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Ball Don't Lie interview: The NBA's ultimate fan

Ball Don't Lie

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Meet Andrew Cieszynski, a dude from Milwaukee, who is currently living the NBA fan's dream. Drew is visiting every NBA arena this season and blogging about it. Yesterday, he took some time out of his very busy schedule to answer a few questions about his tour.

Ball Don't Lie:
How did this crazy idea come about? What (or who) inspired you to put the time, money and effort into visiting every NBA arena in one season, all the while holding down a 9-5 day job?

Andrew Cieszynski: 9-5 is a stretch; it's usually longer, 8-6. I work at least 10 hours a day like everyone else, and of all of the friends I've appeared with during my tour, I make less annually then all of them. I am an assistant buyer, emphasizing the assistant because everyone who sees me doing this thinks I have all this wealth. Anyone can do what I'm doing; they just need to take some risks. The inspiration for the trip came from multiple forces:

1. It stems from my friend Dan Lins, who taught me to have fun in life. Life is more than saving money, getting married and buying a house.

2. My MLB stadium tour. I met so many great people who I have lasting friendships with and experienced so many different cultures, that I had to have more.

3. I think my 1st or 2nd post on NBAdrew.blogspot.com tells of many of the factors of why this tour would be challenging/impossible. I refuse to walk away from a challenge, take things as they are and refuse to say I'll do something and not follow up on it.

4. The NBA was falling victim to a lot of bad publicity. People were losing interest. I wanted to get people back into the sport by following my tour. It's worked. I've received dozens of emails from people stating that they are following the NBA with enthusiasm once again.

5. During my workdays, I work with over 20 women. I need an outlet from all of the talk about children, shoes and handbags.

6. My girlfriend at the time was boring the hell out of me.

7. I love basketball.

8. I wanted to see if I could take what I learned during the baseball tour and better the experience.

9. Most importantly, I'm getting older, balder, fatter and slower -- so why not shine now?

Ball Don't Lie: What's the latest status on the trip? Where are you and how many cities do you have left to go? Take us through the homestretch.

Drew: I'm currently in Milwaukee recovering from my 10-day excursion to the South where I saw 5 games in 7 nights, and spent the rest of the time having more than a few drinks on Bourbon (New Orleans) and Beale (Memphis). While many others will be enjoying St. Patrick's Day this weekend, I'll be putting together the final legs of my trip.

I've now completed 25 of 30 arenas, which blows my mind. The last five are Minneapolis (March 22), Detroit (March 29th), Atlanta (April 4th), Charlotte (April 5th) and the finale here at home in Milwaukee on April 12th. The Wolves, Pistons and Hawks have confirmed plans; I'm still struggling with Milwaukee and Charlotte.

I'm a bit nervous towards the end, because a single slip-up and there's obviously no time to "make-up" games. If I achieve all 30, I'll then pray that one of the two teams to make the NBA Finals will grant me entrance to a game.

I envisioned a big party at the final game in Milwaukee, but unfortunately I can't convince any of my friends to come celebrate with me, plus I'm having difficulty contacting the Bucks.

Ball Don't Lie: What's been the biggest challenge of your trip so far?

Drew: The biggest challenge is continuing on. If most people would see the amount of money I've spent to pull this off, they would cry. There's constantly the question of, how far is too far, and what am I sacrificing to do this?

Moreover, it is absolutely exhausting to be on the road every weekend. Because of the cost implications, I often arrive late at night and take a "red-eye" home. For example, I left Los Angeles at about 11 pm after a Lakers game on a Sunday night, got back to Milwaukee at 5 am and was at work by 7 am. Just last week, I left Dallas at 4 am to ensure being in New Orleans to pick up a friend at noon.

Lastly, the persistence -- constantly following up with teams after they ignore you time after time. There are times that you are clearly annoying them and they could care less about your "tour," but you keep pushing them just so you can make another great post for your readers.

