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Basketball joy thanks to hundreds

By Staff | Nov 29, 2012

The Maui News Photographer Matt Thayer was among 100 media members uploading photos and copy from the tournament.

LAHAINA – Lahaina… 7:30 a.m. … The day before Thanksgiving. An ESPN TV camera sits atop Lahaina Civic Center to beam pictures of paradise to nine million Mainland viewers over three days.

Jen Miller of Chicago begins a 14-hour day collecting parking fees, greeting visitors with an upbeat “Good morning. How are you?” Wednesday morning, she has already lost her voice (as she does each year). Her time in paradise lasts a week, almost all of it at Lahaina Civic Center enjoying the warm weather.

Scoutmaster Dano O’Hanlon of Sailors Realty, a long-term rental firm, is setting up a soda pop booth to raise funds alongside the head of Maui’s 1,000 Boy Scouts. Ernest, 81 years old, seller of programs over the tournament’s 29 years, hovers nearby.

All are part of a cast of many hundreds, both locals and mainlanders who bring forth the annual extravaganza of basketball, camaraderie and joy that is the Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament.

Some 100 reporters, photographers and cameramen from Maui and the Mainland focus on the 12 games, upload photos from their laptops in the media room, write long stories and pepper each coach with questions after each game.

Volunteers that make the Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament go enable 15-month-old Emily to enjoy the event.

While the voices of 20-year veteran Bill Rafferty and colleagues are fed to ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, other voices are here for hearing if you ask. These are the hardworking, fun-loving volunteers and sometimes paid personnel who make the tournament go. Here we focus on a representative few.

Bent over laptops are ace Maui News Photographer Matt Thayer and Sports Editor Robert Collias, who invariably leads post-game interviews with perceptive questions. Both put in busy days fueled by provided sandwiches and soda. Thayer, who started covering the tourney for AP when The Maui News was an afternoon paper and film was delivered to Wailuku for the next day’s edition, were too busy to say much beyond just.

Fifteen of Matt’s photos (he uploaded nearly 30) and 34 inches of Collias’ copy, along with 38 from colleague Kyle Sakamoto, start rolling off The Maui News’ color press early in the morning, reaching homes in places like Kaanapali somewhere around 5 a.m.

Some 100 journalists are served by a dozen Kemper-Lesnik Public Relations people working for EA Sports, the tournament packager. Palmer Moody attends to media needs and runs post-game press conferences. His team literally hand-feeds information to reporters generally working in silence as they input their reports.

Josh Lesnik pointed out that the tournament’s 8.9 rating brings it viewers that exceed four other preseason tournaments combined.

Via telephone to California, coaches’ remarks are recorded and distributed as handouts. Three statisticians at court-side record every shot and turnover, providing sheets full of statistics available even as the game is in progress.

Intern Semantha Valdiseri from Chicago distributes the statistics four times a half to three sets of broadcasters at court-side.

“I keep running,” she said. Young as she is, she admits to growing tired.

Some dozen operational managers, mostly from the Mainland, roam the arena. Lahainaluna High School basketball coach Dan Williams stands 12-hour guard at the media room, as 50 volunteers spread out through the arena to wipe sweat from the basketball floor and perform a myriad of other duties.

Yellow-shirted staffers and blue-shirted supervisors from throughout Maui handle crowd control in the arena and direct cars in large lots in the hot sun. Maui Police are there in force, as well as two paramedics and Dr. Norm Estin (a fan, but apparently on duty).

One veteran of the tournament dispenses water to referees, remembering the old days when the Civic Center was not air-conditioned and keeping the refs hydrated with water was a bigger job.

Outside, ESPN Freelance Cameramen Stephen Sullivan shoots color: teams arriving in tour buses, and booster fans lining up in their colorful logo garb before games. Inside, Christian Jorgensen, owner of the popular CJ’s Deli at the Fairway Shops, has hired 30 extra people to provide thousands of meals.

The chef, struggling with big time back problems, labors to see that the restaurant feeds ESPN’s staff of 60 four times a day. CJ’s chefs also prepare gourmet meals for guests at the high-ticket Stadium Club, where fans eat on orange linen tablecloths and watch huge TV monitors. Turkey and prime rib was on the menu for Wednesday, the last day of the three-day run.

Rafferty, ESPN analyst and a hard man to catch up with, is known to colleagues as the “Mayor of Lahaina.” His face is posted on a “no parking” sign near the ESPN trailer. He has covered the event for 20 years.

Rick Barnes, University of Texas coach, summed up his own experience this way: “Everywhere we go, it is unbelievable. We are treated well from the time we get off the bus…”

When not yelling for their favorite teams, fans have voices, too. Though little Emily, 15 months old, is largely silent, her alumni dad and wife cheer on their Fighting Illini. Surprisingly awake despite jet lag, she shares a distinction with a former journalism student from the University of Illinois who writes a column in the Lahaina News. Both are fans – one for months, the other for years too many to count.