Coach's Corner

My girlfriend stands on the edge of the court at the United Center in Chicago, a green press pass dangling from her jeans. As the house lights go down, just before the player introductions, I try, unsuccessfully, to get her off the court. She ignores me. She's not moving. We're about to have these credentials pulled, and an embarrassing ejection from the building will shortly follow. The path to centercourt was not a direct one.

My first thought was a long Christmas weekend in New York; a quaint hotel near Central Park, a gloomy, December ferry ride around the Statue of Liberty. Maybe a visit to Madison Square Garden, a sports Mecca I'd never seen. Well, forget it. Not a room on the island of Manhattan was available for the month of December.

I reload the above plan and substitute Chicago. The centerpiece of my scheme is to somehow, some way, get tickets to a Bulls game. I'd never been to the United Center, and Kelly is a Bulls fan. With 504 consecutive sell-outs (that's 12 years, sportsfans), this is much easier said than done. I ask my father, who can usually get tickets to anything, what he could do. Dream on, is the gist of his reply. My mom has a friend who has season tickets. Knowing no bounds, I beg mom to tell her friend about her son's girlfriend, who must see a Bulls game before she dies of a horrible bone marrow disease. She won't even ask.

This leaves me with only the longest of long shots. I'll ask the media relations department - stretching the truth of my request only a little - if I, as the Chronicle "sports editor" can buy a couple of tickets. With considerable rejection experience in this area, I figure odds against this last ditch effort at about 500-1. I send a letter to media relations and, not getting any response after a week, I make the perfunctory phone call. My thinking is, at least, make them tell me no.

After three or four unanswered messages, I'm ready to give it up. Then one afternoon, a fax, on Chicago Bull stationary, appears on my desk. Well, okay, I think, this is the official rejection. Instead, the fax reads, "Please call me back and tell us what name you want the tickets left under." That can't be right. I read it again. Hot damn! I call. The lady tells me to pick up our tickets at will-call.

We arrive at the United Center a good two hours before game-time. Experience has taught me to be suspicious of the will-call window. Bad things happen there... and they did... again. As Kelly shivers in the raw Chicago cold, I'm told there are no tickets. Prepared for something like this, I whip out the fax, which the snotty will-call person doesn't even look at. To get rid of me, he suggests I go down to the press gate. We trek down to gate 3A, where I retell this entire tale to the jaded old lady in charge of dispensing press credentials. "Sorry," she cackles, "You're not on the list." At this moment of total despair, the media director happens to walk by. He has no idea who I am or what I'm yammering about, but when I show him the fax he sent me, he has to admit he must have fucked up. He tells the old lady to issue us press credentials. This radical change of plan - catastrophe narrowly averted - transports Kelly from the deepest desperation into a never-never land of a fan's greatest fantasy.

Deep within the bowels of the United Center, she stands, trying her best to look the part of the professional journalist, a few feet from Michael Jordan, as the team gathers in the tunnel. When Jordan makes prolonged eye contact with her, her delicate cover almost crumbles. Thank God, I'm thinking, she left her disposable camera back at the hotel.

Since we're here under unusual circumstances (we weren't exactly working press), our presence in the tunnel puts us in a most vulnerable position. If the media director catches us away from our distant, designated seating, he might very well kick us out of the building entirely. Entering the arena floor is a risky idea, but the effort must be made. Since I've been here before, I drift off behind the backboards, thinking we'll be less obvious. "As soon as the lights go down, get off the court!" I whisper, leaving an open-mouthed girlfriend at center-court as Dennis Rodman and Tony Kukoc joke a few feet away. The lights go down, each second now making us more vulnerable to exposure. Where is she? Having your credentials yanked in front of 23,000 people would be bad form.

Halfway through the player introductions, I clamor through the $1,000 courtside seats to find Kelly. There she stands, where I left her 10 minutes ago, starry-eyed. My admonitions forgotten, she now considers herself a rightfully accredited member of the working press. Indeed, she's belligerent as I pull her from the floor.

It didn't really matter anymore that our seats were in what's euphemistically referred to as the "upper press box." Let's call our view panoramic and leave it at that. I'd impressed my girlfriend. As any guy will agree, not an easy thing to do. All my many faults are, for a few hours anyway, forgiven.

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