Update: view the slideshow here.
One of my favorite movies is “Major League” and one of my favorite scenes is when Willie Mays Hays shows up out of the blue ready to play. All of the coaches give each other that quizzical “who is this guy?” look. Of course, security carries his bed outside in the middle of the night, until the starter’s gun awakens Hays, who goes on to win the sprints in his pajamas.
I feel like that’s what happened at Celtics Media Day today with veteran point guard Sam Cassell. Despite no word that Sam had re-signed, there he was, all smiles today in his sparkling white #28 jersey. We all turned to each other and said, “Well, I guess Sam’s back!” But would it really surprise anyone if the charismatic Cassell, who stole the show with a variety of jokes during other players’ interviews (at one point acting like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets, hurling insults from the balcony), just showed up on his own?
Later, we learned Sam was actually planning to sign his new contract today, so there you go (and the team made an official announcement just after dinnertime). Not sure how much he can contribute to the team (in fact, some observers say he did more harm than good during the playoffs), but he’s definitely an entertaining presence in the locker room, and can provide a lot of veteran guidance to the young guards.
Media Day is basically the one shot the team gets to take photos of the guys in various poses for use in promotional materials and the Jumbotron pieces. It’s also our first chance to talk to them before training camp (at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island). While most of the media and players are milling about in the main gym, almost like a flea market, we had a different vantage point.
We were set up in the secondary gym which was quite a sight. As you walked in, you were immediately greeted by a well-lit giant blue screen which belonged to TNT. Each player came in and read lines for the ENTIRE season. When you see Kevin Garnett say “You’re watching the NBA Playoffs on TNT” in May, he taped that today.
Then it was over to a second giant blue screen. This one was doing double duty. First, the players had to strike a variety of poses for their animated profiles that you will see on CelticVision (the HD jumbotron) during the season. When asked to dribble and play with the ball a bit, some of the guys got a bit carried away, with Tony Allen and Rajon Rondo providing the most memorable ball tricks. Then the guys had to read lines for ESPN and ABC, which included Paul Pierce wishing every NBA fan a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year… in September (presumably to air when the Celtics play the Lakers in LA on Christmas Day only on… Channel 5!).
We were the players final stop, and while most of them could rightfully have run away at that point after all of the pictures and script reading, they were all great to talk to. Kevin Garnett talked about how winning championships is addictive, and he has a craving for another one. When I asked him about mentoring Darius Miles, another high schooler-straight to the pros (remember the SI cover with both of them posing?), who didn’t fare so well, KG said that playing in a winning environment for the first time in his career could be a big help to Miles, and told me we shouldn’t be surprised when he delivers big things, hopefully filling that James Posey role for this year’s team.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share (without naming names) how the KG interview began. Kevin came over, all smiles, and shook my hand. He then went off on a hilarious rant (seriously, he was Chris Rock good today) about how the last reporter who had interviewed him had done him wrong by eating an “onion burger” before the interview. You know, the man has a point. In our rush to interview these athletes, do we ever take our personal hygiene into account? Can you imagine trying to answer questions from someone with chili breath? It ended with all of us joking that there should be breath mints, like when you leave a restaurant, in the media room. I would be lying if I said I didn’t start frantically searching my pockets for gum. No luck. Note to self: stick to crackers and soda water before all KG interviews.
Paul Pierce reported that he’s feeling great, which is good news. Rajon Rondo looked jacked… saying he had gained 7 pounds, but he’s clearly bulked up… Kendrick Perkins said he will take it easy in camp after undergoing shoulder surgery… he’s looking at the 3rd preseason game (in Manchester) as his on-court debut… Ray Allen told me that while winning a title and getting married in the offseason were great, it was the quiet time with his family that made this a special summer break… And just about all of the guys were united in saying they don’t care if their summers off are short, as long as they are winning titles in June.
Next stop: Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island for a week of practices. We’re going to make a couple of trips down, so check back for more reports.