PokerStars VIP Club members hit the NBA
PokerStars VIP Club members Chris "Skoal" Falconer and osmosis21 recently used their FPP points to buy a dream NBA vacations. They had such a good time, they have given us some pictures trip reports to show you what it's like to roll with the NBA. Below you'll find Skoal's photos and a trip report from osmosis 21. If you'd like to see what you can do with your PokerStars FPP points, be sure to visit the PokerStars VIP Club and FPP Store.
Trip report from osmosis21
The story begins with an unexpected release in the PokerStars FPP store:
We have added a one game road game package to the VIP Store for 30,000 FPPs. The item is for two people and the VIP player that makes the purchase must attend. If you want to purchase this item you must email the VIPclub@pokerstars.com. Plane leaves Feb 27th.
On Sunday night when I was talking to my buddy (who is a travel agent, but more on that later) it was snowing a bit and we were supposed to get three centimeters of snow. We decided to make sure we got to the airport early in case traffic was slow due to the snow. I left my place at 5:00 am (after an hour of sleep) and the roads were pretty cleared since it stopped snowing around 1:00 in the morning. I was very excited about the trip and I go to bed late anyways. Usually its easier for me to just stay awake and go directly to the airport, but I napped a bit because I knew that it would be an action packed day.
Once I was in my car the thing I was most excited for was that we would have a chance to grab McDonalds breakfast. I love egg mcmuffins and their hotcakes and sausage, but I am rarely up in time to grab breakfast there or anywhere else, because I normally sleep in to noon. Breakfast is a huge treat for me. So I am just on cloud nine.
I pick up my buddy Daniel and he tells me our flight is cancelled. I think he is messing with me, and it takes me about 10 minutes to comprehend that he serious (Im a little tired). I go upstairs and he shows me online that the flight was cancelled. Ive never had a flight cancelled on the same day, and Im in disbelief that they wouldnt even call us to let us know. Panic starts to set in, but looking at the roads its hard to imagine that our flight was cancelled due to weather. He says it is somewhat common, so we rush to the airport to see what we can do.
We get to the airport and a guy directs us to phones to call Air Canada reservations so they can help us. There is a long line up and everyone is pissed off, as a lot of Air Canada flights were cancelled. I look on the board and I can see that other airlines are flying. Since the reservation line can take forever just to speak to someone, we instead go to the ticketing booth. There were two older women there, and I joked to Daniel that neither of them look to be basketball fans. The woman we dealt with was just rude and bitchy to us. She said she could put us on the flight tomorrow, but she couldnt comprehend that was not acceptable, as there was no point in us taking the next days flight. She said we could go on standbye for a flight that same day. We asked about other carriers, but she wouldnt even look to see what was available. She just said we could go talk to the other carriers.
At this point I almost broke down and cried like Vince Carter when he gets fouled going to the basket Luckily it was Daniel with me and he knew which airlines flew to Dallas. We knew we could probably get a connecting flight threw Chicago, but looking at a newspaper neither of us wanted to take the chance due to the snowstorm happening there. We went to the American ticketing booth and as we get in line I see that a direct flight to Dallas is taking off (we dont have time to get on that flight, but Im pissed off that Canada's biggest airline doesnt have enough de-icers but other airlines can fly no problem.
Anyways the guy was a basketball fan and was extremely helpful. There was a lot of room on the flight, but we would have to pay the fair difference of 600 bucks each (which I was more than happy to do). Anyways he helped us get on that flight and showed us a way to get Air Canada to endorse the ticket. It helped that Daniel was a travel agent, as he had his office do some things to our ticket. Anyways after a two hour wait and a lot of stress, we got booked on that flight and Air Canada payed the difference.
Now we just had a 5 hour wait at the airport. Originally we were supposed to fly out of terminal one which is new and is a much better place to wait, but we now flew out of terminal three which has very little in terms of bars or restaurants. We ended up sleeping and eating and drinking a bit. Although we had a flight booked we were both very nervous as it was snowing quite hard all afternoon. Our flight takes off and we are both extremely happy.
