Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Interesting insights from a former NBA Ball Boy

If I haven't said it enough already, I am a proud member since 2004 of Niketalk.com (username: steven42lh) , the world's ultimate online sneaker community. This forum has thousands of members, among them professional athletes (who love sneakers), sneaker and apparel company employees, and some of the world's biggest collectors of memorabilia. One of the members of the forum is Nick Fairclough, currently a Financial Services Professional with The Cambridge Financial Center, and formerly a 10 year ballboy for the NBA's Utah Jazz. Nick was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to send me some stories and pictures of his great experiences during those years:

Nick:

"My father is a long time University of Utah Basketball season tickets holder. I remember going to the games with him often. On occasion he would even take me to a Utah Jazz game. I remember the excitement of the games and the noise of the crowd. I also noticed the kids down on the floor, dribbling the balls, handing out towels and water, wiping up sweat, taking a few shots at half time, and interacting with the players. I wanted to be that kid. At the next game my father and I arrived at the Huntsman Center early. Without hesitation I walked down on the floor and looked for someone who appeared to be in charge. I spotted an individual and I volunteered my time to be a University of Utah ballboy. That is where my ballboy / team attendant career started.

While volunteering my time as a University of Utah ballboy I met Alex Rodriquez. Alex was several years older than I, and a ballboy for the Utah Jazz. When Alex left the team he offered me his position. I gladly accepted (I had to go through an interview process and paperwork of course). I later learned the way I was hired is a common practice in professional sports. The position is handed down brother to brother or friend to friend. This eliminates some of the guessing game that comes with a blind application. Having a reference makes a great deal of difference in the end.

I began working for the Utah Jazz the summer of 1995 during the Rocky Mountain Review NBA summer league. This is not only where prospective players try out and “interview” for a position, but prospective ballboys as well. I rebounded like Dennis Rodman, wiped sweat off the floor like a janitor, and handed out water like the waterboy Adam Sandler. I was a ballboy for the Utah Jazz. I was being paid to interact with NBA players.

Growing up I enjoyed watching Karl Malone and John Stockton play. They were NBA All-Stars, Olympians, and local celebrity heroes. It was a great experience going to work day in and day out with these two guys. Because of their individual accomplishments, athletes and entertainers can be cautious of who they trust and who they allow in their inner circle. Karl and John would not take the time to acknowledge you by name until they thought they could trust you. I remember the first time each one of them called my name and asked me to do them a favor. John asked me to move his car. Karl asked me to pick up some items from his house. I was trusted!

Over the years I established trust among the players and graduated to the Utah Jazz Head Ballboy / Team Attendant / Assistant Equipment Manager. This enabled me to earn more trust from the players and the Utah Jazz organization. It also allowed me more interaction with the visiting teams and to travel with the Utah Jazz. During my years with the team I was able to go on several road trips, visit Head Coach Jerry Sloan’s home in Southern Illinois, and work the visitor’s locker-room.

Working the visiting team locker-room is a privilege where you are able to interact with other NBA players, coaches, trainers, and equipment managers. It is a privilege, great deal of responsibility, and a lot of fun (for the most part). Here you are able to witness the dynamics of the other teams and how they function. You are also able to develop trust outside of your own team with other players, coaches, trainers and equipment managers. I still have interaction with a select few of these individuals today.

Because of my daily interaction with the Utah Jazz players at practice, shoot-around(s), and on flights, I preferred to work the visitor’s locker room. In the visitors locker room asking for autographs is frowned upon. However, there are loop holes if you do it correctly. I always asked the head trainer or equipment manager for permission to ask for an autograph from a certain player. And I always made a good impression first. Because I was not sneaky or manipulative I was also able to collect game shorts from every team in the league. In addition to the game shorts I was able to collect several high caliber NBA player autographs/signatures as well as signed game used shoes.

Although I appreciate my daily interaction with Karl Malone and John Stockton and recognize that it was through the Utah Jazz organization I was able to meet these players and associate with them, my greatest encounters were with Michael Jordan. Over the years I was able to make enough of an impression to obtain several autographs, a posed picture, and two pairs of game used Air Jordan shoes.


