As some of you know, I'm currently a senior at DePaul University where I attend college. Since I live in the city of Chicago, watching Orlando Magic games in person since I've been in college have been tough. However, each year, I usually catch a few matinees back in Orlando when I'm on winter vacation. This season has been different, though, because I haven't been able to hit up the 407 (or 321) on my break. Thus, I haven't been able to catch a Magic game.
I was able to catch the Orlando Magic play the Chicago Bulls last night, and even though the blue crew lost, I had an unforgettable experience.
Click after the jump to read my story.
Before I headed to the United Center, I got into contact with Brian Schmitz from the Orlando Sentinel and notified him that I would be attending the game. I was hoping, at some point, that I could rendezvous with Mr. Schmitz and introduce myself on behalf of Third Quarter Collapse. So in anticipation of this possibility, I decided to get to the United Center right when the arena opened (at 5:30 CST) to see if I could meet with him before the game began.
A secondary objective I had, simply as a fan, was to try to get an autograph from someone on the Magic. Historically, whenever I attend sporting events, I always have a knack for snagging autographs from a variety of players. With that factoid established, I felt confident I could AT LEAST get J.J. Redick's autograph, or someone.
So my primary objective was to meet with Mr. Schmitz & my secondary objective was to get an autograph from an Orlando player.
I entered the United Center and proceeded to maneuver my way down courtside, to see if I could get find Mr. Schmitz. After 10-15 minutes, no dice. Couldn't find him on press row. I asked a security guard where the media people were and I was told that they were probably in "the lounge."
Given that news, I decided to proceed to my secondary objective and see if I could snag an autograph. A few Magic players were on the court practicing, but I knew that it would be a bit before they headed back to the locker room. So I waited behind the Orlando bench.
With nothing to do, I noticed former Magic coach and the team's current radio colorman Richie Adubato sitting in his broadcast booth, organizing himself prior to tipoff. I decided to approach him and ask him for his autograph. Just my luck, I got Mr. Adubato's attention and was able to speak with him for about 5 minutes. I told Mr. Adubato that I was a native from Orlando and a long-time Magic fan. I remarked quickly his tenure coaching the team and Penny, etc. Mr. Adubato was gracious enough to let me shake his hand and he asked for my name, which I told him. He then proceeded to autograph a personalized message on my Magic postcard. Needless to say, I was pretty ecstatic.
After I got done speaking with Mr. Adubato, I decided to see if I could get the attention of David Steele & Matt Guokas, who were in their broadcast booth preparing for the game also. Surely enough, I did. At first, I simply asked them for their autographs, which they kindly signed my postcard. Then I decided to let them know that I was a native of Orlando and a big fan of theirs. That's when Mr. Steele rose up from his chair and proceeded to approach me. He asked me what I was doing in Chicago and I let him know that I was attending DePaul University. After that, we spoke for about 10 minutes and I finally came around to notifying him that I write for 3QC. Mr. Steele quickly responded that he was familiar with the site and a reader. He then proceeded to ask, "are you Ben Q. Rock?"
Bashful, I said "no, I'm the other guy." He remarked, "Oh, okay" and then proceeded to let Mr. Guokas know that I was one of the gentleman from 3QC. Mr. Guokas also commented that he was familiar with the site and a reader as well. At this point, I ask Mr. Guokas if he was referring to the site a while back when he said verbatim "Third Quarter Collapse" in a Magic broadcast, to which Mr. Guokas confirmed he did. When I heard this, my excitement level rose. I continued to speak with both Mr. Steele & Mr. Guokas for roughly 10 minutes. Finally, before they resumed their duties, I asked for a picture with them. They happily obliged.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed that former Bulls player Bill Wennington was sitting a few seats away from both Mr. Steele & Mr. Guokas, speaking with an individual. Even though I'm not a Bulls fan, I politely asked Mr. Wennington for his autograph (why not?) and he was more than happy to sign it. I commented that it must have been fun playing with Michael Jordan, which he chuckled in acknowledgement.
