Reporting from Toyota Center: Rockets drop to 0-3


Tonight was my first time at an NBA game.  Upon hearing this, friends often react in astonishment.  What can I say?  I’m a bit of an introvert – my idea of a night out has always been staying in and ordering pizza.

I arrived at Toyota Center at around 5:30 and was met by Jason Friedman (of fame).  Jason actually spent the next two hours with me until tip-off, showing me around and teaching me the ropes.  I had heard good things about him from others, but you really won’t meet a nicer guy than Jason Friedman.

We walked into the lockerroom area and the first thing I saw was Yao Ming.  It didn’t really hit me at first that it was Yao Ming.  The room was empty and I was chatting in a corner with Jason.  At the other end, Chinese media surrounded what appeared to be  some sort of gargantuan statue.  I suddenly realized, “oh my God, that giant statue is Yao Ming.”  Each of his calves were the width of my entire body.  I didn’t dare approach him for fear of being blown away by one puff of his breath.

Jason then took me out onto the floor where Rockets Vice President Sam Hinkie was sitting courtside, watching the team in its shoot-around routine.  Sam and I chatted about basketball (and by extension life; or is it life and by extension basketball?) for a good fifteen minutes, observing the players before us.   After talking to Hinkie, you can really see why this front office is so highly regarded around the league.  (A friend/acquaintance of his behind us, to grab Hinkie’s attention, referred to him as ‘Stanford’ which I found humorous.)

While we were there, Jermaine Taylor was unconscious from deep, sporting a beautiful, quick stroke.  The second year guard reminds me of Vernon Maxwell, both facially and in build.  I’ve never heard anyone else make this comparison, (most likely in fear of heresy; Taylor’s the twelfth man and Max is a deity.)  Anyways, I still can’t figure out why it hasn’t yet happened for JT.

Friedman and I had a bite to eat before he ushered me to my seat right before tip-off.  I realized I could have brought my laptop as we actually had a table in front of us.  I regretted not knowing this beforehand (as I could have gone to bed a lot earlier last night upon arriving home.)  To my right was Chinese media and to my left were two scouts – one from the Spurs and one from the Pacers.  The scouts worked diligently on their laptops throughout the game, referencing various note packets and play diagrams continuously.  I had no idea what they were doing, but damn if they didn’t look important while doing it.

Prior to tip-off was a highlight compilation that induced chills.  Whoever made it captured their aim impeccably, blending past with present.  I was overcome by extreme nostalgia watching some of the famous clips from the title runs – will we ever feel that same excitement again?  Would I get another chance to witness something of that sort, but this time from this chair? (Pause for effect.  This is where you collectively plead, ‘Morey, please get us Carmelo.’)

It was also interesting to note that the video had a fairly healthy amount of McGrady highlights.  This came as quite the shock as my impression was that the divorce was a rather bitter one.

Onto the game: unfortunately, I have no idea what happened.  Seriously.  When you do something in a certain way for sixteen years, and then for the first time stray from that manner, you’re completely thrown off and require an adjustment period.  The view from my seat was great, but I’ve just never looked on from that angle.  I no longer had the reference point to which I had become dependent.  I’m used to my living room, sitting in my chair, and following along to the commentary from that night’s broadcast crew.  In truth, a lot of my attention was divested in excitement over the realization of just how easy it would be to blog with the score/fact sheets they continually handed us.

After the game, I rushed to the elevators to get back down to the press area.  I hit the ‘down’ button and waited, wondering what else lay in store for me the rest of the night.  The doors opened and inside sat an attendant with an elderly gentleman standing in the corner.  I did a double-take as I realized the man was none other than former Rockets general manager and assistant coach Carrol Dawson.

“Hi Carrol,” I said.  “How are you?”

“Hey,” he warmly responded.  “Not too well at 0-3…”

My first reaction was surprise that Dawson was still not only with the team but also still so emotionally invested in its success.  My second reaction was one of guilt.  This kind old man would never know how much I had written over the years of his managerial blunders.

