Just when I seemed to close my eyes, the horns from Clipse's "Popular Demand" started blaring. That was my choice for an alarm on Thursday at 4am to get me out of bed and on the way to Madison Square Garden. I now hate that song with a passion.
I made it out of the hotel by 5am as planned and was at MSG within 15 minutes. There were already about 25 people in line. For those who aren't aware, obtaining tickets to the NBA draft is a masochistic experience. Tickets don't go on sale until 11am, but if you aren't in line by 9am, you'll be out of luck (after waiting, mind you). Furthermore, if you aren't in line by 6am, you'll have to wait in direct sunlight. The forecast was 95 degrees fahrenheit.
This was my second time enduring this process. 2009 was marked by organizational dysfunction, improvident security, line jumpers, fight starters, alcoholics, and profiteers. I was told things would be better this year, comparing the experience to the gold standard that is the NFL Draft.
I was pleasantly surprised when a gentleman in a LeBron jersey, who I recognized from last year, gave me a "line voucher." Sure, he didn't work for security, but he said his father works for MSG. Sure, it looks like he printed these vouchers in his basement, but they had the NBA logo on them and were hand numbered. I wanted so desperately to believe him. To believe that this year would be different. To believe that there would be some semblance of organization.
This, of course, was fucking bullshit.
My cohorts, Matt and Payal, both arrived before 6am. At this point our super-official "line vouchers" listed us in the 80's, but there were over 120 people ahead of us in line. Great.
One of the first questions MSG staffers are asked is how many tickets go on sale. The theater seats 5,600 when maxed out. To make room for the ESPN studios, players, and media pit, there was an estimated 3,800 seats available. Surely most of these go to general admission, right? Silly readers. The NBA doesn't give a shit about anyone without a press pass. 800 tickets were made available to the general public. Eight hundred. That's less people than at a Memphis Bleek concert. Keep in mind that tickets cost $15 each (NFL is FREE).
Since there is little a team can do to disappoint you from the end of the season until the draft, this is generally the most optimistic time of the season for a majority of each team's respective fans. These fans are impossibly enthusiastic and legitimately want to be at Madison Square Garden to cheer their team on draft day. They aren't just native New Yorkers, but people who travel from as far as Los Angeles or even internationally from Canada. Though even lacking the fanfare of the NFL, the draft line can be an exciting place to be.
Behind me, a Lakers' fan was making a case for Ron Artest as a certain Hall of Famer.
I was jumping on Borders' wi-fi to youtube Tiago Splitter highlights on my iPod.
Others found different means to occupy themselves. A group of kids seemed content to heckle every passerby as unimaginatively as possible ("Yo, striped shirt!") and then giggle for a straight minute. This went on for two hours until they did it to a cop.
A woman in the corral in front of us was jogging in place for about the same duration. In fact, to the point where nobody found it weird anymore, but just damn impressive. She eventually winded herself and bowed out of line.
By 8am, we had found as comfortable position on the ground as was possible in such circumstances just as the heat was starting to set in. We were currently in groups of 100, seperated by mobile railings. Perhaps we looked a little too comfortable. It was then that MSG staffers ordered everyone on their feet and pushed the railings towards the interior of the group until all the sitting room had been eliminated. That will show us for trying to do things like sit. This meant the final 3 hours would be on our feet. Fuck.
Truth be told, those final three hours only felt like seven. The time was spent watching people sneak into the corral of the first 100 people, while the surely underpaid staffers pretended to care. It reached the point where I was actually hoping a fight would break out, just for the visceral entertainment. This was going just like 2009, except with even less tickets.
11am rolled around and we were taken 15 at a time to the MSG box office where we were deemed worthy to be given the privilege of purchasing our tickets. This, of course, took over an hour. Eventually we did get our tickets, picked up some food, and headed our separate ways until later that night.
My head hit the pillow around 2pm and at what felt like a minute later those damn horns from "Popular Demand" were blaring again. It was draft time.
Upon arriving at MSG, two different LeBron lobbyist groups had set up shop on either side of the main entrance. They were awarding t-shirts to anyone who tweeted or facebook'd something about giving LeBron a handjob. Yes, I got a t-shirt.
Since NBA Draft tickets cost money, there was a plethora of scalpers. In fact, many of the people we shared the line with had turned out to be scalpers in disguise. Shitty disguise, but scalpers nonetheless. This explains their general disinterest in the proceedings and the stench of alcohol and methadone on them at 6am. Great, I spent 5 hours in line with addicts looking to score $35 in profit. Remind me to go shower in bleach.
Every potential draftee had entered Madison Square Garden through the side or back enterance in the cover of darkness. Every potential draftee except one. That's not how Greivis Vasquez rolls. He walked right up through the plaza, into the main enterance, signing autographs and taking pictures along the way. After he entered and was situated, his handlers debated his choice of wristwear. They agreed that going with the more subdued option was the best idea.
This is when I was going to do a pick-by-pick breakdown of the draft, but it would really cheapen the message here. "The NBA/MSG doesn't do a good job of running the draft, OMG THE DRAFT, back to MSG's failures..." I'll get to the picks later this week.
Upon entering the theater, it was clear the reason for the limited number of general admission tickets was to buoy press numbers at whatever cost. Every significant publication and blog that deserved to be there was represented. Unfortunately, every crap blog on the planet however sparsely updated and remotely about basketball was in the building as well (often in multiples).
I'm not going to lie, the wrestling of the draft away from fans is nothing new. I have been festering on this since last year, however I did not have a big enough mouthpiece to say anything about it at the time.
The 2010 NBA Draft is an event devoted to the media fellating themselves in the NBA's guest bedroom. I can see Stern and Dolan nodding approvingly as they peer through the keyhole. "Look at them. They're really going at it. We've done good work here."
Ridiculous? How many blogger-to-blogger interviews or "discussion panels" did you read this week? How many of them had anything substantive to say besides cross-promotion?
How many "live from the draft" pieces contained no discernible information unique to the perspective of someone who was actually in the building apart from a blurry pic of a draftee?
Why is it that fans willing to pay money and stand out in 95 degree heat for 5 hours unable to move more than a foot in either direction run the risk of being shut-out just so the 5th largest blog in a team's market gets in for free just to ask a late first-round pick what his favorite color is?
This is not some epic class struggle nor conflict theory diatribe. This is not the threat of an enraged proletariat drinking too much at concessions and deciding to take the media's place at the drop of a vuvuzela. This is just about fanfare, or the lack-thereof. Things are certainly wrong in the world when I am assured a press pass.
I guess the difference between me and them? I know I don't deserve it.
I've been asked what my plan is for the off-season.
I'm captioning your blogs.