Basketball Diaries from Planet Orange
Occasionally, it dawns on me that a lot of people I know aren’t on Twitter and haven’t seen my frequent (and some might say incessant) updates from the last week. As a result, I’m writing this blog as a continuation of my first “Basketball Diaries” post–which has nothing to do with Jim Carroll, Leonardo DiCaprio, or heroin–to detail the action, intrigue and adventure during my most recent trip out to the desert to spend some time with the Phoenix Suns.
I arrived in Phoenix on Thursday afternoon with just enough time to drop my stuff off at my dad’s house before hopping in the car with my stepmom, Suzanne, and my two little brothers, Ryan and Jack. We arrived at the gigantic U.S. Airways Center just in time to make a quick stop by the family room and head to our seats for the Suns game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Having never seen Lebron James play, I must admit that I was really excited. After all, this is a guy who has been dubbed the “Chosen One” by nearly every broadcaster and sports writer. On thing that is instantly striking about him when you see him in person is his sheer size. Not only is he 6’8″, but he’s built like a football player and looks solid as a rock! It was amazing to see him on the court with Grant Hill, who is the same height, but is about 40lbs lighter. With his size and speed, James is a force to be reckoned with and the excitement started to build as we watched him walk onto the court.
I was equally thrilled to have the opportunity to support my dudes at my first Suns home game. The seats were fantastic, and very close to the Suns bench, so we could see all the expression on the players’ faces. I was a little sad that Shaq didn’t utilize his “L.P.C.” (or Levitation Process Crew for those who don’t keep up on the Big Shaqtus’ musings) during his introduction, but still psyched at the prospects of watching a great game.
And what a great game it was!
Going in, I had my fingers crossed, but wasn’t very hopefully about the prospects of an Amare-less Suns team even getting within the realm of a win over the #1 team in the league. Still, I had faith in our guys and knew they would give it their all. Sure enough, there were points when the Suns were even leading the Cavs, but in the end, the powers of The Chosen One prevailed.
After the exciting game, the next notable event was heading back to the arena for practice.
It’s been a long time since I’ve gone with my dad to practice. The last time I went was when he was with the Clippers and I probably spent most of the time texting or playing Snake on my cell phone. This time I spent a lot of time on my cell phone too, but instead of zoning out, I was snapping pictures and posting updates on Twitter.
As I walked around the locker room, I caught a glimpse of something sure to be familiar to Suns fans that, like myself, spend a lot of time avoiding work by browsing the clips in the multimedia section on suns.com. Yep, it was the infamous bike belonging to everyone’s favorite ponytailed PF, Lou Amundson. I overheard a few potential plots to hide the bike, but it managed to stay in the same place the whole day, something I can only attribute to Shaq having the day off.
I chilled out on the sidelines of the practice court as coaches Dan Majerle, Bill Cartwright and Igor Kokoskov worked with the younger players like Robin Lopez, Jared Dudley, Alando Tucker, Goran Dragic and Amundson. As things started to wind down, Dudley, Tucker, Dragic and Amundson played a quick game as my dad Alvin Gentry and the other coaches gave hilarious commentary.
When the court was mostly cleared, my brothers started taking shots at the hoop closest to where I was sitting. At one point, the ball got away from my brother Jack and rolled over to where Dragic was sitting with Tucker out on the sidelines. Dragic asked if Jack wanted to see him make a shot from the chair. When my disbelieving brother said he did, Dragic dribbled a couple times and then nailed a perfect shot that could have been used by a foley artist for the “swish” sound effect. My thoroughly impressed brothers looked back at him in awe as he laughed and continued to talk with Tucker.
After practice, I hung out in my dad’s office while he did a few interviews. I knew my way around the locker room simply because I had visited the virtual locker room on suns.com a few hundred times browsing the clickable items and looking for easter eggs. As I came down the hallway with the Suns history wall, I ran into Tucker, Dragic and Amundson, who joked with me earlier about the “boring” way I was spending my Friday afternoon. They were gathered around as one of the trainers was performing what seemed to be a magic trick. First, he had Dragic stand on one foot, and then pushed him off balance. Next he told Dragic to hold on to a plastic card with the mysterious ability to stabilize whoever possessed it. To everyone’s surprise, it did seem to make a noticeable difference in Dragic’s ability to stay balanced, even when others attempted to knock him off. Disbelieving, Tucker volunteered to try it himself and was again shocked when it seemed to work for him too.
I made the first step in “Operation Get Lou on Twitter” by telling him that, as someone with an iPhone, signing up for Twitter is practically required before I headed off with the family to get some lunch.
The next day was the Suns home game against the Thunder. With a less intimidating challenger, I was able to relax a bit more.
After the game, it was on to the bus and then on to the plane to head to San Francisco/Oakland for the game against the Golden State Warriors.
My only other NBA road trip experience was many years ago with the L.A. Clippers, who didn’t own a plane, but rather chartered one. The Suns are a whole different ball game, so to speak. Upon stepping onboard, I was warmly greeted by the flight attendants who had everyone’s snack/drink orders memorized. Large trays of food were available as the guys filed in and went to their comfy seats. I sat with my dad up in the coaches’ section as we snacked on appetizers. The coaches took out their MacBook Pros and started watching that night’s game as I pulled out Watchmen, turned on my iPod, and wondered how the hell I could ever fly commercial again. Through the flight, we were offered any kind of delicious food we could ever want, including ice cream sandwiches and warm cookies and milk. We were treated to an equally V.I.P. experience upon arrival at the St. Regis Hotel.
That evening at the arena before the game, I had my first chance to talk to Robin Lopez. Having similar nerdy interests, I had a wonderful conversation with him about the omission of the Black Freighter plot in Watchmen, John K. animation, Facebook etiquette and other similarly geeky topics. Having met tons of NBA players in my life, I found Lopez delightfully unique and gained a whole new appreciation for the 7ft. reserve Center.
The game was the cherry on top of an already rad day. The Suns showcased some trademark “fancy pants” basketball scoring 154 points in the win, an NBA season high. Jason Richardson, in particular, was on fire and Hill, Shaq and Matt Barnes had several highlight reel moments.
The next day as I waited at the gate to board the magical coach that had turned back into a Southwest pumpkin for my flight back home to Denver, I was already starting to think about my next trip out to Planet Orange.