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The Best Time to Get NBA Autographs on Game Day

Kevin Durant autographed picture with Matt RaymondMy basketball career began at the age of five when my parents signed me up for a local youth team. We were called the Cavaliers and my coach was a tomboy with a long braided ponytail that reached down to the small of her back. I was already a hoops fan, watching the Celtics championship teams on my father’s knee during the first half of the 80s. But playing the game transformed an interest into a passion and I would play twelve months a year through high school. (Incidentally, I was so convinced I was going to play in the NBA that I retired from baseball after Little League—even after hitting .600 my final season—to focus singularly on hoops. Yeah, that didn’t work out.) Though I didn’t have the chops to compete on the D1 level at UMass, my love for basketball persisted. So when I was introduced to in-person collecting I couldn’t wait to start graphing some of the stars I grew up watching.

Fortunately, of the four major sports basketball is the easiest to graph—they offer more opportunities and operate on an extremely predictable schedule. While hockey players are arguably better signers, there are many top-tier NBA players who are still generous with a pen, including Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony.

I’ve been getting a ton of emails from readers about when to head to the hotel for NBA teams, so I created this guide to give you the insight you need to graph in a smart, efficient way on game day.

Arrival (Evening Before the Game)
Your first opportunity to graph is upon arrival to the hotel. Typically, a team will travel on an off-day and you can expect them to check-in between 5-7 p.m. the evening before a game to give players enough time to have dinner, relax and get a good night’s rest. Because they come off the bus at once and the number of collectors is usually low, graphing multiple players can be a challenge. In this case having more collectors around actually helps because they can delay one player while you graph someone else. I’ve been in this situation many times and I wish I had another pair of arms to keep up with the flurry of activity.

In the event of a back-to-back game, you can estimate arrival time with the following equation:

Time game ends + 1.5 hours (postgame interviews/travel to airport) + duration of flight + travel time to hotel = Arrival time

It’s inexact but will get you in the ballpark so you can decide whether you want to invest your time. Regardless, in this scenario it’s going to be a late night.

Before Shootaround
On the morning of game day, visiting teams typically depart the hotel on a single bus between 9-9:30 a.m. for a 10 a.m. shootaround. Players stream out one at a time which is ideal for graphing and the early hour limits the number of collectors on site (ideal in this scenario since you’ll have plenty of time to identify individual players). While some players are strictly “game time signers”—they sign once on the trip, before boarding the bus to the game—many of my biggest successes have come during the less hectic time before shootaround (e.g., Kobe autographed mini ball, Dwyane Wade autographed jersey, Kevin Durant autographed jersey).

After Shootaround
The duration of shootaround can vary but teams typically return to the hotel between 12-12:30 p.m. Like arrival, you encounter the challenge of dealing with an entire team stepping off the bus at once. You also have to contend with the fact that players just signed a couple hours prior so they are less likely to stop again. While there are signatures to be had, this is my least favorite time to graph.

Pregame Bus
The opportunity to get autographs as the team boards the pregame buses—most commonly referred to as “game time”—is a mixed bag. Players come out individually (which, as I mentioned before, is a huge advantage) but you’ll encounter the biggest crowd of the day so competition can be fierce. The first of two game time buses leaves at 4:30 p.m. (for a 7:30 p.m. tip off) and typically carries the coaches and young players. The second “veteran” bus leaves at 5:30 p.m. Get to the hotel early (e.g., 3:45 p.m. to graph the first bus), grab a spot up front, and you’ll be in great shape to let the ink flow.

At the Game
Every arena configuration and security protocol is different but there is one rule that applies across the board—arrive as soon as possible! At the Boston Garden, for example, premium seating is admitted two hours before the game (ticket holders in the loge and balcony are admitted only an hour before). The best graphing can be had by the tunnels where some players will stop and sign on their way to and from the court during warm-ups. I have the least amount of experience graphing at the arena so please leave a comment and share your tips.

About the author: is the founder of Autograph University. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and 2-year-old son. Follow him on Twitter at @mattraymond or on Facebook.

58 comments… add one

  • Shane January 22, 2013, 8:59 am

    Great article, Matt. Definitely cool and helpful. It’s good to know how to time it for getting autos at the team hotel. I’ve gotten a lot of mine at the actual arena, but may try and expand more to the team hotel to get some more autos.

  • Matt Raymond January 22, 2013, 9:13 am

    Thanks for the feedback Shane. What tips can you share about graphing at the arena?

  • Jason January 22, 2013, 11:07 pm

    All of my autographs have come from the arena, but this year i am going to try to get in good with the locals and find out where the visiting team stays. but i have a laker game coming to charlotte soon so will will see how that turns out.

