I knew it was going to be an interesting trip to Los Angeles when I met actor Colin Farrell at LAX baggage claim upon arrival. Minutes later, I bumped my shoulder into Olympic legend Michael Phelps’ tightly toned torso while wildly retrieving my luggage from the baggage carousel.
Here is the actual transcript of our meeting:
“Whoa. Hi Michael, excuse me. That bag kinda got away from me there for a second.”
“No problem, how are you?”
“I am good, nice to see you.”
Turning my attention, and body, towards the exit, I again saw Farrell, this time attempting to lay low in the shadows as people began to recognize him as “that one guy from ‘SWAT.’”
Suddenly, five punky paparazzo exploded off the elevator and surged towards the helpless Farrell, who was now pacing back and forth, alone, waiting for his luggage, while having a conversation on his cell phone that was going nowhere. He was adamant about needing a ride immediately, but his urgency was neither acknowledged nor reciprocated.
A pair of 50-something (but don’t tell them that) Latinas spotted him, exclaiming with glee to everyone within earshot that Farrell was, in fact, “right by them.”
The ladies bum rushed him and made their jerky husband take several pictures while they posed, Farrell maintaining a state of disinterest throughout the experience. 30 people stood around and watched, mouths agape.
Metaphorically, Farrell was naked in front of his high school assembly, with no publicist or agent in sight to deflect or protect, and the verbal potshots began to pile up.
“I thought he’d be taller.”
“He looks tired.”
“I’d go up to him and say ‘Hi,’ but I read he was mean.”
There was a scuffle between the paparazzi and airport security which was neatly punctuated with some harsh language, and it allowed Farrell to wiggle out of the corner he was in and move to the other side of the baggage claim room. Fortuitously, my last bag emerged directly in front of Farrell’s new defensive position, so I thought I’d offer my services.
“Hey Colin, I can see you’re in a spot here. Do you need a ride? I’ve got a car service waiting and I’m heading downtown.”
Both things were true, as my driver was waiting outside the baggage area and our next stop was the beautiful Four Seasons hotel off Doheny Drive in Beverly Hills.
He removed the phone from his ear and said, “Cheers man, I really appreciate it. I finally got a hold of my driver and he should be here any minute.”
“These people are insane,” I said.
He laughed and agreed. “Yeah, it’s a little wild, but it’s all part of the deal. Thanks for the offer, cheers. Have a good time in LA.”
I went to Los Angeles to cover the 20th ESPY Awards, courtesy of Clear Men Scalp Therapy. Clear Men stops dandruff at the source for 100% flake-free hair. Unlike other dandruff shampoos, Clear Men is great smelling and good for daily use.
Is there anything more “LA” than meeting Colin Farrell and Michael Phelps at the airport? How about sitting at a table in the Four Seasons hotel bar an hour later, directly next to Disney boytoy Zac Efron?
I think I did a good job of hiding my enthusiasm, because it would be pretty weird for a 33-year-old man to get star struck by the impossibly handsome Efron.
It could be that my excitement was dulled rather than contained, as an attractive woman at the bar asked me just prior to seeing Efron if I was the son of Hollywood icon Ed Harris because, evidently, I “look exactly like him.”
But I didn’t let that stop me, as an hour later, a used sugar packet from Efron’s place setting at the table was coincidentally up for sale on eBay with the caption, “What’s sweeter than Zac Efron’s performance in “High School Musical”? This sugar packet he just used.”
Speaking of the Four Seasons, check out the view from my balcony:
After enjoying my time at the Four Seasons, then heading to Laurel Hardware for dinner, a restaurant off Santa Monica Boulevard, it was time for the BODY at ESPYs Party.
Held at LURE Nightclub in Hollywood, the first thing I saw when entering the red carpet entrance into the club was 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s naked cover shot for the Body Issue of ESPN The Magazine superimposed on the outside of the building.
Kaepernick was one of the first athletes I encountered at the party, and he was easily the most popular person there, completely surrounded at all times.
The first celebrity I met was none other than Dennis Haskins, aka Mr. Belding from popular 90s TV show “Saved by the Bell.” We talked for several minutes about what he was up to and when he found out I was from Omaha, Nebraska, he talked about how much he enjoyed golfing “out there.”
The party was sponsored by Hennessy V.S. and free drinks were being served by incredibly hot waitresses who looked like carbon copies of the models from Robert Palmer’s music video for the 80s hit “Addicted To Love.” Haskins and I bemused the similarities and then took turns lusting over a nearby waitress.
