If you are a sports junkie like me, and have no trouble staking out a hotel to catch a glimpse of a sports star, then you'll want to read this ESPN story, which captures what it's like for a hotel to host an NBA team.
Now I'm no stalker (promise), but get a kick out of seeing pro athletes live and in the flesh. If you'll indulge me, I'll share a couple stories, each involving one Kobe Bean Bryant, who will play his last game in a storied 20-year career Wednesday night.
Arizona Biltmore. 2006. 1st Round. NBA Playoffs. Lakers v. Suns.
It's 2006, and I am a somewhat bright-eyed youngster, just shy of 30 years old. I was at the Biltmore for what was my first real press trip: interviewing Matt Hart, who at the time was president & COO of Hilton Hotels Corp. This was at or around the time that the hotel became part of Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, and I have vivid memories of trailing behind Hart and the hotel's then GM as they inspected rooms. From what I recall, Hart always made it a point to make sure that each guestroom shower was equipped with a curved shower rod. This was very important to him.
The Biltmore is a Frank Lloyd Wright stunner in the desert. When not following Hart around, I was playing golf or taking a dip in the pool. Great stuff.
What I didn't expect was to be staying at the host hotel for the Los Angeles Lakers, in town for a 1st-round playoff matchup with the Phoenix Suns. When an NBA team is staying at a hotel, you know. A huge bus rolls up, and everyone who disembarks is clad in fantastic threads and is well over 6-feet-tall. The Lakers were no exception. I remember I was standing on the walk outside the lobby, when their bus pulled up. I had no clue they were staying there, and why I was outside at that moment, I couldn't tell you. But as the bus came to a halt, and the door pushed open, issuing that whoosh noise bus doors tend to do when swung open, I, too, came to a standstill.
Out ducked Kwame Brown, prompting a stifled chuckle in me (I'm a die-hard Wizards fan and he was a failed first pick), then came Lamar Odom, before the Kardashians and drugs, when he was a 6'10 stud who could do it all, followed by the likes of Jim Jackson and Ronny Turiaf.
Then, out popped Kobe. The Black Mamba. One of the singular greatest basketball players of all time. When you are in the midst of greatness, the air goes out, your hearing stiffens and your heart palpatates. At least that is what happens to me. Someone else could care less.
As quick as they came out of the bus, they were even quicker into the lobby, hustled through by coaches and assistants. I had an interview with Hart.
The morning after, my Lakers thoughts gone, my attention turned to writing, I was in the hotel lobby, having coffee, when a long line of tall men sauntered through.
There was Kobe—in all his glory and at the height of his prowess. I was still a rather punk, but outspoken kid, so I did what anyone in my position would have done: I bounded upon him. He was walking with purpose, so there was no time for an autograph or picture (this was before iPhones). Clumsily, I asked of him: "Do they still call you the Black Mamba?" He, himself, is said to have applied the sobriquet. Without missing a beat, Kobe turned to me, flashed those beautiful white teeth and said: "What do you think?"
First Kobe encounter.
Hilton Hawaiian Village. 2016. Lakers Training Camp. Kobe's Last Season.
I was in Hawaii for the Best Western annual conference. Coming from New York, and the time difference, I was jet-lagged. So the morning after I arrived, I was up and out of bed at 6 a.m. That's way early for me. I figured I should get a workout in.
I walked over to the resort's gym, entered, turned the corner, and laying on the ground in front of me, stretching his long sturdy legs, was none other than Metta World Peace. Pretty cool. In fact, it got cooler. I walked over to use a piece of equipment near where Metta was stretching. Noticing this, he asked me if I had enough room. Cooly, I responded, "I'm good, Ron." I will only refer to him by his Christian name.
Anyway, as I started to work my pecs, I look up, and see this:
Yes, there he is, Kobe Bryant, staring me down like a hawk. (I had surreptitiously pulled out my iPhone and snapped this photo.)
It being 6:15 a.m., of course, Kobe was already finished his workout. He's famous for being the earliest in the gym and having a monkish workout regime.
Not until after I took this photo and checked it out had I known of the intense gaze cast on me. I thought it better than to approach him, though I'd have gladfully stretched him out myself or lent a spot on the bench.
I turned back to my own exercising, and by the time I finished my first set, he was gone. At least Ron was still there.
Second (last?) Kobe encounter.
The ESPN article I teased in the opener is very cool. It documents the Hotel Monaco in Portland, Ore., and what it's like to host an NBA team; in this case, the Houston Rockets.
Here are some highlights:
If NBA teams arrive after dark, shades are drawn and lights are left on. Housekeepers also lay out an extra-tall giraffe-print robe on each bed and a special Rockets' room service menu on the side table.
"Staging" begins as the staff sets up a special pre-registration table alongside the front desk, something akin to where you'd find your seating card at a wedding. On the table rest alphabetized envelopes, each printed with the name of a member of the Rockets' traveling party. Some, like All-Star James Harden, have aliases.
Typically, bellhops at the Monaco Portland are encouraged to be congenial with guests when they arrive. "How was your trip? Where are you coming from? What brings you to Portland?" But when NBA teams arrive, you suspend the chit-chat, especially when they arrive late at night.
Hotel Monaco assembles a special 24-hour room service menu emblazoned with the visiting team's logo based on its own crowdsourcing of NBA players' requests over the years.
To accommodate NBA players, many Hotel Monaco rooms have beds that are 95 inches long—12 inches longer than standard, and showerheads that are 8 inches taller than the standard 6 feet.
Getting every last bit of luggage from several dozen hotel rooms to the curb is the porter staff's equivalent of crunch time. It's a fire drill known across the NBA as "bag pull."
Photography: Amanda Lucier