No longer just a fan

From courtside to pressbox

Written by Johnny Navarrette

Photos by  Don Gomez

A black iron gate separating the parking lot and the facility entrance slides opens and uneasiness grips me.  Thoughts of failing in my debut enter my mind.  This was everything I’ve worked for and where I want to be. This is my dream.

 

Do not screw this up.

 

I pull open the glass door and enter the Toyota Sports Center. A security guard directs me toward a narrow corridor on the right. I stroll through the hallway, gazing at the pictures of players that dress the wall. These pictures include recognizable faces such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol.

 

I identify the players and cannot help but crack a smile. I close in on an open door. I am now at the entrance to the pearly gates. This is my paradise. I am covering the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

I enter under the bright lights for the first time, excitement falls over me. The setup is on the right. Three rows of black foldout chairs face a table with microphones; Lakers logos cover the backdrop. Beyond the media area is the basketball court. The hazel hardwood, outlined in purple and gold, shines from the lights overhead.

 

Replica jerseys line the wall showcasing the numbers of retired players, including Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Above them replica championship banners hang, the originals dangle inside the Staples Center.

 

While taking in my surroundings, something catches my eye.  In the upper corner of the gym, a window overlooks the entire court. Blinds on the inside are halfway up, high enough to display a row of shiny gold objects.  There in their glory are 10 NBA championship trophies. These trophies are the symbols that define the Lakers as a legendary sports franchise.  The window peers into the office of Jeanie Buss, president of the Lakers.

 

It is rare for a beginning reporter to experience a press conference at the professional level. At 18, I decided to pursue a career in sports journalism.  At the time, I struggled to have a clear idea of a career, but I knew that I wanted to make a living talking about something I am passionate about. And that passion always led me back to sports. Sports are my escape. My sanctuary. Where I feel comfortable.

 

Until that point the only press conferences I’d attended were ones with the Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball team.

 

Those conferences took place in a weight room with four to five reporters. That was considered a heavy turnout. With the Lakers, 15 to 20 reporters fill the seats, a light turnout.

 

Reporters from various media outlets enter the practice facility. Kevin Ding from Bleacher Report, formerly of the OC Register, and Dave McMenamin from ESPN are just two of the faces I recognize from personal admiration in their work.

 

Then it hits me.  I realize I am no longer only a fan. Instead I’m a reporter starting his journey at the pinnacle that was, previously, just a dream. Johnny Navarrette, reporter for LakerNation.com.

 

I take my seat in the second row and the press conference is about to begin.  I place my MacBook Air on my lap, with my iPhone near the trackpad. It is time to get to work.

 

Minutes later, a 6-foot-9-inch young man makes his way to the table. He is dressed in a long-sleeve white shirt, purple tie and wears a smile made for Hollywood. Julius Randle takes the microphone and starts things off.

 

Randle, the Lakers’ first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft is just 19 years old. It is intriguing that, like myself, Randle is opening a new chapter in his life.  While he plays professional basketball, I cover professional sports. Two different careers, but linked in many ways.

 

At 25 years old, I am living my dream. Randle, who is doing the same, admits that the Lakers are his favorite team. His favorite player, Kobe Bryant.The experience is unique.

 

Randle finishes his opening statements and opens the floor to questions. I glance at my  list of questions and  prepare to raise my trembling hand. I quickly remember this is not grade school, so I scrap the hand-raising idea.At  that  moment,  I  am just  another  reporter to  him  and  that's  okay.  It  is  who  I  want  to  be. Simultaneously, voices speak up, cutting each other off, testing the patience and drive of others in the room.

 

The pace is rapid. Randle finishes answering one question and a different reporter asks another. I cross off my questions one by one. Eight questions in, there is a slight stoppage. My chance. But there is a dilemma. No questions remain on my list.

 

I reminisce on how I felt when I stepped into the gym an hour earlier, the overwhelming emotions that took over. Then it hit me. “When you look at the banners and retired numbers on the walls, what goes through your mind?”

 

“It’s humbling,” Randle replies.

 

In that moment, I connect with Randle. We’re both on a journey with unfamiliar surroundings, and people. We’re each experiencing a wide array of emotions. Most importantly, the budding young  individual is doing what he loves at a level he strives to reach. A journey that is similar to my own.

 

Randle’s correct. The experience is humbling. At that moment, I am just another reporter to him and that is okay.  It is who I want to be.  It is what I am. It is something I am proud of.

After 45 minutes the press conference ends.  I prepare to depart, but not before sharing small talk with legendary sports reporter Jim Hill, who gives me a firm handshake and career advice about being persistant and passionate in the business.  It is a tremendous way to top off a memorable day.

 

I approach the black iron gate from earlier. Only this time I am on the inside looking out.  As I draw nearer, it begins to open. The feeling of uneasiness  is gone, replaced by a sense of accomplishment.

 

Walking to my car, I pass the security booth where an older gentleman sits.  I politely say, “Have a good day” and as I walk away, I hear the guard’s response. “See you next time.”

 

As I enter my car, I think of what I experienced. It was exciting, memorable, and fun.

 

I don’t know when “next time” will be, but one thing is for sure.

 

I cannot wait.