Posted by Melanie Curtsinger, Thursday, February 2, 2012, 4:45 PM
Chronicles of an NBA Road Trip
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to travel on the road with an NBA team? From the team plane to jokes in the locker room, here’s your behind-the-scenes scoop from my recent 30-hour journey to the City of Brotherly Love and back with the Orlando Magic. I would say this is back by popular demand, but since only a few people have requested this, I’ll instead call it, “back by a few people’s demand.” Enjoy!
9:20 p.m. I arrive at the team’s hangar at Orlando International Airport following our home game against the Indiana Pacers. Last year on my first trip of the season, I somehow managed to lose my car keys in the hangar’s parking lot (which I still get made fun of for), but thankfully this year my keys make their way to my purse after I locked my car… meaning it’s already a good start to the trip.
9:30 p.m. I get on the plane and do a double-take – not because there are two players on the plane already, but because one of those two is Dwight Howard (the other is Quentin Richardson in case you were wondering). I often refer to Dwight as one of the slowest human beings ever (in the most loving way possible), so as you can imagine, this is quite a shock.
9:40 p.m. Head Coach Stan Van Gundy boards and does the exact same double-take I did 10 minutes ago. I then hear him make a comment to Dwight that it’s the only time in his entire career that Dwight has beat him to the team plane.
10:00 p.m. I decide to forego the ribeye and grouper they are serving on the plane and instead head to the front where the PB&J sandwiches and fruit are (I’m weird, I know). Dwight says, “Hey Mel” and then jokingly asks me why I'm at the front of the plane, which is the players’ section. When I tell him I'm just getting a sandwich, he jokingly tells me that it’s OK for me to be up there and he’ll give me a pass to be up front with him.
10:10 p.m. I talk to Sun Sports sideline reporter Paul Kennedy (I’m now at the back of the plane where I belong) about going for an early morning run with him. We agree to meet at 8:45 a.m. in the lobby to go run to the infamous Rocky steps, which is a little over a mile and half from our team hotel... But seeing as how that's only a little over 10 hours away, I begin to second-guess myself the minute I agree.
10:15 p.m. The last player arrives and the plane immediately taxies down the runway for departure.
11:45 p.m. The plane lands (side note: am I the only one that thinks at least five times during every flight that we’re going to crash?), and we hop on the two buses waiting for us and head to the team hotel in downtown Philly. We arrive about 20 minutes later, and even though it’s after midnight, there are five faithful fans standing in the freezing cold people waiting for our team buses in hopes of getting autographs. How do these people find out this stuff, seriously?
8:45 a.m. I begrudgingly join PK down in the lobby for our morning run. I’m not exactly a morning person, but by looking at his bright smile and energetic demeanor, I can immediately tell that he is! Among our stops on the run include the Rocky statue and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Boathouse Row and countless other places I can’t remember because I was still trying to wake up. In total, we went about 3.4 miles in 41 minutes (that included several photo and traffic stops along the way)!
11:30 p.m. I head downstairs for the team’s walkthrough. When we’re on a back-to-back, we don’t shoot around but instead just walk through plays in a ballroom at the team hotel. Next to the ballroom our team is in, there is a conference taking place, and people are milling around everywhere drinking champagne before heading in. Yes, champagne at 11:30 in the morning… I can’t help but think that nothing good is going to come from this!
12:00 p.m. The walkthrough ends, Coach does his pregame radio with play-by-play analyst Dennis Neumann, and I head to the Comcast Center a few blocks away to get… what else, a cheesesteak.
1:30 p.m. A full belly, only six hours of sleep and a morning 5k = power nap time!!
4:00 p.m. I head downstairs to board the team bus. On the first bus are the coaches, other basketball operations staff, Ryan Anderson, Chris Duhon, Von Wafer, Justin Harper and Larry Hughes. (Another sidenote here: I always love walking out the back doors of a hotel and getting on the team bus, because those same five fans were there yet again, and they always look at me like, “who is that girl?”)
4:35 p.m. Ryan is two seats behind me and I can’t help but overhear something he says while he’s on the phone: “Is that the guy that looks like a bird?" I don’t know who he is talking to or who he’s talking about, but poor guy! (Yet another sidenote: Ryan Anderson is seriously like the nicest guy in the world, I promise. Definitely top five nicest I have ever met, no joke.)
5:15 p.m. In the locker room at the arena, Big Baby approaches me and tells me very loudly so that everyone in the locker room can hear that I'm like a ghost because I'm so quiet and I need to liven up. He seems satisfied once I tell him I’ll try to be more like him from now on, so he goes back to his business.
5:30 p.m. I grab Coach Van Gundy to do his pregame media availability, which he does in a record three minutes time.
6:15 p.m. The locker room closes to the media, so I head to the media meal room to get some dinner. On their menu for the night – cheesesteaks (again!) and my one of my favorite foods of all-time, crab fries from Chickie’s and Pete’s (courtesy of the Sixers PR department).
7:00 p.m. As the starters make their way onto the court for tip, a girl in the crowd screams at Dwight (think shrilling scream from a scary movie). When he looks up at her, she proceeds to scream even louder and her friend embarrassingly tells her to be quiet.
7:30 p.m. As the first quarter ends, the Magic are down, 19-18. As J.J. walks back to the bench, a guy in the front row says, “J.J., you stink!” J.J. smirks and gives the guy a thumbs up as he walks by.
7:45 p.m. While giving stats to our bench at a timeout, I spot former Magic player Malik Allen in the crowd just a few rows behind our bench.
8:00 p.m. We hit halftime and Paul Kennedy signals to me that he wants J.J. for his walk-off interview. I rush onto the court at the buzzer and grab him for the TV interview.
8:53 p.m. The kiss cam comes on and J.J. and Dwight are shown on the big screen, much to the delight of the crowd. Dwight sees, puts a towel over his head and turns away from J.J. as the whole bench and arena laughs.
9:20 p.m. The game comes to an end and they bring in food to our locker room for our players. What are they serving? You guessed it, cheesesteaks! I refuse to have my third one for the day, although several of the players and staff are egging me on to try to get me to eat another one.
9:53 p.m. In the locker room postgame, Dwight starts his postgame media availability in front of his locker. The first words out of his mouth: “It's not time to panic. We're going to be fine.”
10:45 p.m. The last player boards the team buses and we depart for the airport. Since we actually go through TSA security at the arena before we board the team bus, once we get to the airport, our bus is able to drop us off on the runway at our plane and we immediately can board and take off. But don’t worry – this time, I grab my PB&J as soon as I board. I know better now!
1:30 a.m. We land and everyone heads to their cars to head home (I’m not going to lie, it’s nice having your plane come to a stop about 100 yards from where your car is parked!). The team has off the next day but I don’t, so I head home to get a few hours of sleep. Despite the sheer exhaustion I feel, I’m still grateful for the opportunity to have these experiences (and to be able to eat two cheesesteaks in one day), and I already can’t wait for my next trip!
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