Covering my first NBA game, I didn't quite know what to expect. I've always loved the NBA and being able to watch a game from the floor was a dream come true. Being able to talk to the players only made the event that much sweeter.
But I have to admit, getting a pat on the butt and a wink from Dana Barros as he and the other Pistons charged onto the court at the beginning of the fourth quarter wasn't what I had in mind when I switched my major from history to journalism. I guess I expected something a bit more austere. But still, writing about sports is more interesting than writing about MLG&W, so I pressed on.
Besides, Barros' greeting served to prepare me for the events to come. I soon learned that the media pass hanging around my neck granted me universal access. So after the game, when the rest of the reporters rushed to the locker room entrance, so did I.
After a few minutes the doors were opened and everyone pushed inside, all eyes darting past the stew of towels, muscles, tattoos, and braids to find the stars. (I was cautioned against describing this scene as "a bag of mixed nuts.") Someone spotted Shane Battier and all the reporters bum-rushed him like he was a free food buffet and began shoving cameras in his face and showering him with questions.
"Shane, what did you think of tonight's game?"
But Battier hadn't even dressed yet. Looking embarrassed and under siege in his boxers, he had to give an impromptu press conference.
"It was intense," said Battier as he gently attempted to clear enough room in the huddle so that he could get one leg into his pants.
"Did you expect Stackhouse's performance?"
"Stackhouse was tough," he said as he put his other leg in the pants.
"What do you think about how the team played?" asked The Commercial Appeal's Geoff Calkins.
"It was a tough game. It was a really choppy game," continued Battier, putting one sock on.
At this point he looked resolved. He seemed to understand that this was to be his fate. He will be answering questions on camera in his underwear for the rest of his basketball career. Other reporters began yelling questions from the back of the herd.
"What about scoring, Shane?"
"Neither team shot very well," he said as he put on the other sock.
"How does the NBA differ from college?"
He slid his shirt over his head and said, "It's different, but not in a bad way." One shoe.
"We let this game get away." The other shoe.
Perhaps a now fully-dressed Battier could also get away.
A television crew from Spain was in the locker room, presumably to get post-game comments from Pau Gasol. But unable to find Gasol, they reluctantly joined the group of local reporters. When Battier was first surrounded, the Spanish crew shoved their camera and mic at him too. Then, probably realizing that no one in Spain cares about Battier, they turned the camera and mic on me -- apparently not yet realizing that no one in Spain cares about me either. So with a mic, camera, and bright light in my face, I got asked my first question.
"What's it like to be a woman in the locker room?"
"Honestly, it's a little overwhelming," I said, thinking that I never realized just how tall these guys are until I saw how much flesh they actually have.
As if on cue Grizzlies guard Nick Anderson squeezed behind me, rubbing his damp towel (the only thing he was wearing) against my arm. I had just learned that I'm about ass-high to an NBA player. This being the fourth time Anderson had brushed by me wearing only a towel I realized that either he was taking laps around the locker room or this could be the hazing female sports reporters often say they must endure in order to be accepted.
The test, apparently, is this: How many times can a nearly naked man pass your sight line before you just give in and drop your eyes?
Trailing behind Anderson, Memphis' favorite son, Lorenzen Wright, eased through the crowd, also wearing only a towel.
"Ren, how about a statement?" shouted George Lapides.
And then all the cameras turned on Wright and it became his turn to get dressed on camera.
"It's a disappointment," Wright said, easing his underwear on underneath the towel.
"We really wanted to win," he said, leaning over to put on his socks. "I don't think I ever wanted to win a game as much as I wanted to win this game." His words were beginning to flow. Wright seemed almost comfortable talking to strangers while wearing only slightly more than his birthday suit.
In fact, he and Anderson seemed to have decided to forgo clothes for the moment. For them giving interviews au naturel was not so awkward after all.
A girl could get used to this.
You can e-mail Rebekah Gleaves at firstname.lastname@example.org.