Hoops in Australia.
I’ll start with a quick back-story. Growing up in Australia, I was obsessed with all sports. In 1992 I discovered the NBA, but MJ was (soon) retiring. I started to obsessively collect everything I could, with the little money that I had and studied his (VHS) videos over and over. By the time he made his comeback from baseball, I was so excited. I finally got to see him play – although, on TV – it was better than watching old videos.
I was convinced I was going to be in the NBA and would hit a buzzer-beater to defeat Team USA in the gold medal game at the Olympics. Everyone I met – I’d sign my autograph – for them, “it would be worth a fortune in the future.” Long story, for another time; I never made it.
Then, I worked professionally for five years in the music industry – promoting, producing and performing music. In 2009, I had a son, got a ‘real’ job and lived the life of an ordinary man. Throughout this time, I made a lot of contacts, met lots of amazing people and collected a lot of items.
I’m not a hoarder; am I?
Now, it has become my obsession. My partner calls me a hoarder. Like all hoarders, I say my items are valuable – many are and I’m sure you’ll agree. I’d have over 5000 items – signed items, game-worn items, other collectibles, memorabilia and sports history. I have a room in my house, stacked with boxes and cupboards full of items. Most weeks I can’t get in the door. I’ve been trying to sell items on eBay. Have sold a few hundred, however, I don’t seem to be making a difference to the never-ending piles.
I’d love to get my favorite pieces framed, but can’t justify the prices to do so, when I can spend that money on another Jordan autograph. Arrrgggh!! Adam asked for submissions of first-hand accounts – here are two…adventures, shall we say, that I can remember almost every detail of.
My NBA Tour.
November, 1996: I don’t usually mention names in stories; as I was 15 years-old at the time, I will. I went on an NBA Tour to Los Angeles and Chicago with a group of approximately 20 people, including former NBL legend, Bruce Bolden, and Jeff Van Groningen. To me, he was just Jeff; a cocky, confident and highly-driven young American man, living in Australia and trying to make a living off the game he loved. He later did some commentating and a lot of other NBL-related things. Jeff had my back while I was in America and we shared a room for two 2 weeks. He was always on the phone, trying to plan things. He was ringing the Clippers, ringing the Bulls. He seemed to know everyone.
Whilst in L.A., we stayed at the same hotel as the Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves. I saw a lot of things, the few days we were there. As a 15 year-old, obsessed with the NBA, I was completely in awe most of the time.
Heal Me, Shane.
The first day, Shane Heal knocks on my hotel door. He wanted to talk to Jeff. Shane played for the Timberwolves at the time. Oh my god, SHANE HEAL is in my room! Jeff was in the shower, so Shane entered the room and asked how I was enjoying my trip. I couldn’t answer. Was this a dream?! He talked to Jeff, through the door. I did what any kid would do (wouldn’t they?) and pulled out my (bulky) video camera. I pressed record and laid it on my bed, facing Shane. I had to prove this to my friends! I must have freaked Shane out; he left and all I have on tape is his voice.
I headed to the lobby. As I’m getting in the elevator, I see Tom Gugliotta. Damn, these guys are even staying on the same hotel floor. I say hi, to Tom; he says hi, back. He seemed a little freaked out. Did Shane already tell him there was a freaky kid around? Was it my accent? Was it that I was a kid, by myself? I don’t know. Now, I’m in the hotel lobby and see Dikembe Mutombo and other players, arguing at the counter. There were a bunch of nice cars outside; they must have hired them and the cars were too small or something. It was funny to watch.
Good camera? Negative.
I turn around and there is legendary coach, Lenny Wilkens, having a bite to eat. I just stare for a while, trying to take photos on my vintage 1980s wind-up camera (with no zoom). Next, Steve Smith walks in. I walk up and ask for a photo together. No worries. I then ask someone else to take the picture. Then, I go up to Christian Laettner and get a photo with him. I see this really huge guy, all by himself. He is wearing a Hawks top, so I go over to him. He couldn’t believe that I wanted a photo; he was so happy to do it. I never figured out who he was – Priest Lauderdale?
At this stage, I’m like a kid in a candy store; literally surrounded by 20 NBA players, in total awe. I’m trying to record them with my video camera. In walks Slam Dunk Champion, Brent Barry. He was playing for the Clippers, but visiting his brother, Jon. I got a photo with both of them, together.
Then, a different noise falls over the room – someone special was coming. He had a couple people walking by his side. He was wearing very dark glasses and big headphones. He looked like a giant. He exits the elevator, walks through the lobby and out the door; ducking, on his way out. He doesn’t talk to anyone. It was 19 year-old (Da Kid) Kevin Garnett. Oh my god! He just walked past me, less then a metre away.
We go to the Knicks versus Clippers game – seated in a box, about halfway up. You missed a lot of atmosphere, being in one of the boxes. There were a few TVs and some food, but, it didn’t excite me and the game was ugly! Ewing top-scored, with 20 points. Malik Sealy (RIP) top-scored for the Clippers, with 13 points.