Finally, I see that Marcin Gortat appeared to be done practicing. He was sitting on the bench, resting. I figured here was my chance to see if I could get the Polish Hammer's autograph. After calling out his nickname, he turned around and I asked him if I could get his signature. Because Gortat was sitting on the bench, there was no way I could simply hand him my postcard. However, one of his friends came up to me and I handed him my pen & postcard. Marcin proceeded to sign it.
At this point, I'm more than content because I've completed my secondary objective, which was to get a few autographs. A bonus was that I was able to speak with Mr. Steele & Mr. Guokas. Not bad, right?
I continued to wait behind the Magic bench, taking a few pictures here and there. Eventually, J.J. Redick finishes up his drills and begins to make his way to the locker room. However, before J.J. heads into the tunnel, he starts to sign some autographs. Naturally, I proceeded to make my way towards him and I asked for his signature. Redick hooked it up. As J.J. was signing my postcard, I let him know to "keep up the good work", to which Redick replied "thanks." I walked away, pleased, and continued to watch him to take the time to sign more autographs. He probably stuck around for a good 10 minutes, which I thought was nice of him.
More Orlando players begin to matriculate onto the court, including some guy named Dwight David Howard. As I proceed to watch Superman work with assistant coach Patrick Ewing, I couldn't help but notice a plethora of Bulls' fans get all excited as Dwight was doing his thing. Can't say I was surprised. Howard is definitely a popular player, so it was cool to see Chicago natives giving him props. In terms of what D12 was practicing on, mostly he was working on his sky hook, his post-up moves, and his bank-shot jumper.
Time floated by and after a while, most of the Magic players made their way back into the locker room to prepare for the game. During this time, I was just taking pictures and speaking with an arena usher about the matchup soon to be played. Finally, Howard finishes up his drills and proceeds to begin signing autographs. As soon as I see this event unfold, I quickly made my way towards Dwight to see if I could get his signature. After waiting roughly 5 minutes, D12 made his way towards me and eventually signed my postcard. As he was giving his autograph, I told Superman I was a native of Orlando and a long-time Magic fan. Once Howard gave me back my postcard, I told him to "dominate", to which he replied "yes sir."
It's safe to say that my mind officially exploded after getting Dwight's autograph. That was the first time I was able to get Howard's signature, so to say I was grinning like an idiot was an understatement. Just crazy.
Mickael Pietrus was one of the last Orlando players to stick around. Although M.P. had a bandage on his wrist, that didn't stop him from practicing on the court. To be honest, he didn't look too bad. His shot looked fine. Anyways, Pietrus began to make his way towards the tunnel but before he did, Mickael interacted with some of the Orlando fans behind the Magic bench. I observed for a little bit, as M.P. signed some autographs. He even went out of his way to do a quick video for a fan, just hilarious.
Eventually, I approached Air France and asked for a picture with him. Pietrus was more than happy to hook me up with a photo. Before we took our picture, Mickael proceeded to comment on my faux hawk and tried to jokingly style his hair to match mine, even though he has a short haircut (that's not why I mean-mugged the camera, I didn't know he was smiling). Needless to say, the guy is funny and personable. After he took a photo with me, I asked for his autograph, which he didn't mind giving me. Afterwards, I thanked him and asked if he was going to be playing on Friday against the Detroit Pistons, which he nodded yes.
After all this occurred, I actually needed to head up to the upper bowl because that's where my seat was. My tickets were terrible, to be honest. I was going to be sitting in the ceiling but after speaking with the arena usher I chatted with earlier, I was able to sit in the lower bowl behind the Magic bench a few rows back.
Fast-forward through the Orlando loss.
After the game was over, I finally was able to meet with Mr. Schmitz. I introduced myself to him and we spoke for roughly 5 minutes. After we finished chatting, I shook his hand and told him to keep up the good work at the Sentinel. In the end, I found it fairly humorous that my primary objective was the last to be completed.
All in all, that was my night at the United Center.