In regards to value, the MJ’s are probably worth the most. Next in line are the Kobe Bryant game used shoes. What makes these shoes unique is these are the shoes Kobe Bryant wore, February 19, 2003, when he surpassed Michael Jordan for consecutive games with 35+ points. They are also the Air Jordan VIII Black / Chrome edition. This particular style/colorway was released to the public, but how fitting was it for Kobe to be wearing an Air Jordan while breaking an “Air” Jordan record?


Highlight moments:

Taking Shaq and Kobe to their Hotel.



Thats Nick under the basket on the left.


John Stockton game worn shoe.


Nick and Karl Malone


Nick and John Stockton

My collection consists of much more which will be made available to those interested in the near future. I, along with Roy Terry and Matt Wayment are in the process of creating a website, http://www.nbaballboy.com, which will showcase my collection of Air Jordan shoes (150 pairs), Game Shorts (Home, Road and Alternate), Athlete/Celebrity autographs/signatures, and game used items."

Some Follow up questions:

Were you rooting for the Bulls in the Finals, or were you hoping the Jazz would pull it out, even though you were a big Michael Jordan fan?

"I was torn. It was an amazing experience to be a part of the NBA Finals. As much fun as it was watching Michael Jordan, I was hoping for the Utah Jazz to win. I was fortunate enough to obtain the sweatbands Karl Malone wore in game #5 of the 1997 NBA Finals" (the Michael Jordan flu game).






Who was the funniest NBA player that you were around?

"Overall the funniest player I had the pleasure of associating with was Bryon Russell. “Beezy” generally always had a positive attitude and would crack jokes and poke fun at other players (Jazz and Visitors). Adam Klauke, Utah Jazz ballboy, was fortunate enough to pass comments back and forth between Bryon and Michael Jordan in 2001/2002 season when MJ returned to the NBA with the Washington Wizards. MJ initiated the taunting by sending Adam to the Utah Jazz locker room with a message for Bryon: “I’m back in the building. I’m going to make you my bitch again!”


Any NBA player that didn't treat you well?

Wesley Person

Of all the players I interacted with Wesley Person was the most unpleasant. Due to defamation regulation(s) I won’t say anything more.

When you first started getting game worn stuff, did you view them as part of a collection you were trying to grow or simply really cool souvenirs of your work (or both)?

"When I began my collection I viewed the items as souvenirs. In the beginning I had no intention of “collecting”. After a few years in the league and the development of relationships of trust, in addition to the accessibility of obtaining items, I began to collect. The collection as a whole has been appraised for 150K."

Did Shaq and Kobe seem to get along ok on the ride to the hotel (how far before the laker breakup was this?) Did they miss the team bus? You happened to be around with a car and got asked to do it?

November 1, 2001 LA Lakers vs. Utah Jazz

"On game days at home, the Utah Jazz have shoot-around from 10am-11am. The visitors have shoot-around from 11am-12pm. On game days after shoot-around I would pick up lunch for myself, Gary Briggs (Utah Jazz Head Athletic Trainer), and T.C. Terry Clark (Utah Jazz Assistant Athletic Trainer / Equipment Manager). As I left the arena I noticed the LA Lakers team bus, (chartered), had not left the lot. While approaching my vehicle Kobe and Shaquille approached me and politely asked if they could get a ride to the hotel because the bus was not working. I would have been foolish to decline.

They were both quiet on the trip. I drove. Cory Packer, Utah Jazz bellboy, sat in the passenger seat. Kobe sat in the second row. Shaq stretched out in the back of the SUV (I had taken the third row bench/seating out for equipment transportation).

When we arrived at the Marriot I asked if I could get a picture with the two of them. They were very accommodating. I also asked if I could get their game shoes that night. I obtained Kobe’s shoes/autographed-signed/dated/game high points indicated (very rare). I did not get Shaq’s. He told me I could have them, but I never got them. Shaquille O’Neal’s shoes are the one item I never obtained that I think would make my collection complete. Oh Well, I have nothing to complain about."

3 comments:

AG. said...

Really good story. Well written, with good questions...it made me feel like I was there. I also need to start making friends with the ball boys of the Philadelphia 76ers.

THE P.O.L.R exPRESS said...

GREAT READ MAN! I've definitely gotta do one of these (if you don't mind me swagger jackin for a sec, lol)!

Mike Valdetara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.