Yet another encounter with an NBA All-Star.
Back in November of 2007, my friend Dan Occhiogrosso ran the New York City Marathon while dribbling a basketball to raise money for AIDS orphans. He successfully completed the marathon in a solid four and a half hours, despite multiple attempts by fellow-runners to strip him of the ball, and managed to raise $3,000 for the Bethsada Outreach in South Africa. However, the story does not stop there. After hearing about his escapades, someone at Spalding decided to enter him into a photo contest run by the company. The rules were that the photo had to show you using a Spalding basketball. Unsurprisingly, the photo of Dan dribbling his way through the streets of New York won the contest and he was awarded the prize of a trip to Washington D.C. to attend a Wizards game and have a pre-game meet and greet session with Gilbert Arenas.
Dan was allowed to select a friend to go on the trip with him, and it just so happens that I was the person who got to tag along with him to meet Agent Zero. Before the game we got to enter the Verizon Center through the VIP entrance and take an elevator ride down to the bowels of the stadium. We then walked out through the tunnel and onto the Wizards’ court where several of the Miami Heat players were warming up. This was my second time down on an NBA court before a game, thanks to the Wolves’ generosity back in 2004, and let me tell you that it’s a surreal experience every time. You can’t fully appreciate how enormous the players in this league are until you’re standing right next to them. There were two things worth noting from our time on the floor. The first was that a loose ball came rolling right by my feet as we were walking past the Heat shoot-around. I picked it up and passed it back to Stephane Lasme, who said “Thanks” and continued to warm up. I know what you’re thinking – “Who’s Stephane Lasme?”. Yeah, I had no idea either until I got back home and was able to figure it out via the internet. However, the point is that I passed a basketball to an NBA player, and even if that player is only one rung above Ndudi Ebi on the NBA totem pole, that’s still pretty cool. The other thing of note is that I was shocked to discover that the Miami Heat apparently have a 12-year old on their roster.
It’s Chris Quinn, their rookie PG from Notre Dame. I know that Quinn could easily be pushing 14 based on the above photograph, but he looks even younger in person. Much to my surprise, Quinn started the game for Miami and played a good game, scoring 24 points. I have a feeling that his playing for the Heat had a lot to do with his scoring output, as somebody’s got to put the ball through the hoop, but he was fairly impressive nonetheless.
Anyway, after taking in the shootaround, we were ushered into the hallway just outside the Wizard’s locker room and out came Gilbert Arenas. He was nice and gave both me and Dan the hug/handshake move and talked to us for a bit. Although, I do have to wonder how much attention he was actually paying to what was going on, because he gave me the hug/handshake move three different times over the course of our three minute encounter. The first was when he came out – he gave Dan one and then me one. Then like fifteen seconds later, I think he forgot that he already did it and gave me another one. Then after Dan told him about winning the photo contest, he said, “And this is my friend, Derek, who I brought along with me.” Gilbert, then said “What’s his name? Berek?” Dan said, “No, it’s Derek”, and then Gilbert gave me the third hug/handshake. After spending just a few seconds with him, you could definitely tell that Gilbert was the funny/quirky guy we’ve all come to know him as. Unfortunatly, I never did get to ask him about his thoughts on joining the Wolves in 2008-09. I could tell that this wasn’t going to be a long ordeal and wanted to let Dan have his chance to talk to Gilbert seeing as he was the guy who won the contest. After signing a ball and a t-shirt for Dan and taking a photo with each of us, it was over and he headed back to the locker room.
One thing that did surprise me about Gilbert is that he’s not that big of a guy. When I met Garnett and Duncan they were both just monstrous. Even T-Mac was surprisingly large. Gilbert just seemed like a “tall” guy, not this massive hulking giant. As we exited the hallway, Caron Butler was heading towards the locker room and he was suprisingly massive. I would have never guessed him to be as tall and bulky as he was.
The game itself wasn’t overly exhillerating, as the Wiz trounced the lowly Heat. We had seats in the second row all the way in the corner and one of the Wizards security guards kept saying “I didn’t know we were playing a CBA team tonight!” Probably the biggest highlight of the game for me was getting to boo ex-Timberwolves Ricky Davis and Mark Blount. The Wizards home crowd is far from loud, so I’m pretty sure my voice carried enough to where they could hear me. The best was when Blount put up a shot which, I kid you not, missed the rim by a good five feet. I just sat in awe the entire time, wondering how Kevin McHale was able to fleece the Heat of a 1st round pick for these two locker room malignancies.
So that basically sums up the night. It was a cool experience, but meeting Gilbert definitely shouldn’t overshadow the real reason why we were on the trip – the orphans in South Africa that Dan was trying to help. You can find out more about the various ways he’s using basketball to raise awareness and funds for AIDS orphans on his site, www.ballforlives.com. It’s a real problem in this world that often gets overlooked. I encourage any of you who are reading this to take a moment to learn more about the Bethsada Outreach and consider making a donation. We have it amazingly good in this country and there are millions of less fortuate children out there who’s lives can be changed through just a small amount of generosity.