About this time, I noticed NBA stars DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall leaning against a table nearby. Cousins is an absolutely huge human being, and Wall is no slouch either. Opposite them was NFL legend Kellen Winslow Sr., and about five feet to the left of him was Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones.
The dynamic of this party was really interesting. About 40% of the people in attendance were agents or lawyers, 30% were media/marketing people, 20% were athletes and 10% were chicks trying to land a pro baller for the evening, or longer based on if the encounter took.
The setting was extremely intimate — so intimate you could walk up and have a conversation with anyone you wanted. I set my sights on Vikings all-pro running back Adrian Peterson.
My colleague Paul Kaplan, senior video producer for Bleacher Report, knew AP and introduced us. The next 15 minutes were fantastic.
Upon meeting AP, I had to get a taste of his world-renown grip. I stuck out my hand and introduced myself.
“AP, I’m Paul and I have got to feel that famous handshake.”
“All Day” obliged, grabbed my hand, and stepped in so close his face was about two inches from mine. To say it was intense would be an apt description.
“How’s that Paul?”
“Pretty good AP,” I said. “But definitely not the strongest grip I’ve ever felt.”
We started talking about the phenomenal season he just completed, his rehab and how he was feeling heading into this season. After a few minutes of that I said, “Alright AP, give me the real one this time,” and I stuck out my hand again. He grabbed it, made the meanest face ever and squeezed my hand about 10% harder.
“Ah, now we’re getting somewhere!”
I was barely able to wiggle my hand out of his.
We talked for another couple minutes and I told him what an inspiration he was and about how he essentially redefined what we expect from athletes in terms of recovery from injury and ensuing performance.
As we were talking, former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy walked up and joined our conversation.
“This is the guy, right here,” AP said, as he introduced me to Lacy. “Green Bay has finally got the back they’ve been looking for.”
Lacy was a cool character, totally low-key and relaxed. I asked him what his expectations were for the upcoming season, his first in the NFL.
“Just to stay healthy, man. And do everything I am asked. I’m ready to learn.”
People had started coming up to Peterson in groups to engage the NFL’s best running back, so I stuck out my hand again.
“AP, thank you so much for the time, great to meet you. But this time, I want the real AP handshake.”
He laughed, took my hand and really gave it to me this time, accompanied again by a super mean face. This was the real AP handshake and it hurt.
“OK, OK, AP! That’s my writing hand, man! Ouch!”
AP’s face went back to normal, and gradually, his lips pursed into a smile and he laughed.
“Yeah and I don’t need any lawsuits, man.”
We both chuckled and went our separate ways.
Immediately, I turned around, and standing right behind me was Chance Warmack, offensive guard and 10th overall pick of the Tennessee Titans. Paul Kaplan had recently interviewed Warmack and was nice enough to introduce me.
Warmack was such a cool guy. He was totally unimpressed by everything around him, dressed super casually, not fazed by anything at all. He spoke in a casual, relaxed tone and looked you in the face when he spoke. I told him how much I wished the Bears would’ve traded up to grab him and he laughed. The Titans got a hell of a football player.
My sitdown interview with Tony Gonzalez was just a few hours away thanks to the 5 AM start time, so I went to grab a seat in the lounge area and just chill for a second.
After being there for a minute or two, a very attractive woman came over and asked if the seats next to me were taken. I said, “I’ve been saving them for you, go right ahead.”
She giggled, sat down and introduced me to her friend “Bob” and said, “He’s kind of a big deal.” I shook his hand and it was none other than ESPN personality Bob Valvano, brother of Jim Valvano.
Bob was a character. He said, “Hey Paul, you want to play a game with me right now?”
“Sure Bob, what’s the game?”
“It’s called Instant Gangster. You basically look around the immediate area and decide who is the most gangster of anyone you see and then compare gangsters with the people you’re playing with.”
I played Instant Gangster with Bob and the gorgeous girl, Julie, for about five minutes; it was hilarious.
Then Bob leaned in and asked me, “Have you had one of those doughnuts yet?”
There was a little booth serving all kinds of sweets about 50 feet from where we were sitting and Bob claimed the glazed doughnuts were “like crack, but better for you.”
I tried to resist, but Bob wasn’t having it. “Wait right here, I am going to go get us some.”
