By TERRY LYONS
BOSTON – In 2002, while working at the NBA, we staged a preseason exhibition game between the Miami Heat and Minnesota in the Dominican Republic. The game was played on October 11, early in the preseason schedule and right after the two-a-day full training camps broke in the respective cities throughout the league.
As I recall, the building – the Palacio de los Deportes Virgilio Travieso Soto in Santo Domingo – needed a lot of work. About three-or-four hours before the game was scheduled to tip-off, I can remember the building workers still hammering and working on the showers and plumbing right in the Heat locker room. There were a few stray animals roaming around in the parking lot, some milling around by loading dock.
I remember thinking to myself, “Tick tock, tick tock, this is a race against time to stage this game and we’re cutting it pretty tight.”
The inside of arena wasn’t bad at all, quite nice and approximately 8,500 seats for basketball. It was sold-out as Felipe Lopez of the Minnesota Timberwolves was the headliner returning home to play in front of his loyal fan base. The Miami Heat were known throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and very popular as well.
Either Turner Sports or maybe a combination of the two teams were sharing the broadcast production duties and we were beaming the game to each home market and in locales around Latin America, via The NBA World Feed. It had a big game feel.
As the Heat bus drove up to the arena and began unloading, I can vividly remember NBA events coordinator Chuck Moore, one of our very best event guys, taking it upon himself to put the finishing touches on the work, vacuuming the newly installed carpet in Heat locker just as team walked in. It was fabulous and it looked great. We were ready.
The game went off without a hitch and Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett, at the top of his game, dominated but somehow Miami kept on keeping on and the game was exciting and tight right down to the end. Except there was one problem. Felipe Lopez just couldn’t hit a shot. I think he was either 0-for-8 or 1-for-8, as he just couldn’t buy a basket and Minnesota coach, the late and great Flip Saunders had to pull him.
As I remember, it was a two or three point game, and Saunders put Lopez back in, much to the joy of the partisan DR crowd, rooting for their man. Lopez checked in and the place erupted. It was freaking wild.
Of course, the players reacted to the crowd and this early preseason game turned into “Game 7” of the NBA Finals intensity. As fate would have it, with the game result on the line, Felipe hit the game-deciding jumper from about 12 feet away on a nice fall away. The Timberwolves ended up winning, 90-85.
I can remember grabbing Felipe for the “Star of the Game” post game tv interview and, although it was hectic, the security did a nice job and we secured the area around the key. NBA security director Larry Richardson and I worked together and he had the local security staff secure the area, all the way to lockers. I stayed with Felipe and he was thrilled to conduct the interview. The Minnesota players gathered around him and it was just a great scene, amazing for an otherwise meaningless preseason exhibition.
As Richardson and the building security had it all organized, I can remember thinking, ” I can’t believe this is happening and we’re gonna pull it off.”
The fans were cooperating and as Lopez did the interview, they were pretty good, but they started to surge a bit to get a closer glimpse or maybe a handshake with Lopez. I glanced up and realized, we’d lost the court security and I knew I needed to get the TV interview to finish. Keep in mind, this is all taking place in about two minutes.
Interview completed, Richardson and I grabbed Felipe by his elbows by the free throw line and said something like, “Listen man, we’ve gotta get you guys inside to the locker.”
The rest of the team ran off in front of us, directed to the secure bowels of the arena by security with KG holding game ball aloft and trotting in at full speed, sort of opening a “Red Sea” to lockers.
I thought, “All is gonna be fine.”
Felipe began to move along with us, waving to the crowd and he took two, maybe three steps towards locker following teammates but then – out of nowhere – he decided, “This is great, let me soak it up,” as he broke free of our grasps and doubled back toward center court.
I remember looking at Larry and he looked right at me, astonished, and we quickly decided, “Let’s just let him go.”
There had to be at least 7,000 fans and, I swear, Lopez either hugged or high-fived every single on of them.
Later that night, as a few of our staff and the great NBA Latin America office staff were back at the hotel relaxing, we were invited to go with the team to some really cool restaurant/bar that was etched into a cave. It was great. Felipe and his DR friends, family and a few fans. the highlight was one his guy rolling cigars. Right there.
Chill. Cold beer. Light up.
This story came to mind this week after watching “The Dominican Dream,” an ESPN 30-for-30 by Jonathan Hoch, a former NBA Entertainment producer from the New York metropolitan area.
Hoch did a tremendous job coordinating the show and interviewed dozens of NYC Streetball, high school and St. John’s college connections. Hoch noted, “this is a true immigrant story,”
One of the best lines in the 30-for-30 came from Hall of Famers Chris Mullin who said, “”He (Felipe) went viral. When Bobby Knight shows up at Rice High School, it’s gone viral. We didn’t have viral back then, but …. it went viral.”
HERE NOW THE NOTES: The reports stated this week that the NFL was considering putting KC Chiefs wide-out Tyreke Hill on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. … Ya’ think? … That list keeps a player off the field while the NFL league office reviews a situation. It is more often utilized in-season as opposed to the summertime. … Issues of domestic violence continue to mar the NFL and the reputation of the once-teflon-NFL Shield. … The reason for the change (NFL once being invincible and untouchable)? It’s social media and camera/video phones. Previously, there were rumors or problems but no real proof. Camera-phone video evidence has brought the domestic abuse incidents to TMZ and other media outlets.
Major League Lacrosse is entering the 2019 season, which begins the weekend of May 31-June 2. … This is, perhaps, the most important season for professional lacrosse in history as the MLL and Paul Rabil’s touring model – the Premier Lacrosse League – compete for attention in a space that only has room for one outdoor league. Rabil picked Gillette Stadium here in New England to raise the curtain on his endeavor, a lofty goal to fill seats in an NFL-sized stadium. The PLL – (Profit or Loss League?) begins June 1 & 2 and tickets are on sale now.
On Wednesday, a multi-year partnership was announced to make adidas an official sponsor of Little League along with being the official uniform, footwear and coaches apparel brand for the Little League World Series. … The upstart (for the second time) XFL named Elevate Sports Ventures – a joint venture between the NFL’s San Fran 49ers, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (Prudential Center, Phila 76ers and NJ Devils), Ticketmaster, Live Nation and Oak View Group – to design, implement and manage database marketing and ticket sales strategies for the league office and each of its eight clubs; the league has also hired Elevate to oversea day-to-day ticketing operations within each market. … The WNBA announced its schedule of 20 live regular-season games to be streamed on Twitter (and WNBA (dot) com in its upcoming 2019 season, marking the third consecutive year that the league’s games will be available on the platform. Twitter’s schedule features appearances by all 12 teams, starting May 25 with the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun at 7:30p. The schedule includes 14 games on Tuesdays. … The WNBA also came to a 2-year work agreement with its referees … With the number one pick of the 2019 Big3 Draft, the Enemies selected Royce White. Need I say more?
Digital Sports Desk posts a once-a-week Sunday Notes column, entitled: “While We’re Young Ideas.” The reference salutes the great Dick Young, of course, but the obvious Rodney Dangerfield connection connotes the style and humorous nature I’ll be seeking to provide as Spring turns to Summer. We’ll see where we stand on Labor Day before I try to break any ground that Cannon or Young walked upon.
Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the attempt and it will become worthy of a Sunday Morning read and share. I’ll welcome the feedback by connecting “While We’re Young Ideas” with Digital Sports Desk(@DigSportsDesk) and (@WhileYoungIdeas). Please follow those two Twitter accounts, along with @terrylyons