It wasn’t yesterday, but I remember it like it was. In the summer of 2011, a friend invited me to the NBA Draft with a VIP Pass to the Nets pre-draft party. Typically, I watch the draft but fall asleep in the second round when all the Europeans are being picked so I was excited to actually live the event. Little did I know that I’d go through hell to get there or that I’d share an elevator ride with a Syracuse legend.
The day started like most that summer did - with a 6 a.m. train into the city for my internship. After a day of sitting at my desk pretending to do work and a lunch break sitting by myself in the park, I graciously asked my supervisor if I could leave early. I made up a good excuse and she said it was okay.
The plan was to connect a train from Philadelphia to Trenton, where my friends would join me at the Princeton Junction stop where we’d proceed take the train to the Prudential Center. That was the plan. That’s what was supposed to happen. But it didn’t.
I finally got to Trenton and found the right track for the NJ Transit, eager to hop on and get to the draft. I waited. And I waited more. Fifteen minutes later, there was an announcement, “The rails have been shut down due to operational problems.”
Fast-forward past a couple phone calls and a lot of over-reactions and my friends and I decided we would drive to Newark. I just had to meet them at Princeton Junction.
Some cops sent me to the back of the station where apparently taxis are always parked. I got in and told the driver I was in a serious rush. My friends didn’t want to hit rush hour traffic. But as the cabby continued to drive and speak in a language unbeknownst to me, I saw the fare continuing to tick upwards at a trajectory my wallet didn’t want to see. By the time my awkward 5 minute ride was almost over, the ticker read $45. “Alright, this is good. Let me get out.” I walked the half mile remaining in the trek, not wanting to waste even more money.
We drove to Newark, after getting stuck in traffic and walked into the Nets Pre-Draft party like hotshots, VIP passes around our necks. Two large gentlemen immediately caught my eye - Kerry Kittles and Derrick Coleman - both decked out in grey suits. After grabbing some food and listening to boring welcoming speeches, my posse went up to our seats. But that wasn’t the last time we’d see the men in the grey suits.
We got to our seats, but soon got bored. So we did the only natural thing - went back down to the VIP area and snuck backstage. We got caught, but that didn’t deter us. We tried again, but this time with a new philosophy - act like we belonged by having intense phone conversations and and saying “Hi” to everyone. If you look like you belong, people will buy it.
And it worked. All the drafted players walked by me with their new hats and a big grin. I was one of the first congratulatory smiles they would get after walking off the stage and into the press room. I even saw Fran Frischilla in the bathroom. But living dangerously got old and after seeing other uncredentialed kids get yelled out for sneaking backstage, we decided to go back up to our seats.
We got on the elevator and that tall man in the grey suite walks in right behind me - it was Mr. Derrick Coleman. You know him? Former No. 1 pick, three-time First-Team All Big East player, whose #44 Syracuse jersey is hanging in the rafters, retired.
“Hey guys,” he said. I stared at him, frozen. He smiled his contagious, ear-to-ear smile. I was sharing an elevator with a Syracuse legend. So you know what I said back? Nothing. I said nothing. I don’t know if I was starstruck, had an anxiety attack, was being shy or all of the above. But my mouth just couldn’t conjure up the words.
I just wanted to whisper to my friends but he was so close it would be obvious. So I just stood there, motionless, staring ahead. Coleman put his hands in his pant pockets and relaxed. The magnitude of the ride was much different for him than it was for me.
So after an hour long elevator ride, or maybe it was only fifteen seconds, Derrick Coleman floated off the elevator. Or maybe he walked. Those fifteen seconds made the whole trip worth it. It didn’t matter that I had to connect trains, or that the tracks went out of operation, or that I had to fork over $45 for a cab or that we got stuck in two hours of traffic. I shared an elevator with Derrick Coleman. And that’s pretty cool.