I headed out into the tunnel, getting lost as I tried to locate the press room where Rick Adelman was sitting center stage.  I finally found it, entering just as things were wrapping up.  The room was much smaller than I had imagined; when you see it on television, there appears to be almost 100 seats with a cacophony of voices. In reality, there wasn’t more than 15 of us in there.  ESPN’s J.A. Adande left a bit early, not completely shutting the door behind him.  As I had feared, it slowly began creaking open until it was fully ajar; I was right next to the door and could feel all eyes in the room turn towards me.  I didn’t know whether to close it or look for somewhere to hide; Rick already looked irritated enough.

We all then went back into the lockerroom where the players would slowly be making themselves available.  As Jason explained it, every player was obligated to make himself available to answer questions after the game. You just had to wait for them to trickle out from the shower area.  When I entered, Kyle Lowry was already swarmed, and then later Chuck Hayes, and Shane Battier.  Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Jared Jeffries all entered a bit later with no one seeming to notice.

I really wanted to ask Budinger about the skills camps he had attended when younger, and how much he attributed his current poise to that very early instruction.  Everyone else was asking about the game and getting very general, unsubstantive responses.  My plan going in was that I wanted to ask these players about themselves, hopefully gaining an affinity, so that I could someday take something back to my readers.  I don’t care what Kyle Lowry thinks about why we couldn’t score in the fourth – I can figure that out on my own or read about it from an actual expert.  I want to know if he’s always sought out contact or if those small things he does were given positive reinforcement in Memphis like they are in Houston.

The problem was that I didn’t know if such questioning would be appropriate given the somber mood in the room.  I decided not to risk asking Chase to apply something that happened when he was like eight years old when he already might have been pissed.

We all then stood waiting around, watching highlights on the television.  I asked someone what exactly we were waiting for. “Yao,” was the response.  Apparently, Yao works out immediately after the games and the media waits patiently for his arrival. Makes sense.

I waited a good fifteen minutes for “the large man” with Battier, Hayes, and Lowry all sitting immediately behind me, completely unoccupied.

“You know, we could easily go talk to them…” I said to the guy next to me, also a virgin.

My mind scrambled to think of something even remotely intelligent to ask to the three most cerebral Houston Rockets.  I froze, my mind going numb.  (A reader had suggested broaching the topic of Battier’s investment banking internship – No.) What I had not realized, and for what I had not made myself mentally prepared, was just how accessible the players were.  I had assumed that everyone of any importance would be mobbed and then would immediately leave when the mob was done. I had not known that they would stick around and I could literally walk up to any one of them and converse freely.  A missed opportunity but a learning experience.

Yao finally arrived, towering his way into the room.  We were ants in his presence; the man extended into the heavens.  He slumped into his chair violently and the mob literally swarmed him.

“One minute!” he barked twice.

I thought he meant he would only take questions for one minute.  I then realized he just wanted some space and a few seconds to take off his shoe.

As he cut through the foot tape, I struggled to get a glimpse.  What is currently the most nurtured and volatile asset in the Houston Rockets organization had just been unwrapped, exposed into the open.  I didn’t know if I expected it to shine and now be made of metal, but by God I hoped he’d immerse it immediately in the ice tub in front of him.  Stay well, Yao.  Stay well.

I could barely hear Yao so I turned and made eye contact with Luis Scola who had just arrived, completely unoccupied.  I had to do it.  Through three games, the man is now averaging a jaw-dropping 27 and 14.  In past years, when given the minutes, Scola was good for a regular 20-10.  I wondered, and have been wondering, observing this production, did he feel that even at this age he was continually improving or was it just a matter of finally getting the minutes?  Being the humble guy he is, he wasn’t going to admit the latter, so I had to frame my query particularly:

“Luis, you’re averaging well over 20 and 10 in these first 3 games.  Do you feel your level of comfort with the NBA game is even now still continuing to increase?” I inquired.

“It’s just 3 games…it’s just 3 games,” he said.  “Come back to me after 30 and we’ll see where I’m at.”

In reality, I suspect an international superstar like Scola knows that for him, it was just a matter of getting the minutes. What Luis is doing right now is downright scary and hard for me personally to conceptualize given the awkwardness with which he does it.  Most startling is that looking at his body of work sans Carl Landry, this is not a fluke and there are good odds he will sustain the production (albeit with a slight drop).  Consider this: there’s a very serious, realistic possibility of Luis Scola finishing the season as one of the most productive power forwards in basketball.

