It was a typical Tuesday with nothing on the horizon but long days at work, kiddo baths with a five year old and a three year old, and small humans taking way too long to finish their dinner. The most relaxing part of the "good" days is when I get to fast forwarding through commercials and half time while watching a recording of the Kings getting blown out about an hour and a half after they actually get blown out. But on this Tuesday, I was presented with an opportunity to shmooze with Sacramento Kings’ ticket agents and staff in the "important" fans’ hangout area before watching PapaG, Cousins, and Cousins from court-side seats. "What’s that you say? Three tickets so I can bring my kids too? Great and of course I have nothing else planned for a Friday night. I don’t want to be a pest, but can you make it four so my wife can go? Sweet! I’m in!"
We show up nice and early and get to enter through the employee entrance. As we are escorted through the tunnels underneath the lower bowl, my five year old (and I) are already feeling very special. After hanging out in the cool kids club for about an hour, eating some hors d'oeuvres, enjoying a complimentary open bar (which ends up being an orange juice for the youngins and a coke for me because I am that kind of fun these days), and enjoying nice conversations with the ticket reps, we are getting ready to head to our seats as the game is starting soon. My kids are sitting on the couch at this point watching PBS Kids on an Iphone, when Ty Lawson walks right up to me and my wife and says, "Hi. I’m Ty." I introduce myself and run over to grab the kiddos as I know they will love this. My older kid met Ben McLemore last year at a pizza guys event (thanks STR!) and Ben has been his favorite player ever since. Ty is very nice and professional, says hello to the kiddos, signs a postcard-sized Kings thingy - apparently designed specifically for autographs - and poses for a family photo.
My five-year old is pretty pumped now and I see Darren Collison talking to another family and taking some photos. They are finishing up so I bring the family over to meet him too. Darren immediately connects with the kiddos, giving them fist bumps. He is super relaxed and nice, so I tell him all about how meeting Ben last season resulted in Ben becoming my kids favorite player. Getting a kick out of that, Darren starts really interacting with the older kid and trying to convince him to switch allegiances. Meanwhile, my three year old is walking back and forth between Darren’s legs and the couch that he is leaning against. Darren doesn’t mind at all, as if its his own kid or a relative. In fact, he starts talking to my wife about how quickly these early years go bye for parents, asking about the kids ages and talking about his own youngin. He too poses for some good family photos and before we leave he asks the five year old, "so, who is your favorite player now?" "Darren Collison," my son replies to a huge smile on DC’s face.
We were on the far side of the lounge, so as we traverse the room I see Ben McLemore watching some NBA games on the boob-tubes. We say hello to him and I tell him how the big kid loves him ever since meeting him at a pizza guy events the prior season. He turns to the five year old and asks, "are you a pizza guy?" As I chased down the three year old, who has run off, Aaron Afflalo and Darren Collison had joined Ben, my wife and my older kiddo. Proud that he had successfully recruited my son’s fandom, DC asks my kid again, "who is your favorite player now?" And when my kid says, "Darren Collison" in front of Ben and everyone, they all start cracking up.
We head into the arena to watch the game at that point. Chris Granger walked by and I was sure to thank him for doing a great job and introduce my kid to him. The players from the lounge had come out to watch the big horns and were joined by Garret Temple and Buddy. At halftime, they all stood in the corner near the bounce-house that was set up for the game and signed countless autographs for a mob of young kids and avid fans. (The Bighorns games at the G1C are really cool environment for families. Think about a basketball game with a minor league baseball atmosphere.)
In sum, it was a very nice Friday night for this boring guy and his family. More importantly, it was a good reminder of the human side of the sports world. I am very critical of Ben’s play on this site and have voiced strong opinions about all the players who have been involved in domestic violence and other off-court incidences, including Ty and DC. It was nice to be reminded that they are people too. While meeting and actually interacting with them for even a few minutes doesn’t change my analysis of them as players, I hope it will influence how I comment about them in the future. Indeed, Ty and Ben were very professional, but DC was particularly comfortable and amazingly genuine. He tolerated my joke about forgiving him for being a Bruin (Go Bears!) and made a very genuine personal connection with my wife about his own family. He was great with my kids and he unquestionably secured a spot as my older kid’s favorite player. Indeed, since Friday when shooting hoops on the mini-hoop in the play-room I can hear my kid exclaiming, "Darren Collison with the shot to win the game!"