The flight landed an hour before the hawks game in Dallas. Our contact at the Mavs was kind enough to give us tickets for that game, even though it wasnt included in the package. We meet up with him and he takes our bags inside the arena for us (had to go through metal detecters as a security measure there, which we dont have in Canada). Everything worked out well, and we get to our seats 5 minutes before tip off. He gave us tickets in the corner about 20 rows up. The arena is really nice. Its only a couple of years old. The arena is fairly narrow and quite elevated so the upper bowl, looks like it really sits on top of the floor. As a result it is fairly loud in the arena and every seat looks like it has a good view of the court. There are great concession stands with great food, and there was a lot of promotions throughout the game. They even have Mark Cuban talked to the crowd and the excitement level was much higher then at a Raptors game. We were sitting next to Chris *and his son harrison who was the other guy that pokerstars sent. A really nice guy from Cleveland.
The game itself was a blowout, as Dallas won easily. But the fans were loud and we had a great time. I get pleasure of the simple things in life and loved the fact that we could by bottles of beer and take them to our seats. They were plastic, but I hate the big cups at the raptors game, so having a bottle made the game that more enjoyable......
After the game we met up with Ryan (our contact from the Mavs) and he gave us our stuff back as well as these really cool Mavs bags that had a bunch of shirts and hats in it. One was just a tshirt, but an awesome sweatshirt, and a Mavs warmup jersy, which I really like.
Chris rented a car and he offered to drive us ot the other airport for our flight.
So we arrive at the private terminal at Dallas Love field airport. Its one small lounge with nice leather couches and valet parking. We wait for the team to arrive. We meet Tiffany the PR person from the Mavs and our chaperone. There are ten of us on this trip. The Mavs are the only team in the NBA that offer this trip to season ticket holders and they run on every road trip so the team is used to having guests. We later find out that the costs vary based on the length, but our trip would cost about $3200 per person. Not a bad deal for less than $500 bucks in FPPs.
She outlines her role (shes been with the team for 8 years) and basically she deals with all the non basketball issues that the team deals with. On off days she often spends most of her time running errands with the players. She seems pretty young, but is extremely friendly.
We go through security and they go through every bag that I have....and we board the plane. The plane looks fairly new and is really nice, with the Mavs logo on the wing.
The front of the plane is for the players and have these massive seats with tons of leg room. The middle part of the plane is for the coaches and with large seats too. We sit at the back of the plane in what is still first class, sitting in leather seats that is like my lazy boy back home. There are about 30 of us at the back of the plane.
They didnt have any hard liquor on the plane (we still find that hard to believe) so we just drank beer on our way to Minnesota. Each row of seats had a drop down monitor and they had a movie, and a tv show on, or we could watch what the coaches were watching. They basically replay the game and rewind most plays five times over. They are looking for mistakes that were made as well as adjustments from their team and the other team. Although the Mavs won the game very easily, the way the coaches dissected the game, it was very easy to see the missed assignements by players, and figure out who didnt rotate in time. When someone made a mistake the game would be paused for a few minutes and you just knew the coaches would be discussing the play and the players would get yelled in practice.
Tiffany was very open about telling us stories about the team and answering all our questions. She did tell us that Avery Johnson is very tough on the team and that expectations are very high. The Mavs have the best record but if they dont win the title the season will be a big let down. The team is very business like and Dirk spends most of his free time shooting in the gym. He is there all day and night long refining his game. He also finds it very tough to go in public, as he doesnt really blend in, so on the road he spends most of the time in his room. Tiffany also told us that she loves her job, because the guys are great. They all get along and are really nice. She described them all as real ppl, but just taller.
We get into Minnesota after a few hours and there are two buses. The team gets on one bus and we get on the other and go to the hotel. The hotel is in downtown about seven blocks from the Target Center. It wasnt that cold (similar weather to Toronto), but every block there was a pile of snow that had been plowed that was just massive....much taller then me. The apparently get a lot of snow Toronto had that much snow a few years ago and they called in the army to assist, but I think that it is part of life in Minnesota.