Ball Don't Lie: What would you change if you did it again?

Drew: Well, considering I've toiled in all of these major cities without a major setback (getting robbed, illness, car accident, etc.), I probably wouldn't change much. But I've learned so much that I wish I could go back and apply it all before the season began. My experience would be 10 times what it has been already.

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Ball Don't Lie: Let's play the 'best' game. What city/arena has had the: Best fans? Best food? Best music? Best in-game entertainment? Best dancers? Best mascot? Best scoreboard? Best concourse? Best overall experience?

Drew: Best fans: Granted, I only get a single game experience and the fans are often relying on the happenings of that particular game ... but I really liked the Rockets. They have a cheering section closest to the bench with drums and chants that get everyone in the arena going. It really gives the game a "high school basketball" atmosphere. Portland and Toronto were my other favorites.

Best music: Either San Antonio or Dallas. I can promise that the song you'll hear the most throughout the NBA is "Stronger" by Kanye West.

Best food: This one is too tough to call. Many of the teams treated me to dinner, so I didn't get to try all of the fare. The south in general (Memphis, Texas, New Orleans) had the best food.

Best in-game entertainment: Bulls. Benny keeps it going all game long and they give out promotional cards (from which you win free stuff) that keep you paying attention to every promotion going on.

Best dancers: Lakers. "JB" from the Lakers wouldn't allow me to say otherwise and they back it up. I'd give Dallas credit too as they are a big part of the player introductions.

Best mascot: Another tough one ... um, the Suns' 'Gorilla,' 'Rocky' from Denver, 'Raptor' in Toronto, and ‘Benny the Bull' were all entertaining. I am, however, going to give it to 'Hip-Hop' from the 76ers. His intensity is unmatched and he made a helpful contribution to my tour.

Best scoreboard: Many of the teams are making it a level-playing field with multiple updates. Here, I'd have to go with Portland and Washington as both add a little touch to their scoreboard to let you know what part of the country you're in.

Best Concourse: Not even a competition ... Indianapolis. You could spend hours walking through the concourse taking in Indiana's basketball history.

Best overall experience: When I completed my baseball tour, I told everyone that baseball differs from basketball in that each park is different with differing dimensions, etc. All basketballs arenas are seemingly the same.

Well, after 25 arenas, I can say that it is far from the truth. Each arena has its own culture, its own experience. In its own way, each arena has been a great experience.

My favorite experiences to date came last week in Dallas and San Antonio. Both had playoff atmosphere basketball, All-Star caliber players, beautiful arenas and a staff that understands how to make the game an experience. For the time being, I would recommend seeing a game at either of these places regardless of the opponent.

Portland, Toronto, and Washington also offer some great experiences that can be shown more in depth on my site.

With that said, if you want the best arena on its own, there really is no competition: the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Ball Don't Lie: What's been the best basketball game so far? Any buzzer beaters or overtime games?

Drew: I've seen some marquee match-ups: Lakers at Celtics, Lakers at Knicks (Sunday afternoon at MSG, two days before Christmas), Lakers at Heat (Shawn Marion's debut), Celtics at Suns (Shaq's first week), Rockets at Mavs (for 18 straight), and coming up the Cavs at Pistons.

But two games stand out. First, a double-overtime win for the Raptors where a 4-point play forced overtime and a 25-foot 3-pointer forced the second. It was tough to enjoy this game because I knew I had a 12-hour drive home ahead of me.

So my most memorable game was the Knicks at Kings. It was back and forth all game. The Kings' big men Brad Miller and Mikki Moore both fouled out and Ron Artest was guarding Eddy Curry down the stretch. With just a few seconds to play Artest was trapped in the corner by two defenders, somehow kept his composure and found John Salmons for the "And 1" which proved to be the difference maker. The Kings won the game in overtime.

Ball Don't Lie: What teams have been the most fun to watch?

