Sweat dripped off my hands like I’d just gone for a 17-mile run in the Sahara Desert. Kevin McHale stood on one side of the hallway chatting to Mark Jackson. I walked on the other side of the hallway hoping my knees wouldn’t crumble beneath me and cause me to fall in front of my childhood hero.
It was the first Boston Celtics game I’d ever covered, and I couldn’t even get to the press room before becoming star struck. Later in the night, I would interview Shelden Williams one-on-one, group interview all my favorite current Celtics except Kevin Garnett (who was injured that day), watch Glen Davis eat a cheeseburger and french fries an hour before the game, hear Rasheed Wallace imitate a pirate, have a free 10th-row seat to a Celtics-Mavericks contest, and write a story about how Wallace used the term “bull-shit” in a rant about referees. Several of my dreams came true that day. I covered a Celtics game, saw the inside of the Celtics locker room and observed Big Baby’s diet first-hand. But the highlight of my night came as a surprise.
The Celtics press room can fit about 30 people much the same way a college house party can fit 500 — very uncomfortably, with one reporter breathing on your neck while another who desperately needs a piece of mint gum sits almost in your lap (at least in the press room, you don’t have to watch two ugly, piss-drunk people making out while Pitbull music blasts through the speakers). I took my seat at the middle table, which I had already learned was for the lower-tier reporters (or in my case, fans masquerading as reporters). Since I had arrived three hours before tip-off, I had 1 1/2 hours to kill before the locker room opened. I walked 150 yards or so to the TD Garden court, walked across the parquet floor, unsuccessfully tried to steal a piece of it (but not really, Officer) and sat down to observe Paul Pierce complete his pre-game routine. The Truth stood 20 feet away from me preparing for a meeting against one of the Western Conference’s best teams. But that wasn’t my highlight.
I returned to the press room and saw Bob Ryan. THE Bob Ryan. The Boston Globe writer, the walking basketball encyclopedia and the one living human who can make Around the Horn watchable. He was sitting five feet away from me in the press room, all grey hair, distinct features and knowledge, more basketball knowledge than perhaps any man alive. During all my fantasies about the night, I never realized I would share a room with Bob Ryan. I never realized we would type our stories — “pound the keys, damn it!” — 20 feet away from each other. I spent the next five minutes arguing with myself.
“Just go talk to him, you little girl.”
“But he doesn’t want to be bothered by me.”
“What a sally.”
“Fine, I’ll do it.”
“You’re not moving.”
“MY LEGS WON’T WORK!!!!”
Finally, I worked up the courage. I introduced myself to Bob Ryan. THE BOB RYAN. The one who can name and describe almost every player in the 1972 NBA Draft from memory, who writes sentences simultaneously simple, complex and beautiful, who — several years after I shook his hand for the first time — wrote about himself, “I have never once written to provoke or to attract attention. I have always done what has come naturally, which doesn’t mean it’s always been right.” BOB RYAN, who every budding journalist should strive to be, who once told a Springfield College journalism class he reads nine different newspapers front to cover each morning when he wakes up. BOB RYAN, people. The best to ever do it. Every word he writes is soaked in knowledge.
And he was so nice. He shook my hand and asked where I lived. He told me he had family near my house. We chatted for five minutes about everything except sports, and he made me feel so comfortable I didn’t even need a change of underwear afterward. The locker room opened up and our brief conversation ended. The first player I spoke to was Ray Allen. But it didn’t compare. I never would have guessed before the game, but meeting the Celtics didn’t come close to meeting Bob Ryan. For an aspiring basketball writer, having a conversation with Ryan is like doing so with Michael Jordan, except Ryan was great for much longer and never ran the Charlotte Bobcats into the ground.
I sat in the clouds and could see heaven as I typed my game story that night, even while inhaling dragon breath from the overweight reporter two feet to my right. The Celtics lost by nine and Dirk Nowitzki scored more than 30 points. Wallace was angry because he’d gotten in foul trouble, and he blamed the referees for his own inability to guard Nowitzki. With KG out, Brian Scalabrine was Boston’s next choice to guard the German. When asked later whether he thought the refs favored Nowitzki, Scalabrine replied, “Yeah, definitely. They know he needs an advantage if he’s going to score on me.”
I kept typing, not writing to provoke or to attract attention, but to portray the truth as I saw it — not necessarily the full truth, but what I believed to be so. Midnight came and I kept writing. My headphones were on so I could transcribe interviews. Maybe at 1 a.m., I felt a tap on my shoulder. I took off my ear buds and turned around.
“It was a pleasure meeting you,” Bob Ryan told me.
I almost fainted right there in the media room. I will never, ever forget the moment when the G.O.A.T. sought me out just to say goodbye.
BOB RYAN, people. The best basketball writer ever. And from the very little I know, a damn good dude.