Today we have a guest column from Blazer's Edge reader "akicks", better known as the guy who spent the season superimposing Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts' head on various images and sharing them on-site. He never imagined it would give him a chance to meet his subject in person. Here's the story.
Meeting Coach Stotts On Game Day
If you have visited the post-game threads this season, you've probably seen my work. Nearly every game this year I've created and posted an image taken from a movie, tv show or something else and changed the image to feature Coach Stott's head on the body of the original subject. What started as a lark based on a comment early in the season about how Coach Stotts' smile looks like FDR's has turned into a hobby that has kept me occupied and amused. While I hoped that maybe Coach Stotts would some day see them, I never could have imagined what would actually happen.
Things got interesting when the Blazers featured my work on the March 9 episode of Courtside. That was my first indication that the Blazers and Coach Stotts were aware of these. It was a great relief to know that Coach Stotts enjoyed them and took them in the good humor that they are intended. On the same day, Blazers Edgers let me know that the Blazers put out a request through social media to find out who was behind these.
I wanted to let the Blazers know who I am but the first problem is how do you contact them? Social media doesn't lend itself all that well to having such a conversation when you aren't already established friends and calling the main line was probably going to be a bit awkward. Then I remembered I had an email address of a person in the Blazer's front office. He had been involved in the rebirth if the Timbers as a minor league soccer team and I had met him over a decade ago when I attended what was the first meeting of what would become the Timbers Army. That is another story for another day. So now I had a contact and a place to start. I wrote an email and within hours I heard back. I was told again how Coach Stotts was a fan and they would be in touch.
Some time passed and I received a call asking if I would be willing to have a camera person come out and film me "at work". Absolutely! I'm not the most comfortable person on camera to begin with, but trying to concentrate on your work while answering questions on camera is really hard! It will be interesting to see if the Blazer use this footage and are able to make me look good. I was also told that day that there was an effort underway to see if there was a window when I could meet Coach Stotts, probably at a practice. Fantastic!
A few days later I got another call. I had previously mentioned that I had tickets for Saturday's game against Utah. Could I come early and meet Coach? Sounded good but the only snag is that I'm going with a group of teens from our church. I wasn't sure the invitation would be so good for 16 of us. I suggested that if Wednesday against Minnesota was possible I'd happily buy tickets for me and my kids. I was told that sounded possible but not to buy anything, the Blazers would be in touch the next day. Sure enough, they called, said it would work and said there would be tickets and passes for me and my two kids in Will Call. Score!
We arrived as instructed, picked up the tickets and made our way down to the Blazer bench as we were told to do. Our magic passes parted the sea of friendly security staff and we waited in those coveted black seats just behind the bench. I expected that Coach Stotts would come by, shake hands, exchange pleasantries for 30 seconds and then we'd go find our seats. What actually happened blew me away.
We had a little time to watch some of the players take some shots and work out a bit with trainers and coaches. It is amazing to be feet away from these athletes. Even Damian looks huge when you are up close. Seeing Robin walk by throws all sense of perspective out of kilter. On TV or from the 300 section it seems like I should be able to box these guys out. When you see them up close you realize just how far those NBA dreams I had as a kid really were. All of the players were very nice to the kids hanging over the tunnel area hoping for an autograph or a friendly wave. Damian was especially generous with his time this night with some of Rip City's young super fans.
My Blazers contact soon arrived and after a bit of chatting it was time to go. To Coach Stott's office. WHAT? SERIOUSLY? How cool is that?!!! Me and my kids had a goofy smile on our faces that lasted for hours. So we went, down to the court and in to the tunnel, that same tunnel the players and coaches go through to get on the court. The area you see the players huddling up in on the scoreboard just before they come out of the tunnel? That's were we were. There was a doorway to the side and we were told to wait there for a moment. I realized that we were waiting at the outer door to the locker room. On the wall was a posted message from Adam Silver stating the rules for the press about when the team needs to make the locker room available.
After a few moments, we were ushered in. Straight ahead was another doorway that appeared to lead into main part of the locker room itself. The door was open and I could see there was some food out for the players. To the left was Coach Stott's office. We were ushered in and there he was, larger than life. I mean that quite literally, he is a tall man. Google tells me he is 6'8". That makes perfect sense of course, the man could play ball. Still, it caught me off guard.
I was surprised that the office isn't bigger. I suppose it makes sense; he probably spend much more time at the practice facility than at Moda Center.
Coach Stotts was fantastic. His smile, the feature of him that actually started this whole adventure, was on display. He was warm, gracious, genuine and very nice to my kids. He was also extremely adept and professional. There was a camera there and he immediately went into interview mode, asking me questions, listening intently and making things as easy as possible for me. He ribbed me a bit about one of my not so flattering choices and expressed how much fun he and his wife has had with them. Before I knew it we were on our way. It all felt so natural and was exceptionally fun.
Meeting Coach was of course the highlight, but walking back out the tunnel was pretty cool. It wasn't hard to imagine the crowd roaring as you made your way out on to the court, ready to go out and win game 7. I was tempted to grab a pen and start signing autographs for the somewhat confused looking kids waiting for the real stars to emerge.
After saying our goodbyes to the Blazer staff who made this happen we went off to get something to eat and find our seats. The Blazers were generous with the seats too, giving us the best seats I've had for a Blazer game.
One thing I'll take away from this experience is how there is more than just wins and losses to being an NBA head coach. As we were leaving there were more folks who were being ushered in to meet him. This is 45 minutes before game time. When you wonder why a coach seems to hang around longer with a team than the record would indicate is prudent, or if a coach with a good record doesn't seem to get much of a run, I can imagine that how they handle these types of situations could be a primary factor. A coach who can communicate well with sponsors, politicians, charities, the media, and their own promotions department certainly has a leg up on one who can't. I can see now that this aspect is a bigger part of the job than I had ever thought about before.
Thanks very much to Blazers, Blazers Edge staff and everybody who has ever left a comment or given me a rec on the post-game threads. None of this would have happened without you. This year has been a blast so far and I can't wait for the playoffs!