Sunday, March 3, 2013

I Have a Jeff Van Gundy Story. Doesn't Everyone?

I don't have regrets. Regrets are for people who enjoy watching herons with mainly white plumage. But I do have moments that I wish I could have handled differently. We all do have them - our "Jerk Store" moments.

Two of those moments that stand out in my mind happened when I was living in San Francisco. After I graduated, I moved west and got internship after internship and eventually found myself working multiple jobs in the Bay Area sports radio world.

To set up the back story, the first internship I found in SF was at 960 KABL, an oldies station that at the time also happened to be the radio home of the Oakland A's. From there, I started helping out with A's broadcasts; the engineer also happened to do Golden State Warriors broadcasts, which translated into me working at Warriors games; which translated into a job at the local sports radio stations (KNBR 680 and The Ticket 1050).

On one of my first days at 680/1050, I was the call screener for Rod Brooks, the afternoon host on The Ticket. At the time, I had no rules against nicknames, so if someone called in and said they were "Warriors Fan" I would put them up as "Warriors Fan."

Until this guy came along. Firstly, I was having a very hard time understanding him. Cell phone technology was still being developed so the reception wasn't great, plus he was either high or drunk (or both). He said his name was "doosdopper." I said what? He said "doosdopper." I said "say it again?" Finally I determined that he was calling himself "Deuce Dropper," which I thought was dumb, but I didn't say anything because as mentioned, I had not created any personal rules about nicknames. So he gets on the air, and proceeds to trash me for not understanding what he was saying, for giving him a hard time about his nickname, etc. Me being new, I couldn't jump on the air and defend myself, so here we go, 12 years later.

"Sir, your nickname is not only stupid, it's also probably an FCC violation. You are trying to use Deuce Dropper as a way to say someone who scores most of his points on two-point baskets, but Deuce Dropper could also be taken as a guy who goes to the bathroom and only does No. 2. The fact that I allowed you to keep that ridiculous idiotic stupid nickname speaks volumes of me, and the fact that you wanted your nickname to be Deuce Dropper speaks volumes of you. It was because of you, sir, that I never allowed anyone to use a nickname on-air again, unless it was a nickname that either a) was universally acknowledged to be yours; or 2) had been given on a previous show. But the biggest crime you committed is that YOU GAVE YOURSELF A NICKNAME WHICH IS NOT ALLOWED AT ALL EVER."

Moment I'd like a do-over on No. 2 happened about a year later. I was working for Golden State, helping the Voice of the Warriors, one Tim Roye, during home games. My job consisted of pre- and post-game interviews with the opponents, then cutting up the interviews to use as clips during the broadcast.

Tonight, it was Knicks-Warriors. Sprewell, Houston, Van Gundy...they were all going to be there. Marcus Camby was not, because he was injured (this point becomes important later in the story). I was excited because I was a huge Knicks fan at the time, and since part of my job was to go into the opposing team's locker room for interviews, I figured I would have a chance to meet some of the players/coaches.

But of course, when an opportunity presented itself to have a moment with a certain coach whose initials are JVG, I blew it.

I was asked to go and record the NY media's pre-game interview with Jeff Van Gundy. The Knicks were 4-7 overall and had yet to win on the road (they were 0-6 at that point). I'm not sure what I was expecting, but having heard all about the "tough New York media," I at least figured that Van Gundy was going to be going through something akin to an interrogation.

The "press conference" was taking place outside the Knicks' locker room. I hit record as I was coming up on the group, whispering "Jeff Van Gundy" into the mic, as though we could mistake him for, you know, anyone other than Jeff Van Gundy.

Van Gundy must have heard me say his name, because he immediately turned around, grabbed the mic from my hand and said, somewhat sarcastically, "Jeff Van Gundy." He then said into the mic, "the Knicks can't seem to win on the road, why do you think that is?" and turned the mic to me.

There are so many things I could have said, should have said. I was a Knicks fan, for crying out loud! My brain froze. I frantically tried to think of something intelligent to say. But all I could muster up was, "No big men. They need Marcus back." Van Gundy laughed, said "making excuses! You'd make an excellent coach" and turned back to the media.

I was a little dazed by the encounter, but I was aware enough to know that I have never seen five men so thoroughly intimidated by one, slightly shorter man. Van Gundy had those guys completely cowed. It was remarkable. Not one tough question from any of these "tough, hard but fair NY media." They kind of stammered, and fudged around, and then the "press conference" ended. I went back to the other Warriors staff, who all enjoyed hearing what happened. The Knicks PR guy even came up to me to apologize, and it was all I could do not to say "THAT WAS THE COOLEST THING EVER!!!" I simply assured him it was not a problem at all.

As I recall, the Knicks led 50-25 at the half (it was actually 55-25 - I was thisclose) and went on to pick up their first road win of the season. After I finished with my post-game duties, I tried to track JVG down to tell him what a fan I was, but he was already on the team bus. Less than a month later, Van Gundy retired. I doubt I will ever get a chance to see him again in person, so here is my retrospect answer.

"Coach, Spree and Houston should stop settling for jumpers and should start taking it to the hole more. The team needs to remember that offense starts with defense, and that no matter how bad they look on offense, they should always give 110-percent on defense. Most of all, the guys should always listen to their coach, because everyone knows that Van Gundy knows a little bit about basketball."

Jeff, at least. Not sure about Stan.

But then again, Stan has never grabbed my mic to interview me.