That night, Googs and a few other players are eating at the same place we are. They had walked from the hotel, just like us. When we return, a few of the guys stop at the bar next to the lobby for a drink. As a 15 year-old, I managed to get one also – thought I was pretty cool – you had to be 21 years-old, in the United States.
Doug West, or Terry Porter, were there with a couple of ladies. A few other players left, with ladies. I was thinking to myself; I’ve read all about this. This is so sweet. It was all too much for me, so I called it a night. As I’m trying to swipe my door key, I hear a noise behind me. I turn, to see KG has just arrived, out of nowhere. He is in the room, two metres from mine. Directly across the hall! He looked at me – no glasses or headphones, this time. I looked back and then quickly shut my door and almost fainted like a girl who had just met One Direction. To this day, it is one of my biggest regrets. Why didn’t I say something? Maybe we could have played video games all night! haha…
The next day, a few of us go shopping and pick up some cool items, to hopefully get signed; jerseys you’d never find in Australia, etc. Jeff offers us a choice. He has hooked-up (for the following day) court-side seats to the Timberwolves versus Clippers; or, we could watch the Hawks take on the Lakers – a night game, but not as good seats. I chose the Lakers. This was Shaquille O’Neal’s first year in L.A. and Kobe Bryant’s rookie season. This was only the third home game of the season. Kobe’s third home game, ever!
Insert ‘Smitty Shimmer’, here.
In this game, Steve Smith was unstoppable; before spraining his ankle. He returned, but wasn’t the same. He scored 14 points in as many minutes, before the injury. The Hawks were up 14 point, at half time. The third quarter was all Eddie Jones. We went nuts, with the whole L.A. crowd, screaming “Edd-ie!”, all quarter-long. He led the Lakers to the win. Kobe scored 2 points in 8 minutes.
The next day, Eddie was at the Nike store – not one person went up to him, the whole time. On returning to the hotel, Smitty and Mutombo were in the lobby. Remember, Steve sprained his ankle during the game. A few of us sat down – Steve and a friend, joined us. I told him he was having an amazing game (before the injury). He modestly replied, “I was, wasn’t I?”
Smith sat and spoke with us for about 20 minutes. The whole time, Mutombo stood about 3 metres away, not engaging with us at all. He occasionally rang people and would say something to Smitty. Steve would then say to us, “Does anyone know what he is saying? I can’t understand him.” We all laughed, as none of us knew, either. I started feeling bad for him – as we were all laughing with Steve, getting photos and autographs from him. I walked over to Mutombo, with pen and paper, for an autograph. He didn’t look at me and it was totally like I wasn’t there; I went and sat back down with Steve.
We spoke a lot – one conversation I recall was about jerseys. I had a Kobe jersey on. He told me (in jest) to take it off before we got a photo. I told him we were in L.A. and I had to wear it. I then told him that his jersey wasn’t available at the time. He couldn’t believe it. We explained that the only jerseys you could buy in Australia were Jordan, Shaq, Grant Hill, Shawn Kemp & Larry Johnson. That then got us on to conspiracy theories about why some player’s jerseys sell the most – maybe they are all that is offered in certain places and countries.
The next day, we went to Hollywood. It was the day after the official Space Jam premiere. I bought a heap of memorabilia and saw the movie a few weeks before it was released in Australia.
Another L.A. highlight was playing ball at Venice Beach. Who happened to be there that day? None other than NBL Hall of Famer, Steve Carfino. He had retired from the NBL, five years prior, but was still killing it on these courts. It was also fun to play some ball against Bruce Bolden. He was taking it easy on everyone. Mostly, just shooting jumpers from the elbow that never seemed to miss. I did take it to Bruce, for a spectacular Jordan-like reverse layup – that had the crowd ‘oohing’ and me thinking, I was king. I tried the same move again; Bruce blocked it that hard, I thought my arm was going to break.
It was then time to fly to Chicago. I got to see my idol, Michael Jordan, live. Our seats were very high in the bleachers; so high, the players looked like ants in all my photos – maybe the size of my finger, in person. The atmosphere was amazing. They showed the Bulls players on the big screen, in the tunnel, for their famous chant, “What time is it? Game time!” During warm-ups, we did the (more famous) chant, “Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi”. A few of the players looked up at us, including Luc Longley – but, there was no chance they would see us – we were a post-code away. Still, amazing that they heard us. The player introductions sent shivers down my spine. “At guard, 6-6, from North Carolina!” – the crowd went into a frenzy and were so loud, you couldn’t even hear, “Number 23, Michaeeeeeel Jordan!”
MJ had a quiet 25 points, on this night. Quiet, in the fact that it was just so easy. Dennis Rodman was the star – the high-scorer at half-time, with 11 points; including a huge 3-pointer. Other highlights included viewing the banners and the 4 Championship trophies that were in a cabinet, inside the Bulls’ store.
Although Jeff tried hard, we didn’t get to meet Luc. Whether that was Luc’s decision, or the Bulls’, I’ll never know. (Jeff was dealing with the Bulls – it looked good, but then, they called back with the big N.O.)
My second-most memorable adventure, “Sydney 2000 Olympics”, coming soon…