stern before the Rockets game was a zoo, with a bevy of reporters from Sacramento who made the drive down. You could tell that Stern was in a more accepting mood than usual because his sarcasm stopped at, "Oh, the Warriors!" when a non-Sacto-versus-Seattle question was volleyed. Incidentally, it was Ethan who had broken the ice with a question about the Dubs. Being the veteran presser attendee and knowing Stern was on his way, I thought I'd stay outside in the corridor and snap a shot of him arriving, but it happened too fast and I didn't have my phone ready. Sophomore turnover!
Going back to MJ, as far as pics inside the press conference, quite frankly, you've seen one, you've seen them all. It's just the coach at the table with the Warriors banner behind him. There's a microphone guy who makes sure the hovering mic is near the question- bearer.
After the presser, you have two options: go to the visitors' coach's press conference or the Warriors' locker room. The Warriors' own multimedia folks will always attend the visitors' conference, as they do a tremendous job of collecting quotes and printing out the best ones for hard-copy hand-to-hand in-arena distribution to all members of the media. You might see a beatwriter at either locker room, it's just kind of random. You'll definitely see Spears in the visitor's room chatting up a superstar.
This is where I've realized weaving your standard go-to-print preview (or recap, for that matter) is really about having some basis of a story to go on, collecting quotes, and telling the story with the quotes nestled in the pace of the story. I'm sure they teach that in Journalism 101. Well, I don't know how they do it, but I've seen Simmons and Kawakami bust out articles right before the opening tip. I'm sure this can involve transcribing. To do all of this between about 6:30PM and 7:30PM is astounding (apologies to Thompson if he's done this, too).
Speaking of Thompson, he's got this way of saddling up next to an interviewee and almost stealthily asking barely-audible questions that, somehow, players and coaches clearly hear. It's quite amazing. Spears has a similar approach and Simmons has a way, too, albeit IMHO not as polished as Marc or Marcus. None of the newbie bloggers or aspiring beatwriters have this, I've noticed.
I'm still learning where to fit in with the pre-game locker room activities. Here's the issue. Speaking from experience -- even if that's only from high school varsity, serious rec leagues, and well-organized underground but high-intensity Asian-American tournaments -- my assumption is that, focusing their minds on the game upon them, most players don't want to be bothered with strategic questions. Aside from that, I've established some rapport with "things that don't matter", such as the Black Falcon's shoes or confirming nicknames with Jack, but to continue talk about those things, you'd have to be in the right place at the right time, unless you were Spears hunting down a superstar as part of a bigger breaking story. That's because Barnes or Jack might be getting pre-game treatment or on the floor shooting around. Or you'd have to have a pulse on the latest-and-greatest topic of a certain player on Twitter, which I'm slowly trying to carve out more time for.
Still, it's good to be there, just in case.
The visitor's coach's press conference is much different than Mark Jackson's. The opposing coach has to stand outside their locker room. They're typically answering questions from their own media. The Warriors multimedia guys are diligently there, too. They're at any and all major media gatherings, be it around coaches or players. After the coach is done (around five to no more than ten minutes), you can enter the visitor's locker room, but usually there isn't a whole lot happening. It's usually very sparse, again with players on the court shooting around or guys just listening to music through their headphones and getting taped. Actually, I've found that the non-superstars are more available during pre-game, especially the foreigners. It's a great opportunity for overseas media to have one-on-ones with their countrymen.
By now, it's around 6:30 to 6:45PM and, at least for me, time to hit the pre-game meal in the Media Room. I've actually found that to be one of the more interesting things about Warriors games.
(to be continued)