  • Trey February 15, 2013, 8:03 am

    Matt, love the site! It’s very informative. I live in Houston and the All Star weekend is here. I wanted to know if you have ever tried an airport to get autos. I know a lot of people will be coming in and I’m thinking bout going and see what happens. Thanks

  • Matt Raymond February 15, 2013, 9:27 am

    Hi Trey,

    Thanks for the question. I haven’t done the airport but know a lot of graphers have success there for celebrities, it’s not typically an effective venue for sports teams. The teams may be flying private and your access will be restricted – I don’t know that is what they are doing for sure, but something to keep in mind. Between the airport, hotel and scheduled activities you should do well if you put the work and time in. Exciting – let me know how it goes. Good luck!

    Matt

  • Gary February 22, 2013, 10:28 pm

    Great post Matt. I have a question about shootarounds. Is there any advice you have in regards to figuring out if a team is even having one? It seems like they rarely occur when I decide to spend the morning outside of the hotel.

  • Matt Raymond February 27, 2013, 8:20 pm

    Take a look at their schedule the night before. If they’re traveling a long distance and arriving early in the morning and/or they have a game the previous night it’s less likely they’ll practice.

  • Kelly March 12, 2013, 8:37 pm

    Hello,
    Okay, I have a question about gettting pictures/autographs. I will be attening the Celtics/Hornets game next Wednesday in N.O. I will be traveling about 4 hours just to see the Celtics, so I’m not expecting to arrive early, maybe around 6:45 p.m. How can I go by getting pics with the players..well, preferably the Celtics?

  • Matt Raymond March 12, 2013, 8:45 pm

    Hi Kelly, you may have some luck getting autographs at the arena after shootaround if you can get by the tunnel. Celtics aren’t a very good signing team, best bet is at the team hotel but you’d have to get there around 5pm to get anything.

    Good luck and go C’s!

  • Gerald March 26, 2013, 10:38 pm

    Any idea what hotel visiting teams use in new orleans? Thanks!

  • Brent April 21, 2013, 7:34 pm

    I will be in Milwaukee for games 3 and 4 for the Miami Heat playoff series. Do you think this schedule will stay the same for them? Also do you think that they’ll sign autographs at the hotel on the days between games? One more, do they sign after the game at hotels and what time do they get there after the game?

  • Matt Raymond April 21, 2013, 8:37 pm

    Hi Brent, I think the schedule will stay pretty consistent though you may have to adjust according to tip-off time. On off days they may or may not shoot around but you’ll probably see them go out throughout the day. Will they sign? I’m sure you’ll get someone but the big three are tough, of course. It’s possible you may graph them off the bus after the game (I’d be there 45 minutes after the buzzer sounds, though arrival time depends on how long they talk to the media and distance to the hotel) but catching a player boarding a bus is also easier than when they all come off together, especially after a game.

    Good luck and let us know how you do.

  • John May 11, 2013, 8:01 pm

    how do u find out which hotels they are at
    ?????!?

  • Matt Raymond May 13, 2013, 9:39 pm

    Hi John,

    This info tends to pass by word of mouth and the best way to connect with other graphers is to be active out there in the field and I’m sure you’ll find people who are willing to help. Teams tend to stay at the same hotel each time they come in, so once you find out where they are staying you’re in good shape. Good luck!

  • Ben October 11, 2013, 5:29 pm

    Hey matt, this helps alot. I have one question though, I plan to go to a Celtics-Nets game to get autographs from Pierce and Garnett. The question is, where do i get seats? How do i know where the tunnels are? Thanks for everything else though, gonna try the hotel too.

  • Matt Raymond October 15, 2013, 1:48 pm

    My pleasure. I believe the visitors enter between Loge 4 and 5, and the home team between Loge 19 and 20.

  • Randy October 21, 2013, 5:10 pm

    Hello,

    You seem very intelligent when it comes to this. I was wondering hotels in Phoenix? Also if the enter through the front. I’d like to meet many players. I graph for fun with nhl players but I’d like to expand.

    Thank You.

  • Denise November 13, 2013, 12:15 am

    I am going to take my son to see Miami Heat in Charlotte and I am going the night before the game. I was wondering how do I go about getting autographs from the Heat?

  • Matt Raymond November 15, 2013, 12:18 pm

    Hi Denise, your best bet is during pregame warmups at the arena. Get there as early as you can and grab a spot by the home team’s tunnel. Good luck!

  • . December 12, 2013, 6:25 pm

    How do i find out what hotel the team stays at?

  • Matt Raymond December 13, 2013, 1:00 pm

    This is the number one question I receive and the techniques of acquiring this info aren’t typically broadcast. However, I think this will help – hotel info tends to pass by word of mouth and the best way to connect with other graphers is to be active out there in the field. I’m sure you’ll find people who are willing to help. Teams tend to stay at the same hotel each time they come in, so once you find out where they are staying you’re in good shape. Good luck!

