In San Antonio, people love their Spurs. Because they are the only major professional sports team in town, every home game is a big event. Being from San Antonio, I’ve attended quite a few games. But on November 28, I got to experience a Spurs game like never before: as a journalist.
Driving up to the newly renovated AT&T Center, I couldn’t wait to get started on the night ahead. In the media parking lot, Fox Sports Southwest and Spurs announcer Bill Land pulled up next to us. It was exciting to see the always-passionate television announcer in person.
My mom and I walked in through the media entrance and got our credentials. With the help of friendly workers, we found our way down to the media workroom, which is a home base of sorts for reporters, cameramen, and other members of the press. There are televisions that show the game, and there are game stats and notes available for journalists. There is also plenty of space to set up your computer and work on whatever you need to get done.
In the workroom, we had time until the pregame press conferences, so we made friends with some other reporters who guided us and were very helpful throughout the night. At 5:45 pm, it was time for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s press conference.
I was expecting the common setup, with the coach at a podium and reporters seated in chairs waiting for a chance to ask a question. Instead, Popovich stood in the corner of the interview room, and reporters made a circle around him. It is well known that Popovich doesn’t necessarily love doing interviews, but I was able to ask him a quick question.
“What is like to play against a former assistant coach,” I asked? “It’s not very much fun,” Popovich responded. “I don’t really enjoy those games at all. Winning you don’t feel great about, if you lose it doesn’t bother you too much, which it should I guess. Still, it’s a very weird juxtaposition."
Next was the press conference for the opposing coach, Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks. Budenholzer, a third-year head coach, was a Spurs assistant under Popovich for 19 seasons. He fielded questions in a crowded hallway with a Hawks backdrop behind him for TV coverage. I asked him what it’s like to coach against his old team.
“It is a little bit unique,” said Budenholzer. “There’s a lot of relationships and a lot of friendships. There’s a deep understanding of what they’re doing, and them to a certain degree of us. But once the ball goes up, the players on the court do all of it and it turns into a game. Afterwards I’m sure we’ll say hello and goodbye.”
As tipoff rapidly approached, we made our way up to our seats, which were at the top of the lower bowl and on the baseline. It’s not one press box, but instead each person has his or her own seat. We remained there all game except for a quick trip to grab snacks at halftime.
The game itself was a blowout — the Spurs crushed the Hawks 108–88. It was the 700th game Tony Parker and Tim Duncan had won together, which is the second most for a duo in NBA history. The crowd was energized and very loud all game, exploding after every basket as if each point would decide the outcome. At one point in the fourth quarter, I couldn’t even hear my mom, who was right next to me.
Postgame, Coach Popovich held another quick press conference. He mentioned that Becky Hammon, the first ever female assistant coach in the NBA, ran an entire timeout and drew up the ensuing play. A reporter asked if Popovich could talk about his philosophy when it comes to working with assistants. He wouldn’t get too into it, but he said that the Spurs are a “participatory team, everyone gets involved.”
In the locker room, many players quickly bolted because they were coming off back-to-back games and had gotten in from Denver very late the night before. A few, like Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard, did answer some questions before leaving.
“He’s a superhero,” said Green when asked about the 39-year-old Tim Duncan continuing to play so well. “He does it all. He doesn’t get old, he doesn’t get tired, and doesn’t get out of shape. I’d compare him to the Wolverine.”
“We were much better [on offense],” said Ginobili. “The ball moved sharper and we made more shots. I think offensively we played the way we think we can play. We’ve been pretty far from it so far this season.”
“Just working out,” said Leonard on his improved play. “It just come with a mindset. It’s about being smart, figuring out your weaknesses, and not being afraid to do it in a game.”
Once the players left, it was time for us to go as well. We packed up our things and thanked all the employees who had helped us. I had been to many Spurs games in my life, but I never imagined that I’d be covering a game as a Kid Reporter.
Photos: Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images (action), Nathaniel S. Butler /NBAE via Getty Images (Popovich), Darren Abate/AP (Budenholzer, Popovich and Budenholzer)