The Fieldhouse sold out for the Greensboro Swarm’s Jan. 13 home game against the Delaware 87ers, the awkwardly named D-League affiliate of the Philadelphia 76ers who nevertheless touted a respectable 12-9 record. While the tickets sales must encourage the team and the Charlotte Hornets’ decision to base their farm team in Tournament Town, the bummer remained: There was no way to get into the Friday-night game.
Unless you had a connection.
The weekend prior, I banked on attending the game that night, securing a press pass. But then, my friend Alexander texted me.
“I’m going to see [former NC State guard] Cat Barber play against the Swarm on Friday night,” his message read. “Are you planning on being there to cover that one?”
Background: Alexander is one of the biggest sports fans I know. He’s a rabid Tar Heels fan, too.
It runs way deep. His family owned two goats back when we were kids in the late ’90s, and he and his younger brother Clayton named the goats after two Carolina superstars, forward Rasheed Wallace and swingman Jerry Stackhouse. Clayton and Alexander also co-opted the name of the family cat, Addie, and insisted on referring to her as Ademola, after Chapel Hill forward Ademola Okulaja.
If all these clues serve as any indication, basketball ranks as his favorite sport. He was rather hyped about the Swarm coming to Greensboro, and after their debut, we had chatted about the team’s prospects and made tentative plans to attend a game together.
I figured Friday the 13th was as good a night as any.
Luckily I could get him in as my photographer, and honestly, it was nice to pass off the responsibility to someone else. Sports photojournalism isn’t easy, and it often distracts me from taking satisfactory notes.
I met with Alexander and his college buddy Jeff beforehand at Old Town Draught House.
“Who would you say is the best player on the Swarm?” Jeff asked me.
And, like an idiot, my brain farted all over the place as I drew a blank on the star point guard’s name. I mumbled something about the big-man tandem between Mike Tobey and Christian Wood, but Wood bounces back and forth between the Hornets and the Swarm like a ping-pong ball. So did potential phenom guards Archie Goodwin and Aaron Harrison. All this, and I was still unable to recall Xavier Munford’s damn name until Jeff brought up the roster on his phone.
“He was starting point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies last year — as was everyone,” Alexander said. “They suffered a plague of injuries.”
I opted to drive. The sellout crowd bottlenecked traffic at the entrance to the coliseum complex parking lot, but when we finally arrived at the attendant’s kiosk, I flashed my credentials.
“Go ahead, press,” the blond woman said, perhaps with a hint of sarcasm. My two passengers still seemed dazzled.
Jeff split from us to meet his friend Jaclyn in the swelling line outside the front lobby, and Alexander and I rounded the back of the Fieldhouse, camera in tow. I told him the basic ropes: It’s practically impossible for all intents and purposes; you’re lucky to get two usable photos in 500 shots, and so on.
With a few minutes left in the first quarter, the score was already 21-13, Swarm advantage. While walking to the press tables right along the baseline, Alexander was like a kid finding out he’d soon inherit a candy store. He fumbled with the camera a bit, but mainly fawned at the players on the court.
“Damien!” he exclaimed, noticing the veteran swingman Wilkins on the floor for the Swarm. “There he is! He must’ve been playing before we sat down.”
Alexander recognized the journeyman player from his time with the Seattle Supersonics and other teams. Though the oldest player on the court, Wilkins already had 9 points.
Alexander agreed with my earlier estimation regarding his presence on the Swarm roster.
“He’s like a camp counselor,” he said. “Older than everyone, but leading people and having a good time.”
Wilkins finished with a season-high 22 points, and the Swarm as a whole were in rare form that night, with four others reaching double digits. Xavier Munford reached 21, guard Rasheed Sulaimon contributed 13 and Mike Tobey came off the bench for 18 points, producing even after a fourth-quarter fall sent him spinning like a pinwheel onto his tailbone.
But Christian Wood proved immensely vital once again.
On the heels of a 45-point, 16-rebound effort against the Long Island Nets the night prior, Wood recorded his third-straight double-double with 25 points and 15 boards.
While Cat Barber and the 87ers kept it tight at times — Barber put up 22 points himself; two others recorded double-doubles — the Swarm never trailed, hitting 54 percent of their shots on the night and hitting 22 of 29 free throws. They won, 115-108, bumping up their record to 7-17.
It was the best Swarm game I’ve seen yet. And I was happy to share the time with my friend and fulfill a little dream of his.
He even snapped some good pics.