I had a brief stint in the NBA after graduating college.
Obviously it wasn’t as a player. It was as a PR guy, one of those jobs thousands of college kids want, because working in sports is awesome.
It wasn’t. It was a terrible job, and I’ll explain why in a later post.
But one of my roles was to grab players for media requests pre-game, post-game, in between games. If a credentialed media outlet wanted to interview someone on my team, I helped facilitate it.
Players don’t like being asked to do things. Players often let PR guys know exactly how much they dislike being asked to do things.
They’re not assholes, mostly. They’re really just big kids who want nothing more than to go home, smoke some weed, play XBox, and maybe make a booty call or two.
So I always had a reservations about asking a player to do an interview, or to meet a Make a Wish kid, or whatever the situation required.
(The key is to ask with authority and pretend you’re like a high school principal. NBA players, coddled for life and treated like royalty, recognize very few forms of authority. Mama is one, coach is another [sometimes], high school principal is third.)
Anyway, so the Spurs had just finished drubbing the Jazz, and one of my post-game assignments was to get a Tim Duncan quote about Karl Malone, whose jersey we were set to retire.
Another big-time NBA power forward had basically told me to perform circus-like sexual acts on myself for asking the same favor a few nights before. I hadn’t met Duncan; his reputation was good, but lots of players had good reputations.
So I’m in front of his locker, the rest of the press has cleared out, and he’s putting on his jacket in advance of leaving the arena.
“Tim, we’re about to retire Karl Malone’s jersey, and as someone in the discussion with Karl as the greatest power forward of all time, I was wondering if I could get a few lines from you on Karl, the player he was, his legacy…”
I don’t remember Duncan’s specific words, but the guy was incredibly friendly. Well spoken, polite, an eye contact guy.
I don’t remember his words because I was staring at his jacket.
Dude was putting on a bomber jacket. The kind your dad wore in the late 80s when Top Gun was the thing to emulate.
Tim Duncan, multi-millionaire athlete, around 2005, putting on a bomber jacket, complete with the poofy, fur-ish collar, like it ain’t no thing.
My instinct was to snicker, despite being overweight and flat-assed with wrinkled Dockers sagging and scratching the floor underneath my $35 scuffed “black shoe” specials.
At one point in the season I watched Latrell Sprewell walk out wearing the same outfit as Silky Johnson in the Player Hater’s Ball skit.
So Duncan is giving me all these great lines about Malone, and he’s slipping on the dorky bomber jacket, when I catch a glimpse of the inside pocket.
On it was an official patch from the Blue Angels, with “Tim Duncan” stitched in.
How badass is that? They gave him a jacket, probably after somehow fitting him into one of their planes and flying him around, and he didn’t put in on his mantle or in a closet somewhere.
The dude wore it! In Salt Lake City in December, which was smart!
It was so Tim Duncan. No pretension, no concern at all with what he was supposed to be like, or act like. A warm jacket? Sure, he’ll wear it.
MVP photo shoot? He’ll show up with what he has on, thanks.
He’s just a smart dude with a gift for basketball and very little tolerance for expectations or attention. That’s admirable.
I got the chance to interact with him a few more times, and was never discouraged. The entire Spurs locker room was like that – Duncan, Ginobili, Pop, Parker.
Top to bottom, the organization is great, and makes it very hard for a Thunder fan to hate them. I root for them when Thunder success isn’t involved in their outcomes, and don’t feel ashamed in the least.
Duncan retired after something like a 37-year career with a bunch of championships – all with one team. I’m glad to say I had the chance to work with him a few more times, and I’m looking forward to seeing just how well he’s able to disappear in his next phase.