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Monday April 11, 2011 10:01 AM

He's All Grown Up


Reflections on a year in the life of a Rockets.com intern

West Medlin
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Well, it’s finally happened: The end of a season-long internship that was as unexpected as it was exciting. The Rockets’ matchup against the Mavericks on Monday night won’t merely signal Houston’s last home game of the season. It will also be my last chance to throw on the staff ID badge, sit amongst “real” journalists, and enjoy the bounty of winning an online essay contest.

Indeed, I will soon shed my “unpaid-intern” status and blossom into my former self: an unemployed law student. It’s kind of like how a caterpillar morphs into a butterfly, only if the caterpillar had Rockets season tickets and a sweet gig while the butterfly would emerge from its cocoon saddled with school loans and a Texas bar exam to worry about. I now officially hate butterflies.

At the risk of sounding clichéd and probably a weak attempt to crawl back into my just-exited cocoon, it’s hard to believe nearly eight months have passed since I nervously prepared my first article for Rockets.com.

Jason’s instructions for that first assignment couldn’t have been simpler: Just introduce yourself to our readers. To someone who’s always been a little more Kurt Rambis than Kurt Vonnegut, however, the task of sounding smart, interesting, and coherent was frightening. Suddenly, deciding how to write each line and word created Deal or No Deal-level pressure: Should I really mention my jaw-dropping ping pong ability? (Deal.) Is there ever a good time to share the story of how I was once introduced to someone as the guy with the Justin Bieber haircut? (No deal, Howie!) What is a semi-colon? Why am I sweating?

Alas, a quick haircut and a gradual growth in confidence allowed me to overcome many of my initial worries that accompanied being the “new guy” on the job.

However, it wasn’t until I saw Yao Ming scrimmage during a practice well before the team’s first preseason game that I actually felt like someone “inside” the Rockets organization. I never appreciated just how big Yao is until I stood next to him on that practice court. For the first time I actually felt like a “small” person. Imagine the dimensions necessary to make a 6’2,” 175 lb man feel like he’d just become an honorary member of the Lollipop Guild.

Regardless of my shrunken stature, that afternoon I couldn't get over how cool it was to stand just a couple of feet away from my favorite team while they were engaged in a fun yet competitive pickup game. Aaron Brooks and Courtney Lee were carving up their opponents with drives, dishes and 3-pt bombs. Meanwhile Jordan Hill followed up a poorly missed hook shot with a face-melting put-back slam. It was the first time that I really began to realize the uniqueness of my opportunity. I eagerly anticipated throwing my basketball buddies into a jealous rage with the stories that would unfold over the next eight months.

Aside from the added opportunities to torture my friends, the biggest thing I gained from this internship is an appreciation for all of the hard work and late nights that go into making the Rockets a successful organization. And I’m not just talking about the players, coaches and front office staff whose around-the-clock basketball routine makes one wonder if there's a Red Bull IV station secretly tucked away somewhere within the bowels of Toyota Center.

While it’s certainly fun to reference the Biebs and Kurt Vonnegut in the same article, it’s not as easy as it looks. Jason and his work ethic showed me what it takes to be a successful sports writer (and no I’m not talking about his ability to maintain a well-groomed five o’ clock shadow regardless of the hour). I’ve learned how to develop story ideas, sharpen interview questions, and find the emotional angle to draw in the reader. But more than any specific writing technique, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of finding a passion and then committing to that passion.

So I don’t know what the future holds. But I do know that I’ve just completed a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always remember. Good luck to the next intern, whoever you are. My only recommendation is that you get a haircut before having your photo ID taken; certain people (you know who you are, T-Cat) can be harsh. I'm kidding, of course. Because the fact of the matter is that even a mild case of faux Bieber fever is a small price to pay for a season's worth of learning, lessons and memories that will last a lifetime.

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