Bob got up and came back five minutes later with three doughnuts; it was potentially the best doughnut I’ve ever had.
At this point, the limo service on standby outside the club was texting, asking when we would be ready to leave. Even though it felt like perhaps an hour had passed, it was almost three in the morning. I shook hands with Bob and Julie, assembled my crew, and we left the party and headed back to the Four Seasons for roughly two hours of sleep.
During my first 14 hours in LA, I had met so many cool people that I had no idea what I could do for an encore after such a hot start. I felt like Yasiel Puig.
But I knew beginning the day with an in-person interview with the greatest tight end in NFL history, Tony Gonzalez, was a hell of a good start.
Clear Men Scalp Therapy, the greatest 2-in-1 men’s shampoo on the market, set up the interview in a small, inconspicuous sound studio somewhere in downtown Los Angeles. Even the door was non-descript, and as I entered, I thought maybe my ex-wife had set this all up as part of an elaborate hoax to have me killed. (Just kidding honey, I know you would never use Tony G to hurt me.)
As soon as I opened the door, there was Tony, sitting in a chair wearing a suit that I could maybe pay off on a ten-year deferred payment plan. But the interest would certainly kill me.
Tony and I made our way into the sound studio and were both mic’d up. I had about 10 minutes to talk to Tony off the record as the equipment was getting set up. I jokingly asked if he had gotten his workout in for the day, knowing he had been up since 3 AM doing interviews, and he said, “Hell no man! But I did play some pick-up basketball with Klay Thompson yesterday.”
“Uh, what is awesome for $1,000, Alex?”
People forget that Tony could’ve probably gone pro as a basketball player, as he played for Cal in the mid-90s.
During his official visit to Cal, Jason Kidd was his escort for the weekend. Imagine those two studs strolling through Berkley together.
Immediately after my interview finished, Tony did an interview with Colin Cowherd. As I left the studio, I heard Cowherd’s voice taper off as the door closed, and it was just a cool thing to be a part of.
I got back to the Four Seasons and I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself; my energy was through the roof.
It was 7 AM and the ESPYs Red Carpet Walk didn’t start for another eight hours, so I called my mom and texted about 10 of my friends until my body gave out.
I woke up in time for lunch with my man Omar Cunningham, and then made it back to the hotel for a two hour pre-ESPY nap. In hindsight, that was great foresight.
The limo service came at 4 PM sharp, and before I knew it, I was all suited up, in a limo heading towards the Nokia Theater in downtown LA.
We pulled up to the venue, hopped out, and suddenly, we were on the red carpet — what a cool experience.
On one side, you’re surrounded by athletes and entertainers you’ve watched for years, and on the other side, you have spectators in bleachers above you, taking pictures of anything with a pulse, thinking they may capture someone “famous.”
Once the walk on the red carpet was complete, we entered the theater lobby area. I noticed a conspicuous sign that said “Absolutely NO photography inside the theater.” But it was the main point of entry for every one coming off the red carpet, so I spent the next 45 minutes taking pictures with people who inspired me, professionally and athletically.
The previous night, I didn’t take any photos in the name of journalistic credibility, but this night was different; everyone wanted to have their pictures taken.
The first person I went out of my way to meet was current ESPN and former MTV journalist Chris Connelly. He has been a person whose work I have always admired, so I hit him up for a pic and told him that briefly in the 90s, his MTV News stories practically raised me to the man I am today. He was a fun guy, totally cool.
Next was Robert Flores, the ESPN anchor with the acerbic wit. I complimented him as such and asked for a pic, he agreed, totally engaged in the moment. The woman he was with was so nice; she offered to take our picture as long as I would take a picture of them with her phone. I happily obliged.
Next was “T-Sizzle,” Terrell Suggs, who I had done work with in the past but had never met. His wife was as sweet as the woman with Robert Flores and we did the exact same thing, taking pictures on each other’s phones.
My professional wheels effectively came off when Robin Roberts walked by, literally right in front of me. Talk about grace — she is the absolute personification of it.
Then it was time to enter the theater and find our seats. To get to our seats, we had to walk in front of the stage, directly in front of the first row.
I walked past Ray Allen and complimented his orange tie.
“Thanks, man,” he said. The tie was seriously awesome. Someone had to say it.
I walked past Colin Kaepernick and got so close I had to say, “Excuse me” as I brushed his shoulder. No one could get enough Kaepernick.