The hotel is really nice. A very fancy place called the Grand Hotel. We go up to the elevator and Dirk walks out (ducking so he doesnt hit his head). We ride up the top floor to our rooms, with the massage therapist (the call him fingers). He is a really funny guy and seems like he is the father figure of the bunch. Everybody from the team is extremely nice, but he is a really outgoing guy. On the ride up he tells us about who needs a massage to work out the kinks after a game, especially on the back to back games. We get to our rooms when we realize they gave Daniel and I our own seperate rooms. We think that is pretty funny, especially when I open the door into the largest, nicest hotel room Ive ever been in. They have absolutely everything in the room, and the bathroom, is the size of my living room. A clock radio stereo system that you can plug your ipod into provides music as I fall asleep on the softest most comfortable pillow I've ever slept on.
So the next morning we get up and go grab a bite to eat. We both think that the downtown core is pretty dead. Toronto has a lot of residential mixed in with business so there are always ppl around, but the streets of Minnesota were very quiet. We see a couple of places to go eat, but its just the window and there are no doors to get in. We cant figure it out, but decide to go back to Brugger Bros that we saw earlier. On the door it says to use the mall entrance, so we see the entrance a few doors over and grab a bit to eat. We ask the guy if the mall is fairly big, because we have 6 hours to kill. He isnt sure and asks someone else and they say yeah there are a few stores. So we start to walk around the mall. At this point we realize that Minnesota is a huge underground city. Every building has a glass tunnel that connects to the next building that is on the second floor (We saw a few of these walking around but didnt put two and two together).
Basically you can walk almost anywhere in the city without going outside, which is pretty cool. They definitley had the insight, and there are tons of ppl walking around, mostly from the office towers going for a bite to eat. We walk around for a while and are really hot with our jackets (they do a great job of heating the buildings), so we dump our jackets off at the hotel. While there we decide to explore the hotel a bit. They have an awesome full court basketball court (nobody was playing) and a huge gym that was extremely busy, but has more and newer equipment then our local YMCA. We go back and explore the city some more until its time for us to go to the game.
We get on the team bus and wait. Tiffany puts us in seats halfway back, and slowly team members get on. They all say hi....and are all really tall. Most of them duck to go through entrance ways. Anyways they all seem pretty relaxed before the game and are joking around. I got the same vibe as when Im changing in the lockerroom getting ready to play bball with my friends. A few of them at the back are talking about poker, but I cant really hear what they are saying, although my ears are perked up.
On to the poker side.....As we left the plane last night we saw some chips and cards, and asked Tiffany about it. She told us that the coaches do play for fun, but the players sometimes play with each other and its for big cash (according to her). The players dont always play, but will on long trips or if they are not exhausted. I guess it all depends on when they flights leave and if they have a game the next day. Our flight left at 11:30 and got in around 2 and since they had a game the next day they wanted to get some rest. Tiffany told us they sometimes play holdem, but they play a couple of other games that she didnt know the name of (I think its a funky game that can be found in home games, but never did find out). She said that a player can lose thousands in a night and there are usually stacks of hundreds on the table. We told her that if they play both Chris and I would love to play. She seemed to think that it was beyond our bankroll, but we both assured her we were very comfortable playing whatever limits they did (and both of us knew we would be the favourites in the game)....after all its poker...not like Im playing them in bball.
We also tried to get her to tell them we would be happy to coach them in poker, and she thought they might be interested as they are all very competitive ppl. Unfortunately the trip was so quick and they had back to back games it never really happened....I think if we were on a longer road trip it would have been possible.
Basically the plane ride and the bus trips are a chance for them to relax and mentally prepare in their own way. Its also the only time there are no outsiders around (except for Mavs empoyeess and guest)...Even in the locker room there is media around. The players just seemed very business like but still were joking around as any group of friends do.
We left for the arena with everyone except the coaches, Dirk, Stackhouse and Jason Terry. Tiffany explained that the veterans arrive a bit later and don't warm up as long as the younger players. There is definitely a hirearchy on the team and the younger guys and non starters really spend time practicing during shoot around.
