MISSIONARY WORK BUT GAME ON

pistons knicks london 568Niall Gray gives an insight into what happens the day before the big game after he went along to the o2 Arena to see the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks put through their paces.

NBA games in the UK are becoming more and more frequent and that can only be good for the fans over here. The o2 Arena in London is fast becoming a home away from home for the NBA who made good on their promise to bring us regular season games after exhibition matches proved so popular.

Promoting the sport is important for the NBA and the day before the game offers the chance for those in the media to get face-to-face interviews with the league’s star names. But it’s also a chance for each of the teams to get themselves a practice session in before the big night.

At these events it’s a pretty much tried-and-tested format. You get to see the final half-hour of one team’s practice and there’s a half hour session where you can get interviews with players and coaches. After a break, or in this year’s case a NBA Cares clinic for local school kids, it’s the same as before but in reverse with an interview session followed by the first half hour of a training session.

If you ever want to see a proper training session during the segment that’s open to the media, I’m afraid you will end up disappointed. Only once have I been there and seen a team running plays, it’s usually just a bunch of drills.

They do all the serious stuff  when the media leave the court area, so it’s really just a chance for news outlets and websites to get some stock footage for their stories.

My favourite part has always has been the interview sessions. Sometimes you can get a one-to-one with the player you want to speak with, other times you have to fight through a scrum of people just to find who they are even interviewing!

With the Knicks having so many well-known players it was inevitable that a number of their players would be surrounded by reporters, but it’s not only them.

A case in point being when the Knicks took to the floor for their interview session. A huge group of people were converging around someone by the sideline. Curious to see who it was, I wandered over.

Was it Carmelo Anthony? No. Amar’e Stoudemire? Wrong again. It turned out to be none other than Spike Lee, who when he’s not directing, writing or acting, happens to wear the badge of being the Knicks’ number one fan.

Not just content with his courtside seat at Madison Square Garden, Spike had arrived in London just a few hours earlier and he patiently answered lots of questions before posing for many more pictures after.

Another thing you learn when you attend these sessions is just how often someone gets asked the same question. If you hang around a coach or player long enough, as some reporters leave and others join, you find the same questions crop up every few minutes.

For instance, I wonder if Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince ever tires of questions about being a veteran on a young Pistons team and does his coach, Lawrence Frank, mind the frequent use by reporters of the word ‘rebuilding’ when it comes to discussing his team?

Of course, with the game being here in London, the ‘if I had £1 for every time I was asked that’ question had to be about what it was like to be in London and credit to all the players who answered that one over and over again.

I’ll finish this blog with a couple of personal observations. Firstly, when you’ve done many interviews and gotten pretty much the answers you expect to hear, go speak with Rasheed Wallace.

This guy is a legend in my book and the way he sometimes conducts himself has got him into trouble a lot during a long NBA career, but then you probably already know that.

Interviewing someone like Rasheed could be the holy grail of journalism. Get a good interview with him and you can probably retire happy. I urge you to go onto the likes of You Tube, watch some random interviews with NBA players and then watch some where Rasheed is being asked questions.

The guy knows how to give the shortest possible answers, will let you know with facial expressions and body language when he’s bored of answering questions, but he’s also someone who when asked the right question, will give you a great quote to use.

I will miss Rasheed Wallace when he retires (again) so it was a joy to watch him taking questions from a few brave souls.

Almost the complete opposite had be Lawrence Frank. Even though he was surrounded by so many members of the media, he was totally at ease when answering questions and exhibited a good sense of humour, which is probably needed when you’re rebuilding (sorry, Frank, that word cropped up again) a franchise like the Pistons.

One such example was one of the American reporters asking about players heading off to see the sights of London and Frank replied he didn’t have a problem with that as long as they didn’t get locked in the Tower of London!

I always enjoy these occasions, sometimes even more so than the actual game. My only regret is never getting accredited the year the Boston Celtics came to town, but I suppose it’s just as well as I’d only be boring everyone about it six years later…

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