    Matt

  • ... December 14, 2013, 9:19 pm

    do u know the hotel for 76ers opponents

  • Matt Raymond December 17, 2013, 3:10 pm

    I don’t have that hotel information. See my responses to the comments above on the best way for you to get that intel locally.

    Matt

  • Jennifer January 17, 2014, 8:26 am

    Hi Matt! I read your response to getting Miami Heat autographs at the Charlotte Bobcats game and you said to get a good spot near the home team tunnel. So my question is during pre-game warmups does the visiting team use the home team tunnel? As you can see I’ve never been to a game lol, but we will be taking our son tomorrow to see the Heat play and I want him to at least have a chance to see the players up close.

  • Matt Raymond January 17, 2014, 8:43 am

    Hi Jennifer, while I don’t know if the setup of every arena is consistent, my assumption is that teams would use individual tunnels – opposite each other – during warmups (and whenever they need to enter/exit the court thereafter). Let me know how it goes – have a great time!

    Matt

  • Jennifer January 17, 2014, 8:59 am

    Awesome! Thank you so much for this article and prompt replies!!

  • Tyler February 5, 2014, 5:44 pm

    Thanks good information, how do you know what hotel the team goes to?

  • Matt Raymond February 5, 2014, 7:33 pm

    Hi Tyler, take a look at the other comments – I’ve addressed this a few times.

  • Bob February 8, 2014, 2:28 pm

    Can you take in a full size basketball to a game to get signed?

  • Matt Raymond February 8, 2014, 3:07 pm

    Hi Bob, I’m not aware of any restrictions on bringing in a ball. Some arenas have a no-bag policy so you’re limited to what you can carry.

    Matt

  • Jesse February 22, 2014, 9:53 pm

    Hi I’m a kid goin to a bulls game in altanta game @ philps arena are the bulls players autograph frendly?

  • Matt Raymond February 24, 2014, 9:41 pm

    Rose is tough, most of the others are generally good signers. Go with an optimistic attitude and enjoy the experience.

    Matt

  • Jason Truong February 25, 2014, 8:34 pm

    Hey Matt, Stumbled upon your page and I’m headed to a clippers vs warriors game on march 12th. I got tickets in section 104, would that be an ideal place to get visitor autographs after warmups? Would like to reconsider other seating options if you feel would be better.

  • Matt Raymond March 3, 2014, 8:11 pm

    Hi Jason, I can’t tell from your description if the game is in LA or Oakland. Take a look at the arena’s seating chart – the visitor’s tunnel is usually in the corner that extends beyond the visiting team bench.

  • Mariano March 7, 2014, 4:05 pm

    Hey Matt, I am going to Indiana on March 31st to watch the Spurs play the Pacers. Do you know how early I can go inside the arena? I keep seeing on the Spurs official site pictures of people getting autographs before the game while the players warm-up and I was wondering how early those people are allowed in the arena. Thanks!

  • Matt Raymond March 10, 2014, 12:45 pm

    Hi Mariano, thanks for the question. I don’t have arena-specific info – try giving their box office a call. The info isn’t a secret, they should be able to help you out.

    Matt

  • Fernando March 14, 2014, 8:29 pm

    Hi Matt, first of all I want to say thanks for the many tips. Your tips are much helpful as I’m hoping to have success in obtaining Phoenix Suns players signatures especially Dragić and Bledsoe. I am going to see them in Sacramento (last game of regular season for them) and I’m wondering would be the ideal memorabilia to have to get signed? Also what’s a good or polite way to ask for their signature without being annoying?

  • Matt Raymond March 14, 2014, 10:53 pm

    Hi Fernando, glad you’re enjoying the site. Only you can determine your ideal item, depending on your budget and what you prefer in your collection. Jerseys and basketballs are typically the most “premium” items but you may want something easier to manage and display like a photo.

    Are you planning to graph them at the hotel or arena? Just curious. There’s no special line to use when requesting an autograph, just be polite and ask with confidence.

    Matt

  • David M March 16, 2014, 3:11 am

    Do you know any information on where visiting teams stay at in Minneapolis when playing the Timberwolves? Also do you know when the doors open at the Target Center in Minneapolis?

  • Matt Raymond March 25, 2014, 11:30 pm

    Hi David, I don’t have local information on where teams stay. The box office will be able to tell you when doors open – season ticket holders and premium seats often get early access.

  • Kathy P. March 16, 2014, 3:23 pm

    Thanks for all of your great tips Matt. We’ll be taking our grand kids to the Nets/Pelicans game in New Orleans on the 24th. They really want to get the autographs of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Anthony Davis. Are any of these players usually willing to give autographs? The game starts at 7 pm, if we choose to go for warm-ups, what time do warm-ups typically start and end? Does anyone know if they are more likely to sign before warm-ups or after?

