While in LA, JJ and I spent a few nights on the town (with the approval of his agents and my bosses, of course). One night we went to an exclusive nightclub in Hollywood. We stood in a long line like ordinary people; me, who wasn’t famous, and JJ, who looked like the typical college fraternity boy. After waiting in a hopeless queue, I decided to talk to the bouncer to see if I could somehow get us in; I told him I was with JJ Redick. Within moments, we were whisked into the club and seated at a table next to reality TV star Kristin Cavallari and former boxer and heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
Spending time with JJ was great fun.
After about a month of establishing a regular daily routine with the players, Agent Thad Foucher let Coach Joerger and me know that he had a client named Joel Freeland from England who would be joining our practices. Thad decided that Joel would put his name in that year’s draft. We had to prepare him for a demonstration training that we would organize the following week – all the NBA teams would be present.
All the players we worked with so far were known. Joel was from England and was playing for a small team in Spain. So he was virtually unknown to people in the NBA. However, at 6ft 10in, Joel was athletic and gifted for a player his size. After working with him, Coach Joerger and I agreed he was a worthy prospect. Thad already knew that, of course; he would not have signed it otherwise. We thought Joel might make a splash in the showcase workout, and he did.
After practice in front of the entire NBA, Thad called me into his office and explained that Joel’s draft stock had suddenly burst and he had more teams wanting to bring him to practice than there were only days left before the repechage. Therefore, he had to be aggressive in organizing his schedule. It was Joel’s first time in the United States, so Thad asked me to accompany him as he traveled across the country to visit different NBA teams. I was basically Joel’s manager from then until draft night. I vividly remember walking out of Thad’s office to call my dad to tell him the good news. I was so excited to have this opportunity.
Before I knew it, Joel and I were off to Portland, Oregon for his first team practice with the Trail Blazers. Joel and I shared a hotel room and the team gave him a per diem to cover his dinner. We ate at the hotel that night and had breakfast there the next day. While Joel was at the Blazers practice facility for his practice, I stayed at the hotel to kill time because the team wouldn’t let me attend. After his practice, we returned to Los Angeles for a day so Joel could practice for the Lakers. Overall the trip to Portland was uneventful for me. However, our journey had only just begun. Our next stop was Phoenix, Arizona.
When we landed in Phoenix, we were greeted by a car service: a gentleman in a black suit and tie with a fancy black car. He took us to the hotel, where Joel and I had our own rooms at the Ritz Carlton. I felt like I was high time. Checking into our hotel rooms, then-Suns director of player personnel (and current executive vice president of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans), David Griffin, called to invite Joel and I to dinner at a steakhouse within walking distance. of the hotel. He also asked me to attend practice the next day. I have to say I really appreciate the first class treatment David and the Suns gave me, considering I was just a young guy trying to find his place in the company. “Griff” is definitely a class act.
After a great trip to Phoenix, Joel and I continued our eventful journey, stopping in Houston, Dallas and Memphis. Apart from the Suns, no other team allowed me to attend practices. Although it might have been a bit overzealous, that didn’t stop me from trying.
While we were in Memphis, I casually walked into the gym with Joel and quietly sat down, hoping no one would notice me too much where I might watch the workout. Shortly after I sat down, Ryan West, a Grizzlies scout and the son of general manager and Hall of Famer Jerry West, told me he wasn’t sure I’d be able to stay for practice, but that he would check.
Ryan and I were friends, and his dad and my Uncle Pete had a close relationship, so I thought maybe I’d get the Griff/Suns treatment. Next thing I knew Jerry was coming my way. My heart started racing; it didn’t matter to me whether I watched practice or not, but the fact that “The Logo” was about to talk to me – that was a big deal!
Approaching me, he held out his hand and introduced himself; a really classy man with such an amazing presence. I’m not even entirely sure what I did or said. I don’t even know if I answered at all at first. Ironically, I choked on meeting “Mr. Clutch”. Anyway, the rest of our brief conversation went something like this:
Jerry West: Matt, do you want to watch practice?
Me: Yes, I’d love to, but it’s not that bad if it’s a problem.
Jerry West: Do you talk to your father? (My dad worked for another NBA team.)
Me: Well, of course, but…
(And before I can finish…)
Jerry West: It’s nice to meet you, but we’ll have to ask you to wait for Joel in the locker room.
And that was my experience with Jerry West.