November 19, 2010
After stopping into the office and shooting off some quick emails to make my presence known, I headed back into the bustle of the Boston morning rush hour. During the fifteen minute walk to the Oklahoma City Thunder team hotel, I ran into an old friend—the bitter chill of an approaching New England winter. It was a reminder that for the next four months of graphing I would deal with a little voice in my head urging me to stay in my warm office, dissuading me from putting in the extra time at a venue, telling me I need to find a new hobby.
But Kevin Durant was in town.
Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA. Inarguably, he is one of the league’s best signing superstars. By all accounts he is humble and appreciative of his opportunities, and it’s refreshing to know there are millionaire athletes without egos to match their bank accounts.
I’ve graphed KD three times before. The first time, during his rookie year, my buddy Garett and I dragged ourselves to the team hotel at 2 a.m. to await the team’s arrival after a game in Indiana. Tired from a night’s performance and flight to Boston Durant stopped to sign for us, swirling a beautiful silver signature across a reproduction of his Sports Illustrated cover. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to graph him on premium items including a basketball and jersey. But the most meaningful item I’ve obtained wouldn’t be considered premium or special to anyone else—a picture of me with Durant. It was this photo I was anxious to get signed during KD’s once-a-year visit to Boston.
There were already a handful of collectors waiting when I arrived just past 9 a.m. Typically, NBA teams board a bus in time for a 10 o’clock shoot-around but that hour came and went without an appearance from anyone in the Thunder organization. The number of shivering bodies had grown to more than a dozen when the bus finally arrived and players began trickling out. To our surprise (and dismay), the hotel had set up a table of snacks inside the front entrance and several members of the team boarded the bus with full hands, holding their practice shoes and boxed brunch. Fortunately, most were willing to juggle their belongings to sign for those who asked.
I had been waiting for an hour an forty-five minutes in near freezing weather when he finally walked through the tall glass doors. The crowd surged, stretching the vinyl barricade the doormen had erected to its limit. I ripped off my gloves and scrambled to extract my 8×10 while fumbling clumsily to uncap a silver Prismacolor paint pen. The collectors behind me pushed me forward and I lost my balance—I was upright only by leaning helplessly on the person in front of me. I flashed back to the last time I had that feeling, while in a mosh pit at a Rage Against the Machine concert at the Worcester Centrum in 1999. Durant scribbled away with a blue Sharpie and, despite knowing it wasn’t the ideal color for my photo’s dark background, I did everything I could to find a gap in the maze of arms and items. As the seconds ticked by the sense of urgency grew stronger. Despite Durant’s generosity I knew there was a good chance I would leave empty-handed. But then the Sharpie landed on my photo and with a swirl and a swoop, I suddenly stopped shivering.
5 more observations from my night graphing the Thunder:
• I got a team photo signed by Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, B.J. Mullens and Nenad Krstic. I knew I wasn’t going to complete the photo (that day or likely ever) so why did I bring it? Item consolidation. I already graphed Westbrook on other items in the past and rather than storing several items for him and the lower-tiered players, I thought the team photo would be a cool multi-signed piece.
• Jeff Green was signing but I pulled the team photo back after I saw he was signing everything with a silver paint pen. I wanted to avoid inconsistency with the blue graphs I had already received and was willing to give up his graph for it. (Incidentally, I have graphed Green in the past.)
• I graphed Cole Aldrich on an 8×10. Surprisingly, I was the only one to ask him to sign.
• A collector showed up who was banned from this particular hotel last summer for running through the lobby trying to graph Joe Torre. After unsuccessfully trying to hide from the doormen who knew his face well, he was asked to leave the property. He then pleaded with a fellow collector to get his 16×20 picture with Durant signed. I’m not sure if he was successful.
• Unrelated to the day but a cool fact—I grew up next door to Thunder Assistant General Manager/Player Personnel, Rob Hennigan. He was one of my groomsmen and is mentioned in my post about how autographs played a role in my wedding celebration.