Anyways, having gotten that first question under my belt, I decided it was now time to leave.  (In actuality, Jason was also leaving and I decided it would not be a good idea to stick around without the only friendly face I knew in case I somehow accidentally got locked inside the Toyota Center.)

I headed back for the elevators and entered the parking garage.  As I exited Toyota Center, I realized that for the first time I could remember, I didn’t have a single thing to say about the actual game.  I had no idea what had happened and would need to read about it elsewhere.  But in those few hours, I learned more about the NBA than I had ever known.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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  • Jodorowsky

    …What a fantastic read…

  • SohailG

    Great, great post. Looking forward to more of these in the future.

  • Blake

    Are you going to be doing this regularly, Rahat? I hope so!

    Looking forward to the players’ responses to your non-“did you give 110%?” questions.

  • Stephen

    Will be interesting to see how you apply what you learned the next time. And there better be a next time!

    As to Scola,you have to believe JVG would have the team pound it into him and Yao every possession and he’d put up ridiculous numbers.
    Which brings up how totally unsuited the starters are for a motion,hi-post offense.
    Battier sits in the corner,not cutting,Brooks doesn’t cut weakside and gets stuffed w/regularity when he does go inside and Yao and Scola are low-post players,not hi-post passing,jumpshot shooters.
    The starters are suited to pounding it down low and spacing for kick-out 3s,but instead they depend on Brooks/Martin outside shots.
    Whereas the second unit has players who are very well suited to such an offense w/Lowry,Lee,Bud,Chuck all willing to make the constant repeated cuts and Miller happy to make the passes. One reason why the second unit looks so good.
    Unfortunately when second unit players get individually subbed into starters unit,they settle into the starters perimeter offense and stop making the cuts they make as part of the second unit.
    Most teams second unit is either supposed to play D,run,have a designated quick scorer,something that translates when a second unit player gets individually subbed into the starters.
    For the Rockets,their starters and their second unit play two completely different offensive systems which is going to lead to choppy play all season long. By being a perimeter team for the bulk of their minutes,the Rockets are going to live and die by the jumpshot. And that leads to mediocre or slightly above mediocrity,depending on how good the shooters are.

    We’re now seeing the player Brooks’ is defending just shooting over Brooks as if he wasn’t there on a routine basis. Not a good sign.

  • Stephen

    Oh s***
    “I don’t know,” Brooks said. “I really don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t call it. I don’t know if there’s a problem or what’s going on right now. I don’t know.”
    -J. A. Adande(ESPN Truehoop)

  • Spinitonwax

    Nice read, disappointed we lost though because I only have NBA TV here in LA and cant watch all the games and the ones they broadcast we lose. Oh well i can always root for the Lakes.

  • Connorsmom

    What an informative and captivating read. I felt like I was along for the ride. Looking forward to the blog after the next game. Thank you!

  • Jcdeucer

    Really good read, please ask the guys some good questions next time! Better than the standard sports questions fare…

  • Patrick

    Great read Rahat… I was lucky enough to get a press pass to an Astros game because I write for the bleacher report and while the players are forced to be available for comment, the way they get out of it is by sitting by their locker in the nude. It’s uncanny how the goats of the game are the ones sitting with all their “business” hanging out so the media would avoid them.

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff, Rahat. Damn fine journalism.

  • Bob Schmidt

    Glad you shared this experience with us in the manner that you did. One or two thoughts on the game though…

    I thought that our guys looked up-tight and maybe over-coached last night. In some ways they were definitely better, but never looked like they were enjoying the game as we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Also, I was reminded of a couple of times last year when AB was criticized for not getting enough assists. When he worked on improving that part of his game, it seemed like he lost his shooting touch. His game numbers combined with Lowrys were really sick from the point position…. I doubt that we’ll see a game like that the rest of the year, at least I hope not.

  • Gabo in CR

    I’m sooo jealous! I loved reading this!

  • LARocketsFan

    You should get the NBA League Broadband. I’m also in LA and it’s the only way I get to watch as many games as I do. Unfortunately/fortunately? they blackout the NBA TV games.

