ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Before I moved into the All Ball Nerve Center earlier this year, I spent just over a decade working for SLAM magazine. This meant that every morning I woke up and took the subway down to Manhattan’s Flatiron District, then walked over to what we called the SLAM Dome — the SLAM offices, located in an office building just across the street from Madison Square Park.
When I started my daily journeys to and from the work space back in 2000, it wasn’t much of a neighborhood — there were a couple of fast food restaurants and some delis around, but it was mostly office space and empty storefronts waiting to be developed. Since then, things have come a long way. Now there are hotels, and fancy restaurants and stores. The city invested in the parks and roads, and you can now find actual crosswalks and sitting areas all over the place.
Last night I made my first return trip in a while, in order to see the fellas from TNT’s “Inside the NBA” do their season-opening show live, basically sitting in the middle of traffic. Here’s how it looked to me …
Things actually began on Monday afternoon, as Turner Sports hosted a luncheon for the assembled New York media. Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal entered the conference room and sat down exactly in the order in which they usually sit on TNT’s Atlanta set. (Ernie later said they had no idea they did that — they just grabbed seats and it happened naturally.) They guys picked right up where they left off last season, cracking jokes and making fun of each other. At one point when Shaq began a story by saying, “You know, when I retired…,” and Charles quickly interjected, “Two years too late!”
On Tuesday afternoon when I got off the N/R subway line at 28th Street, I quickly saw how big an event this things was going to be. If you can’t read it, the street sign there warns drivers that Broadway would be closed up ahead. Yeah, they shut down Broadway.
My first view of the set, which was constructed directly in the middle of a crosswalk where Broadway and Fifth Avenue crisscross at 23rd Street.
Looking west down 24th Street, several trailers were parked in a row along the side of the street. These trailers held production offices, the control room, as well as a truck where The Powers That Be were hanging out. On the left side of the street is Mario Batali‘s enormous Italian market, Eataly.
The Inside cast had their own trailer on the corner of 24th and Broadway. Here’s Charles arriving and posing for pictures with several people who happened to walking down the street when all of a sudden Charles Barkley showed up. Only in New York, kids.
This photo shows my view when Charles noticed I was taking pictures of him and I tried to quickly hide my camera and be all nonchalant about it.
I moseyed across Broadway and over on to the set, where Ernie was already in place, going over his notes for the show and talking to producer Tim Kiely in the truck. You can also notice the crowd starting to gather in the background. On the left side of the screen is the iconic Flatiron Building.
Directly across from the set was half of a basketball court, where a NBA Cares clinic was underway for kids. Might be hard to make out, but the guy in the yellow shirt is NYC basketball legend Felipe Lopez.
They also had an area set up where people could stop in and play NBA 2K14. I definitely did not hang out here for like an hour and play video games. I was working. Got it? OK.
Did I mention that it was cold? Because it was pretty cold — being outside late October in New York City and all. And this was before the sun went down.
Finally it was time for the crew to unite on set. Here’s Kenny “The Jet” Smith pushing the limits of #nbastyle by rocking the hoodie underneath the blazer. All things considered, though, probably worth it when you factor in the temperatures.
From there the show took place. Once the sun went down, here’s what the set looked like. Pretty cool, especially with traffic continuing behind them throughout the night.
My view of the proceedings …
… from my spot standing just in front of senior researcher Joe Underhill, AKA Underdog. Go Dawgs.
Some enterprising fans showed up with signs.
At one point while they were on the air, I heard someone above me screaming “SHAQ! CHARLES!” Above me? I turned and found one of those huge double-decker sightseeing buses sitting at a red light. A fan on the top deck had noticed the show happening and decided to stand up and call out. I was just waiting for the light to change and the bus to start up and the fan to get conked on the head by a traffic signal. But that didn’t happen.
After the show it’s the after-party, and it just so happened that Jay Z‘s 40/40 Club (with evening-appropriate throw pillows!) was right across the street from the set. Great place to grab a warming beverage and plop down in front of a large screen and watch the first evening of NBA action.
One night down, a couple hundred more to go …