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I got lost in Wells Fargo Center: Covering an NBA game

Somewhere along the line, I must have made a wrong turn. What left had I made where I should have made a right? Underneath The Wells Fargo Center, in a minor panic, the subterranean concrete halls turn into a labyrinth.

Okay, maybe I overreacted, I was just a little lost. I kept pacing up and down a hallway, next to cameramen from an ABC affiliate. Eventually I swallowed my pride, since I felt like everyone was already staring regardless. Who is this clueless kid with the notepad? I walked through an opening onto to the court, where the Bulls just beat the Sixers 118-115. I crossed the baseline, passed through the now-empty press section and made my way through another opening on the other side. I found the pressroom and furiously wrote. I had just 45 minutes to get the first story out.

***

I went to the game that night as a freelance writer for CSNChicago, covering the Bulls as they took on the hapless, winless, (pick any word that ends with less) 76ers. I wasn’t really intimidated. I had covered pro sports before, writing about and interviewing the Phillies, Eagles and Sixers. I had freelanced and covered Villanova basketball and football. But here’s the rub. For a pro sporting event, I would usually write one article, the “sidebar.” It’s a piece about an interesting angle from the game that accompanies the main game story. For Villanova games I would write two articles, one immediate game notebook (think bullet points) and one article. For the Bulls game CSNChicago needed: a morning primer story, a pregame story, an immediate postgame story, a quote-supplemented postgame story and a sidebar. And I was to write them all. That’s the reality of being a sports beat writer. It was going to be fun.

I show up early for everything. So I got to the stadium before my press pass was ready. Somehow, I talked my way into the morning shootaround to write my primer story (the game tipped off at 7 p.m.). Looking back, not sure how that happened. I’m not going to bore you with all the details but here’s a funny moment from the morning:

Bulls center Joakim Noah is the last player on the court, shooting freethrows. It’s two Chicago-area beat writers and me on the sidelines. So two guys who go everywhere with the team and the Bulls know them very, very well. Clearly, I’m the odd man out. We’re walking toward Derrick Rose. Noah’s shot clangs off the rim and rolls toward me. I freeze, because, you know, what am I supposed to do here? I look at the ball. And at Noah. Then the ball. Because I’m not sure what the etiquette is: do I keep walking to my interview? Do I toss it back? I decide to toss it back, but before I do, in chimes Noah. Something like: This guy is scared of a basketball. I laugh and say I just wasn’t trying to embarrass myself. And, to be fair, I whipped off a sweet pass, one bounce and right into his hands. But anyway, an interesting start.

Here’s all you need to know about what I did pregame: I wrote about Derrick Rose’s ankles, just like everyone else. The beat writers were tweeting Rose is out with ankle injury before the coach could even finish the sentence.

The game moved quickly, and when you’re taking notes, prepping a story, you hardly react to what happens on the court. Third quarter, Sixers are down big and I got most of a story finished detailing the Bulls blowout win. I needed to have a game story done when the buzzer sounded and the game clock felt like a nervous countdown. But, improbably, the Sixers started clawing back, and were down just 1 with under 30 seconds left.

Here are the basics from there: Bulls hold on and win, story gets filed, and then I rush off to try and find the players and coaches to grab interviews. There is a lot of movement.

I promised myself this post wouldn’t be some kind of running diary. Let’s cut back to the beginning scene.

So—I’m lost. I had just talked to Bulls big man Pau Gasol, lingering in the locker room longer than the beat reporters. (Side note: trying to hold a recorder up to a seven-foot-tall man is a comical experience. I was looking into his belly button nodding my head to indicate hmm interesting point… to his navel). I wasn’t sure my audio on an interview with Joakim Noah was great, and I wanted to make sure I had enough content. But that left me behind the pack. I needed to update my story in 45 minutes, and have another one done in an hour and a half. I had been wandering around the outside of the locker rooms, trying to figure out how to get back to the media room. Packs of people got in the way, and that’s when I decided I was just going to cross the court because embarrassment would be better than not getting the stories in on time. Plus that ABC cameraman was looking at me like I was an idiot; it was time to go. Luckily, I snuck back to the pressroom, drawing little attention to myself. I then got furious with my keyboard, tapping at it with purpose, listening to my recordings, and mapping stories in my head.

Everything got done in time and I think it went well. Really, it was all very anticlimactic. Here’s why I think it matters. This is the kind of thing I want to do for the rest of my life. Not necessarily those types of stories or being a beat writer, but engaging in sports and writing and combining the two.

There’s a rush to a night like that. The action is frantic and stressful. My head hurt a little and my vision got blurry from the looking so intently at my computer screen all night. It felt damn good.

***

At the end of the night, I emailed the CSN editors and confirmed that all of my stories got in on time. My Gmail account blinked with a bold notification confirming the night was, indeed, over. The stadium, the halls I had wandered, were quiet, with just the shuffle of cleaning crews. I slung my backpack over my shoulders and pushed my thumbs underneath the straps, walking with pace. I made my way outside.

I had parked a while away at the Eagles practice facility. About a 10-minute walk. There was a shuttle that could take me back to the lot. It was just about midnight. I felt great, fulfilled, the kind of buzz you get from a day well spent. South Philly had a chilly Friday night going, but the air was crisp and the skyline lit up to the north. It was a nice night for a walk, I thought, and let the shuttle go by.

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