  • Matt Raymond March 25, 2014, 11:29 pm

    Hi Kathy,

    Sorry I was late getting back to you. Kevin Garnett is nearly impossible to get – I haven’t seen any evidence of him signing for years. Pierce is also tough but signs for kids from time to time. Davis signs at the hotel – not sure what his habits are at the arena but he’s your best chance of the three.

    Players warm-up on their own schedule, typically starting around 5:30 pm for those who took the first bus and 6pm for those on the second. Get in as early as you can – the box office will let you know when doors open. In many cases season ticket holders and premium seats get early entry.

  • Albert March 20, 2014, 1:32 am

    Hey Matt great article really helpful! Im going to the miami heat vs timberwolves all I want is a ricky rubio autograph. Ill be wearing his jersey, is there any advice you can give me on how to get his signature at the heat stadium??

  • Matt Raymond March 23, 2014, 2:05 pm

    Hey Albert, thanks for the question. I don’t have any arena-specific information, though it may be easier to get it signed if you bring a backing board and wrap the jersey number around it. You’ll have a much longer reach. Perhaps try the boards at sportsgraphing.com or sportscollectors.net to see if a Miami collector could help you out with anything unique about their arena setup.

    Cheers.
    Matt

  • Zach b April 18, 2014, 10:02 am

    Hi Thankz for info sounds like nba schedules are alit like NHL in regards to afternoon practices on game days and what not I was wondering I have heard Durant is pretty nice and I am really hoping to meet him in Memphis soon in your experiences when is the best time to catch him specifically? Does he seem to sign more or less at different times? And was wondering how the rest of okc are with the fans? Would love to hear any input you have thanks

  • Matt Raymond April 22, 2014, 9:58 am

    Hi Zach, I recommend getting the team boarding the bus for shootaround or heading to the game. Most of the team will sign. Let us know how it goes.

  • Josh Rollins April 25, 2014, 10:38 pm

    Hey matt I really enjoy your advice. Im going to heat game at Charlotte tom. They play monday night in Charlotte. Too but we r driving up in morning n going game tom. Night. Whats the best chance at getting one of big three. We have premium seats n get in early.

  • Matt Raymond April 27, 2014, 7:51 pm

    Hey Josh,

    All three are tough though Wade is historically the most willing signer (at least at the hotel, never graphed them in the arena). May as well bring something for everyone though odds are they’ll shy away from premium items. Enjoy the game and let us know how you do.

    Matt

  • Duncan June 10, 2014, 12:34 pm

    Awesome post! I’m from Amsterdam and in Miami now for the playoff games. Cops at the Arena gave me a hard time getting close to the spurs after the shoot around.. Does anybody know the hotel the Spurs are staying at so I can try the tips from this post? Thanks a lot!

  • Adir Landes August 5, 2014, 9:15 pm

    Dear Matt,
    I know what airport my hometown basketball team arrives at after every away game. I was wondering what the ideal time to meet the team at the airport would be.
    Yours truly,
    Adir

  • Matt Raymond August 11, 2014, 4:27 pm

    I would suggest: Time game ends + 1 hour + flight time

  • Preston Kunkel August 22, 2014, 8:45 am

    I’m planning on going to a spurs vs cavs game later in the year. The game would be in San Antonio. Can you give me any tips around that area and who are good signers from both teams. Thanks Preston

  • Matt Raymond August 25, 2014, 9:24 pm

    Other than Duncan, Leonard and Parker, you have a good chance of getting one each from the other Spurs. As for the Cavs, they have been a decent signing team though tough to predict how LeBron will impact their signing (my gut says it can only get worse). Love had been an ok signer with Minnesota.

    Matt

  • Preston September 1, 2014, 10:01 am

    Ok thanks where should I go to get the autographs of some of the spurs players. Thanks again Preston

  • Matt Raymond September 2, 2014, 9:22 pm

    Hey Preston, the article above details all the opportunities you have. I don’t have info to share on hotel location.

  • Ryan September 10, 2014, 1:23 pm

    Hi Matt,
    I’m very desperate to get the Cavs autographs .I’m going to the cavaliers vs Pacers game on November 29 and my seat is in section 133 (right behind the hoop) if you have any tips for me please reply . Also im planning to get to there hotel around 10:00 am . how do I find what hotel there staying at though ??

  • Matt Raymond September 22, 2014, 11:15 pm

    Hi Ryan, are the arena you are going to want to scout out which tunnels the players come through and grab a sport as early as possible. As for hotel information…publicly I advise collectors to get out in the field and start making some contacts. That info is gold :)

    Matt

  • Kelli September 26, 2014, 12:46 am

    What if I want a coach’s autograph? Are they usually out on the court more than an hour before the game with the players?

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