“Whatever you do, don’t ask for an autograph. It’s unprofessional.”
That’s pretty much the only rule we had to follow. But rules, as they say, are made to be broken.
I was an intern and Jeff was an actual employee at a small CBS television station in northeast Georgia. The same northeast Georgia town where then Indiana Pacer Dale Davis grew up. His Pacers were playing the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta and our assignment was to go down, grab an interview with the hometown hero and maybe a highlight or two. This was the Atlanta Hawks so finding highlights would prove to be difficult.
But fortunately the great Reggie Miller was still playing for the Pacers. We knew that we could count on him for a few highlights.
We weren’t wrong.
Jeff and I took turns sitting on the floor underneath the goal with our camera. While one of us was on the floor, the other sat courtside at the press table and ate pizza. Oh, there was one other rule. We couldn’t cheer. It would be unprofessional. Again, I was a Hawks fan so there was nothing to cheer about. No problem.
The Hawks actually won that night but we had to move on to bigger and better things. The visiting locker room. I expected it to look something like a giant Foot Locker. Instead it looked more like my 8th grade Sunday School classroom. The room was tiny and the walls were bare. I think that my 8th grade Sunday School classroom at least had a poster of a guy dunking that said “Soar with Jesus.” The Pacers locker room didn’t even have that.
We easily got our interview with Dale Davis because everyone else wanted to talk to Reggie Miller. I don’t remember what Dale said but I’m sure that it had something to do with “taking it one game at a time” and going out and “playing our kind of basketball.”
When we were done we decided to hang around with the big media guys and try to get an interview with the man himself, Reggie Miller.
All of us leaned up against the wall opposite the Pacer’s locker room. The major market veteran reporters and the two young guys like us were all in the same boat. Waiting.
While we waited the door opened and we got ready for action.
But Reggie didn’t come out. It was one of his handlers.
“Reggie doesn’t do any TV interviews until he’s fully clothed.”
Completely understandable. More celebrities should try to adopt that policy. But upon hearing that news most of the other TV guys cleared out. They were too busy to wait for Reggie to get dressed.
We continued to wait. Guys from TV stations in northeast Georgia are never busy.
After we waited a while, Jeff leaned over and whispered.
“Jay, look directly in front of you.”
When someone gives you a command like that, do everything you can to disobey. It’s not going to be good.
The door to the locker room had somehow come open without me noticing. And there sat the great Reggie Miller. Right in front of me. Fully undressed.
Somehow I didn’t plan on this happening. But we were already committed. We had to make our move.
Jeff was bold.
“Hey Reggie. How about an interview?”
Without knowing it until that moment, we both had a policy of not making eye contact with unclothed NBA stars. So we both looked at the ceiling as we waited for Reggie’s response.
“Not tonight guys.”
There it was. At least Reggie was nice when he shot us down. And at least I would have a story to tell my friends when I got back to my dorm room that night.
I started to walk away when Jeff spoke up again.
“Well, how about an autograph?”
And right there, in the tiny visitor’s locker room of a basketball arena that no longer exists, a naked NBA Hall of Famer signed a couple of napkins for me and Jeff.
Not many people can say that. At least I hope not.
Sometimes it pays to be unprofessional.