We arrive at the arena 2.5 hours before tip off and go through the players entrance. The players go off to change and we go into the arena and sit in the first row of the floors on the baseline to watch them during their shootaround. (our tickets for the game were in the 6th row, but we sat in the front as the general public wouldnt be allowed in the arena for another hour and a half). We were given passes that would allow us anywhere, but the security staff at the arena was weird. Even though Tiffany goes there twice a year with guests, she had to explain multiple times who she was and who we were, and ppl are usually not allowed in the areas we went to. The staff must have been new, but Tiffany told us that every arena is different, but most are extrememly accomodating and nice, and for whatever reason, they were giving us a hard time, but she never has had a problem before in Minnesota.
So we walked around the arena before tip off, and they really do need a new arena. The concession stands are very bare and they have very little promotion going on. Especially compared to Toronto and Dallas. For those of you that have been it reminded me of the old exhibition stadium. Even during the game the promotions were pretty lame. Their mascot threw shirts into the stands, and Harrison caught one, but it wasnt even a Timberwolves shirt, it was a tshirt for a building company ,
The dance pack just danced to one song and for the rest of the same stood by the entrance to the floors (right next to us) and shaked their pompoms. I now understand why the Timberwolves havent traded Kevin Garnett to rebuild their team. In order for them to really improve they need to trade him while he still has such high value. By blowing up the team and starting over they have an opportunity to get good in a couple of years. As it stands they will never be able to surround him with good enough players to win a title (unless they get lucky in with the number one draft pick this year). Even though for the teams succes they need to start over they really cant because there isnt enough of a draw for ppl to just check out a mavs game. For example my gf enjoys raptor games, because there is a lot to see and a lot of entertainment besides the basketball. Minnesota can't afford to go through a rebuilding process because there attendance will drop if the team is lousy for a season or two. As it is there team didnt have any energy and got blown out, but I really think they will shoot themselves in the foot if they hang on to Garnett and he ends up leaving past his prime.
After the game we walk back to the team entrance to get on the bus. The FAA actually has ppl down there and we cleared security so we didnt have to do it at the airport. I thought it was pretty neat, but didnt understand the logic, since our carry on bags were on the bus already and those would never be checked. THey thouroughly searched my body but if I brought something on the plane, I could get it on easily in my carry on luggage.
Most of the players get on our bus, and as soon as Stackhouse got on the bus wearing a pimpin brown fur jacket and a pimpin hat we left for the airport. We got on the plane and walked past the players (last time they got on last)....they were all smiles and said hi as we congratulated them on the win.....I saw popeye Jones who is an assistant coach and told him he was great when he was with the raptors....He still looks really young and I think he could still play in the NBA if he wanted to. He warmed up with the players passing the ball etc and he moved quite well.
We take a two hour plane ride back to Dallas and all the cars are pulled up by the plane. The playes say bye to us and off they went.
They are going to send me an autographed basketball from the entire team. They do this so that guests dont bug the players for autographs during the trip. Also tiffany said she will get us each an item from one player, so Im thinking about this...I dont know what I want....Im thinking either buy a Dirk rookie card and get him to sign it, or get him to sign a Jersey.....any suggestions?
Overall we had a great time....Avery Johnson really is strict about distractions so its not like the trip was interact with the Mavs...it was more about seeing how the mavs travel....I still had a great time. I was really impressed on how foccused everyone was on winning a title. The whole organization works towards that goal, and I got the feeling that it was a pretty tight nit family. Everyone was super friendly...even the producers of the games, invited us to check out the trucks at a Mavs game and see what goes into producing the broadcasts (they all assumed we were from Dallas as every guest this season has been)...they all thought it was great that a poker site sent us on it......
I really would have loved to seen a closed door practice or hear them talk about strategy, but I can appreciate that they are all business and dont want any distractions as their quest to win surpases everything. Even on the bus and plane after the game they all acted like they expected to blow out the Timberwolves, and I think that they would have been dissapointed if the game was even close. I had a great time and would do it again in heartbeat, although I would prefer to do a longer trip....who knows I might even use the concierge service to do a longer trip down the road