  • Smash

    NBA League Pass blacks out certain games, like last night’s against Denver. For streams, try

  • The Bartender

    Awesome, Ican only imagine what it would feel like to walk in to my first live game and meet “the guys”. Supercool. We read your blog all the time. “We” as in the people who hang out at our establishment and thouroughly enjoy pro hoops. “We” saw this post, and were like wow! I wish we could have been there (despite the loss of course). Rahat, “We” believe in your journalism and syntax. Keep up the good work and badass journalism, as “we” will keep up with your blog.

  • Anonymous

    I still can’t believe you’ve never been to a game before.

  • Anonymous

    I still can’t believe you’ve never been to a game before.

  • The Bartender

    He went. The man is solid. Hence this blog and the work he has done. Highly impressive for a guy who has never been to a game.

  • KW

    Great post. Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company linked me over…I may have to start following the Rockets. Very good insight in the comments as well. Cheers!

  • Yeah, was super annoyed with that. I noticed that AT&T U-Verse did finally have an option for NBA TV. Unfortunately, I’d have to upgrade my whole package from a base 200-channel package to a 400-channel package, paying an extra $15 a month for a bunch of channels I won’t watch, just to get NBA TV. Sucks that a few Rockets games are on that this season.

  • Through the first 3 games, Scola ranks THIRD in the league in PER. The two guys ahead of him average closer to 20 minutes a game, whereas Scola plays about 34-36. Pretty impressive.

  • luislandry

    I believe League Pass will bock out any games that play on your local channel or on national TV. I use it when I can, and atdhe for a lower quality and less reliable stream when the game I really want to see is not available on LP.

  • Dan G.

    Yeah I know what you mean about not knowing what is going on during the game while viewing it court side. When I was in college, I was the sports editor and sports reporter for the newspaper, and when I went to basketball games, it was difficult to report the game due to the angle I was sitting at.

    It is hard to see everything collectively through that angle but you do get the best view on an individual basis. I liked reporting the women’s game not just because they were women and a close up view is better in that regard, but because the game was a little bit slower and thus easier to keep up with what was going on. Also, I was my own stats man for the most part, so I had to keep up with the game and try to keep some stats, but after the game, I would go over to the official scorer’s table and request a stat sheet to see how my stats compared to his.

  • Yup, LP blocks out any thing on ABC/ESPN/TNT/NBATV as well as mostly any local game. But then, you don’t really get LP to watch local games since in Houston you can catch those on FSN anyway.

    In Austin, I get Fox Sports Houston (don’t remember the region… FSS? FSSW?) during everything except the Rockets games when it is blacked out. I really don’t understand the logic. I’m not close enough to Toyota Center (~3 hours) to fall into the home crowd bracket and as far as I am aware, the NBA doesn’t enforce blackout rules if crowds aren’t sold out, for example. So effectively, I’m left with no Rockets basketball on the channel that is broadcasting it and U-Verse doesn’t even have NBA LP so I have to get it through the web.

    It’s annoying to say the least.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t see the game, but from the clips I did see it looked like Buddinger was getting schooled by Melo a bit there. Seems to me that this is the sort of game where we miss an Ariza – someone long and athletic to put on the big guys. Battier doesn’t have the size to guard the Melos/LeBrons/Durants of this world, unfortunately (I remember watching him getting posted up by LeBron a few times – it was brutal). Didn’t look like Bud has quite got his defence figured out yet…

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t see the game, but from the clips I did see it looked like Buddinger was getting schooled by Melo a bit there. Seems to me that this is the sort of game where we miss an Ariza – someone long and athletic to put on the big guys. Battier doesn’t have the size to guard the Melos/LeBrons/Durants of this world, unfortunately (I remember watching him getting posted up by LeBron a few times – it was brutal). Didn’t look like Bud has quite got his defence figured out yet…

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t see the game, but from the clips I did see it looked like Buddinger was getting schooled by Melo a bit there. Seems to me that this is the sort of game where we miss an Ariza – someone long and athletic to put on the big guys. Battier doesn’t have the size to guard the Melos/LeBrons/Durants of this world, unfortunately (I remember watching him getting posted up by LeBron a few times – it was brutal). Didn’t look like Bud has quite got his defence figured out yet…

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