Foot traffic slowed to a dead halt, and as I looked to my right, there was Joe Flacco, relaxing in his front row seat while Terrell Suggs, who was a row behind him, did some wild dance that made everyone laugh, including Flacco.
The line moved a few feet up, and suddenly, Miami Heat stud Dwyane Wade was between me and my seat.
“How’s the knee, Dwyane?”
“It’s good, thanks for asking.”
Eventually, I made it to my seat, and from there, Jon Hamm performed his opening monologue and the ESPYs were underway — three hours that covered all the chills, spills and thrills of the previous year in sports.
Watching the show on TV is essentially the same experience as being in the theater, except for seeing the seat-fillers zip around during commercial breaks. It reminded me of the “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer is a seat-filler at the Tony Awards and gets swept up on stage to receive an award for a movie he had no part of.
My only chance to get up there would have been if Ed Harris won an award, being his son and all. Unfortunately, there was no category for “Greatest Jawline” or “dad” would’ve definitely raked in an ESPY.
After the show was over, it was on to the ESPY Post Party. As the throng of people with tickets headed to the Diamond Level at JW Marriot right next to the Nokia Theatre, interesting dynamics presented themselves. The Post Party was a lot less intimate than the BODY party the night before, so there was a strange mix of multi-million dollar athletes and regular people (and in some cases, even kids) who somehow scored tickets.
There were about five escalators to ascend to make it to the “Diamond Level,” and in one escalator, I found myself next to MMA analyst “Kenny “KenFlo” Florian. The next escalator, I was next to boxer “Vicious” Victor Ortiz.
Once we arrived at the top level, there was a mad dash for food and Miller 64, which was a sponsor of the event. The way the food lines were set up for the buffet style layout lent itself to chaos, as you couldn’t really tell where one line ended or where the other began.
“Hey bro, is this the end of the line?”
I turned around and Denver Broncos stud linebacker Von Miller was asking me what the deal was. After he got situated, Von and I had a lengthy discussion about Biz Markie, who was DJing the event, and what his best album was. I held firm on The Biz Never Sleeps, while Von had other ideas.
After eating some food, I was hanging out next to the Nokia phone charging station (greatest marketing idea ever) talking shop and seeing the sights with Paul Kaplan from Bleacher Report and Drew Morrison from SB Nation.
As my phone was charging, Dennis Haskins, aka Mr. Belding, approached and hooked his phone up in the terminal next to mine. He recognized me from the night before and we talked about how much more “touching” the ESPYs had proven to be compared to our expectations.
Speaking of touching, once Haskins was spotted, all the “Saved by the Bell” fans came out of the woodwork and asked for pictures, and Haskins engaged each and every person.
The biggest thrill for me at the event, and maybe even the weekend, was getting to spend time with Lakers legend Elgin Baylor. Meeting Elgin brought out my inner nerd as I had to get a picture with him.
I was also fortunate to shake hands with (none of them as strong as Adrian Peterson) and meet comedian Chris Tucker, the beautiful Cheryl Burke from “Dancing with the Stars” and NFL Hall of Famers Jim Punkett and Terrell Davis.
Throughout Biz Markie’s DJ set, he kept alluding to a “special guest” he had planned for later in the evening. After the previous two days and all the great people I had met, it would take someone really significant for me to get excited.
Then, right around midnight, when the party was starting to wind down, Snoop Dogg (aka (Snoop Lion) took over the tiny stage in the middle of the dance floor. Flanked by DPG rapper Kurupt, Snoop went hard for about an hour and a half and played every Snoop hit you would ever want to hear. It was awesome.
It got to the point where you’d walk out of the main dining area where he was performing to get a drink from the bar and you’d hear Snoop in the background like you had previously at so many parties in your life, and it felt like you were listening to a CD. But it wasn’t a CD — it was the D-O double G himself.
Each moment I spent in LA attending ESPY-related events and interviews was better than the one preceding it, stretched out over a total of three awesome days. I highly recommend checking out the ESPY Awards if you ever get the chance.
Special thanks to Zach Goldsztejn, Janna Porrevecchio and Susanna Goldfinger of Clear Men Scalp Therapy, Tony Gonzalez, the staff at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, my driver Viktor from Ukraine and all the other top-notch people I met during my adventure.
Now that I’ve seduced you via written words, read THESE, baby:
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