August 13, 2011
Shadowing an NBA Journeyman

As the reporter for and person who contributes the bulk of articles that appear in the teams GameTime program, the majority of my job obviously consists of writing. Its what I was hired to do and how I spend much of my workday. Every so often, however, Im asked to help staff special Hornets events, in cases where there may not be enough personnel to handle what's needed.

A couple years ago, the Hornets held a fan-friendly Casino Night, a three-hour event in the Louisiana Superdome during which season ticket holders get to meet and mingle with Hornets players. Season ticket holders also can play various games, such as poker or blackjack. The proceeds go to charity.

I was asked to volunteer at Casino Night because during the event, Hornets players get to walk through the crowd, talk to fans, sit down to play games whatever they wish. Given the informal nature of the event, however, each player is given a chaperone, whose job is to walk around the event with him. The chaperones also are required to be the bad guy and enforce some of the rules of the event, including a no-autograph policy (a rule thats in place not because the players dont want to be bothered for autographs, but because if autographs are permitted, the event devolves into little more than players signing items, instead of them socializing with fans). If a fan asks for an autograph and a chaperone is there to say Sorry, hes not allowed to sign autographs tonight, it also prevents the player from looking like a jerk.

Anyway, at Casino Night during the 2008-09 season, I was assigned to shadow Hornets backup guard Devin Brown. The 6-foot-5, eight-year NBA veteran now retired from the league would most accurately be described as a journeyman. Brown played for six different NBA teams, primarily in a second-string role.

Having experienced the frenzy of the 2008 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans and the way superstar players are treated when theyre out in public, I have a decent feel for what their experience is like. But I was curious: How would fans act around Brown, arguably the least-recognizable player on the Hornets 2008-09 roster?

As I trailed Brown throughout Casino Night, it was interesting to stand back and observe. The vast majority of fans were extremely polite, just wanting to shake Browns hand and wish him good luck for the rest of the season. Others were a bit more conversational, asking Brown how he likes living in New Orleans or how he spent free time around the city (Answer: Brown was and still is an avid golfer).

It was funny to listen as some fans mentioned to Brown that they believed he should be playing more minutes. Brown had been getting regular playing time early in that 2008-09 season, but hed shot so poorly that in the weeks prior to the event, he often wasnt getting into games at all.

I knew it would be difficult for Brown to respond to that specific opinion, for obvious reasons. Its a no-win situation. If hed said, Yes, youre absolutely right! he wouldve appeared to be criticizing or second-guessing his coaches. If hed said, No, I deserve to be on the bench, hed looked like he has zero confidence in himself. He handled it exceedingly well, basically just smiling and not committing to agree or disagree with the notion that he deserved more court time.

Along with the no-autograph policy, fans were explicitly prohibited from stopping players to have them pose for pictures. However, since virtually everyone at an event like this now brings a cell-phone camera, this rule is impossible to enforce. Since Brown opted to walk around to various tables to spectate instead of play, he was very accessible to fans capitalizing on the rare opportunity to snap photos with basically the entire Hornets roster.

As a result, other than a few short breaks of about five minutes when Brown somewhat blended into the crowd, he spent the bulk of 90 minutes posing for photo after photo. Whether it was young male fans in Hornets jerseys or middle-aged moms in their 40s who hugged Brown, nearly everyone who approached asked if they could take their picture with him. Brown, an extremely down-to-earth and laidback guy, obliged every time. The attention didnt bother him, though I did start to wonder if his face was beginning to hurt after hed grinned for 20 straight pictures in the span of about five minutes.

You couldnt blame the fans, but whenever Brown posed for a picture in a very visible area of the venue, other fans spotted it and started closing in, so they too could get a photo with him. The only time I got a little concerned was toward the end of the evening, as Brown started walking toward the exit. After Brown stopped briefly to talk with an elderly female fan and take one last picture before heading home, I turned and saw that a group of about 20 more fans had honed in on Brown and were getting their cameras ready. Brown ended up sticking around for another 15 minutes or so, until the very last person in the group got their photo.

Browns patience was impressive to me throughout the night. It helped that nearly without exception, the fans who approached him were respectful and polite. I'm sure Brown already had plenty of similar experiences interacting with fans, which helped considerably.

Overall, it showed me how in the NBA where team rosters are much smaller than in the NFL or Major League Baseball even the 12th man can receive something resembling celebrity treatment.

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