The NFL Combine experience has really changed over the course of the years. My first time coming here about four years ago at the RCA Dome, I was able to broadcast Sparky’s Midday Madness in a hallway along with another radio station from Texas. Back then coaches, players, scouts, and general managers would leave the field through one door that led down a hallway to a bunch of fans waiting for them to get autographs and pictures. I remember Bears HC Lovie Smith showing up that year after having been to the Super Bowl against the Colts and you would’ve thought Michael Jackson was in the building the way he was swarmed by fans and media. That same week I was joined by many people that would sit down and do the show including Packers GM Ted Thompson who sat down for 30 minutes with me.
Fast forward to these last couple of years, where over 800 media credentials were handed out and there is now a radio row at Lucas Oil Field featuring local, national, and satellite stations. The league blocks off areas where NFL personnel can go without bother from fans or media members. It’s become a league event more than an event that even the average fan can enjoy. Like many sports leagues now a day, the fan is left behind.
While everybody realizes that I’m an NBA guy, the best experience for a fan wanting to get close to their favorite coach, general manager or upcoming star in the league is the NBA Summer League. Two gyms connected by a concourse filled with concession stands and people mulling about between fans and NBA personnel. You sit in the stands for the games and you might find yourself sitting next to Denver HC George Karl or Spurs HC Gregg Popovich. Last year Karl sat in the stands and signed autographs while watching the games being played. If you want to meet one of the new draft picks, you will have that chance as well, as many of the players will sit in the stands while not playing for their team.
So while the NBA might not have the popularity of the NFL, they definitely have the best off-season fan experience. Oh did I mention that the Summer League is in Las Vegas in July NOT Indy in February? See you in Vegas!
As many people that listen to the Wendy’s Big Show know, I am a person that tends to hold grudges and not let things go all that easily. If you know me or listen to the Wendy’s Big Show fairly regularly, you also realize my dislike for Indiana head coach Tom Crean. I will say that the first day I met him while working at WISN radio, I thought he could do great things. I remember telling the host that I produced for at the time that Tom Crean was clearly the right man for the Marquette job at that point. He was similar to Bruce Pearl in that both of them had that “used car sales guy” side of them. If you can recruit, you don’t have to be a great X’s and O’s guy. You can have those assistants with you on your staff to help you along with that.
I remember the stories I would hear about Dwyane Wade when he was a freshman and just how jaw-droppingly good he was in practice every day. I’ll admit that I wasn’t really buying into what I was hearing. However, when I watched him play in the Great Alaskan Shootout during his second season (first with eligibility) I couldn’t believe my eyes. Now again, I didn’t think he would turn into an NBA superstar, but I knew he was going to be a damn good college player and the sky was the limit for Marquette. A Final Four appearance later, Dwyane Wade was headed to the NBA, and things had changed forever for Tom Crean.
With the Final Four appearance comes the pressure of keeping the team at a high level and not letting the program slip back to mediocrity. With the Final Four appearance came other schools calling wanting him to leave and go coach for them. With the Final Four appearance came the challenge of not letting his success change him.
People thought that Crean could just go find another Wade, however, even at that point fans still didn’t realize how good they had it. I think Tom Crean knew that finding another Dwyane Wade while at MU was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack, so when Indiana came calling he left for his “dream job”.
The challenge at Indiana was probably a greater challenge than what he undertook at MU when he first arrived, considering all the sanctions that IU had placed on them because of the transgressions of former head coach Kelvin Sampson. Crean hasn’t looked back since taking over and has turned Indiana back into a powerhouse program in relatively short order.
Did the Final Four change him as a person? I think you could ask a bunch of different people in Wisconsin and get a bunch of different answers. However, if you ask Dwyane Wade, Tom Crean may have changed the course of basketball history http://tinyurl.com/aj665xt
After having read that great piece by Chris Tomasson, while I may not let go of my grudge with Tom Crean, I couldn’t be happier to see the relationship he has kept with Dwyane Wade. Let’s face it, both are at much different points in their life, but for Crean to reach out like that at that moment is truly heart-warming.