“My legs got really, like, shaky. It was weird … and I was in awe … and I don’t know, I’ve just never been a guy that’s been in awe.” This is how Karl Malone described the experience of meeting Bill Clinton. And that’s how I felt going into NBA All-Star weekend with a media pass.

I’ve never had many brushes with fame or stardom. The closest I’ve usually come is getting an athlete to sign an autograph for me, along with several hundred other people. I never figured I’d get any closer than that and never really thought the few celebrity encounters to be much more than “cool.”

But this weekend, I found myself surrounded by Hall of Fame caliber athletes and tons of other celebrities who were in town for the weekend. I truly was in awe. But I couldn’t show it, you know, professional objectivity and all that. I was a journalist … but was I? Would I be accepted just like the rest of the media in attendance?

Hoya Sports Editor Julie Wood and I got our first opportunity to test our status as real-world journalists on Friday: Media Availability Day. We arrived at the hotel lobby of the Grand Hyatt to see Kevin Garnett walking away on the sidewalk and Dikembe otumbo talking on his cell phone, standing head and shoulders above the crowd of fans that swarmed around him. He conversed with his agent after he ended his cell phone call. She offered to get a security guard to fend off the neck-straining onlookers. Dikembe refused. “The people will not bother me, I will just walk through them.” And so he did, greeting all around him as he went. Several small children and several not-so-small men asked him for his autograph. “Let me take care of my business first, and then I will be back for you all,” he promised in his deep, baritone voice.

He stood three steps behind us on the escalator as we descended to the conference room level. I can’t say I was nervous when we approached the security checkpoint, we did have passes after all, but I wasn’t comfortable. We were by far the youngest people there. Would they stop us and scrutinize our passes? They didn’t. The guard just patted me on the shoulder and said “Yep, I got you.” Just like he did to everyone else.

The first set of players available were the skills competitors and those in the Schick Rookie Game. We didn’t really know where to start. Here was a conference room full of NBA athletes, some of whom I have followed since their freshman years in college, and they were all waiting for people to ask them questions.

After I stood behind or next to several players and recorded their answers to other, professional reporters’ questions I finally sat down at a table with former UConn player and favored target for hecklers, Khalid El-Amin. Two other reporters from the foreign press were asking him questions as I sat and recorded. Finally, their string of questions came to an end, and I was left sitting alone at a table with Khalid El-Amin. He looked at me expectantly, and that’s when it occured to me – he wasn’t just waiting for other people’s questions, he was waiting for MY question. I reeled a little as I tried to look professional. “Are you comfortable with your decision to come out of college early?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m getting minutes. I still think that it was the best decision for me,” he answered evenly, just like he did to everyone else. I was on even footing with the likes of the best sports journalists in the world when it came to these athletes answering my questions. I’m still amazed.

We pressed on with our interviews as the older actual All-Stars came into the room as well. Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Pat Garrity, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Lamar Odom, Elton Brand and even former Georgetown coach John Thompson, who was on hand for the event, all responded to our questions just like we were the most respected journalists there.

Now we knew the athletes respected us, but what about the other journalists? Were we unwelcome? Were we getting in the way? I discovered that answer when former Hoya Allen Iverson sat down at his interview table and the media frenzy began. After several questions from other reporters, a local television reporter asked if it was special for him to be playing back in Washington, D.C.

“It means everything, I mean, I’m in my second home.”

Before I could even think about it, I followed up her question with my own.

“Any plans to come back to Georgetown this weekend?” Immediately, I felt everyone’s eyes on me as Allen contemplated the answer. Had I spoken out of turn? Were these people going to club me to death with microphones and tape recorders while strangling me with camera cables? But they didn’t. And my fears were completely put to rest when several reporters leaned their microphones closer to record his response – the response to the question of a little sophomore in college who writes for a college newspaper. The effect this had on me was strange, to say the least. It almost made me jaded, as though this whole experience was common place, but I didn’t realize it just then.

Later that night, I was sitting in the media lobby of the Washington Convention Center to cover the Fleer Jam Session when ichael Jordan walked by. My whole body locked up, and my head just followed him as he strode across the lobby with his security guard. As he passed by, I manged to say “Hey, what’s up ichael.” He turned and waved before proceeding. Once more, that tremendous feeling of awe swept over me.

Saturday night I saw Jordan again as we got off the elevator at CI Center to go to the media dining room, and I didn’t even flinch. And that’s when I knew something was wrong. The magic was gone. These All-Stars, these hall of famers, were just people.

Then Sunday night rolled around, and the athletes took the court for the main event. As I sat in press box 616 in the upper tier of CI Center the thrill came back. Possession after possession, these players boggled my mind with their athletic prowess. Carter going up for a 360 degree jam. Jason Kidd hitting a half-court shot to end the first half. Iverson changing hands in mid-air to hit a shot as he flew out of bounds. Kobe Bryant hitting three consecutive baskets to keep the game close in the waning minutes. I was amazed again. And so were the journalists all around me and below me on the court. They smiled and shook their heads – just like I did.

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