Drew: Warriors, Lakers and Nuggets. Most fun players to watch: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Brandon Roy. Most surprisingly fun to watch: Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace.

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Ball Don't Lie: You seem to have a knack for scoring courtside tickets and free swag. How difficult was it to get in touch with the right people, and what's been the overall response to your endeavor? What franchises have been the most and least hospitable?

Drew: This is the best/most important question I've been asked to date. While I'm having a lot of fun, it's a daunting task to get in touch with some of these teams. It's almost annoying and not worth it sometimes. I've had to send the likes of 100 emails to some teams and follow up with dozens of phone calls just to get things confirmed.

Some teams have been class acts: the Jazz started me off, but the Supersonics (please don't move this team!) made me believe in what I was doing. My inquiries were not only met with immediate response by the Mavericks, Kings, Wizards, 76ers, Grizzlies, Hornets and Pacers, but these teams went out of their way to ensure I had a great time. The Spurs also have a phenomenal front office, but they were tough to get in touch with.

As for the worst, I can't really criticize any of the teams that helped me even if they showed no enthusiasm for it.

The Celtics, however, did more than not help me; they left me in a tough spot. After several emails back and forth, they cut off communication, a mere week before the game, forcing me to purchase nosebleed seats for well over $100 apiece. Funny thing was that Arnold Schwarzenegger was in town and got courtside seats. I'm sure he's short on money and passionate about basketball? Another example of how the average fan often gets left behind.

Ball Don't Lie: Before you kicked off the tour in November, you wrote a post with 10 goals to try and accomplish. How many of them have you crossed off your list? Did you make it down to the All-Star Weekend in New Orleans? Have you appeared on national television yet?

Drew: I've been so busy that I've nearly forgotten about all of my goals with the exception of "The Big Three." I wanted to achieve just one of them. They were:

1. To appear on national television. While you could see me sitting courtside on TNT for the Mavs-Rockets game, I don't know that it's sufficient. I'd love an interview on ESPN, the Today Show, or anything that reaches the masses.

2. To attend either the All-Star game (failed) or an NBA Finals game (not looking likely).

3. To have the NBA acknowledge my passion as a fan. It seems that every game you go to, it's all about the celebrities and the corporations. I've spent my savings, I've put my career at risk, and I've gotten a lot of non-basketball fans to follow the sport. I wish they would say "thank you." Several of the teams I've worked with have forwarded my information to the league office; yet I haven't heard a peep out of them.

I feel that I've pretty handily achieved all of my other objectives. If anyone can in any way help me achieve any one of these three, they would be the hero of the NBA Tour.

Ball Don't Lie: What do you hope to accomplish over these final five weeks?

Drew: I wish I could say that I'll simply be enjoying the basketball games, but the truth is I'll be continually planning, following up with teams and trying to achieve one of the aforementioned goals. Over the last five weeks, I'll continue to work on my blog and continue the persistent planning.

When it's over, I'll probably shed a tear and settle back into a more "normal" life here in Milwaukee. I've promised someone close to me that the jet-setting will stop after the 29th arena (Lakers and Clippers share the Staples Center), but you have to think that the itch will come back and you'll be hearing of the NFL tour, the brewery tour, the state capital tour, or something clever like that.

What's funny is that my high school and college have all of these retired numbers of guys who did well in basketball (I came off the bench). But really, how many of them have made a 3-point shot at the United Center? Had their own luxury suite in Seattle? Had the San Antonio Spurs front office try and impress them? Appear on the Laker's pre-game show? Been interviewed in front of thousands of Mavericks fans and given a thunderous ovation? Been on the court for the Phoenix Suns player introductions? Hung out in the Washington Wizards locker room? Appeared on the Cleveland Cavaliers website? It's these items that make it all worthwhile.

Lastly, I'd like to thank all of my blog readers who check back often and sites like this one who try and bring some attention to my tour in hopes that I can achieve the goals I'm going after.

[Photos: The NBA Season of Drew]

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