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THE YEAR OF THE YAO -- ADVANCE SCREENINGS
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San_Francisco - Friday, April 22, 2005


There and Back Again



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L-R: Jim Brovelli, Bill Hogan, Willie Wong, Rich Twu.
A first-hand journal of the misadventures of Dream League

EPISODE I: Basketball VIPs Come Out to See Yao Movie and Support Dream League (cont.'d)

WHERE ART THOU, VIPs?

Twu went to great lengths -- adventures, perhaps -- to find VIPs to attend the event.

The film and benefit screening were actually not that easy of a sell. Aside from the Asian Film Festival screenings, it wasn't like Yao was going to make an appearance. "You're not going to believe this," Twu stated, "but when we passed out flyers outside a Warriors game, I'd say 7 out of every 10 people didn't give a damn about Yao. I was most dismayed by the few Chinese folks who wouldn't even take a flyer."

So to get VIPs, Twu pulled every string he could.

Bob Giron, decades-long equipment manager for USF, told him to be careful about inviting college players, especially since Twu had had success in the past, through Dream Leaguer and former Cal walk-on Kirk Kim with Cal's Ryan Forehan-Kelly and direct invites to Joe Shipp and Brian Whethers for a Dream League barbecue held a year ago at the Boys & Girls Club Ernest Ingold Unit in San Francisco. USF's Associate A.D. and Compliance Officer Bill Nepfel confirmed that any "free" tickets given to college players could and would be a violation of NCAA regulations.

NBA players would be a different story. Twu contacted a high-level NBA official with whom he had had some tangential WNBA-related business dealings in the past. Out of respect for the position of this NBA official, who by the way is not David Stern but rather one of his powerful behind-the-scenes vice presidents, Twu refers to him as "Oswald (Ozzie) Franklin".

Even li'l peeps had to call their peeps on the celly to get the scoop on Yao jerseys and framed photos.

Well, Ozzie was very nice (and funny) in an email response to Twu's concerns about the NBA's rights to Yao and any problems with NCAA players showing up in the same room as NBA people. Ozzie wrote, "It's possible that if I dig into it I'd conclude [New Line Cinema does] not [have the right to hold a benefit screening involving the Yao property]. So I won't dig. Just go ahead. It's a good thing you're doing."

He then added, "I can't imagine there's any prohibition against NCAA players being in the same place as NBA players. Or talking to them. Or kissing their sisters for that matter."

Pulling every string ranged from calling Dream League youth staff member Everett Johnson's Athletic Director at Marin College, Jim Brovelli, who once had a stint as the head coach of the Washington Wizards, to writing personal letters and handing them to players at Warriors games, to cold-calling.

Twu had a list of maybe a hundred so-called VIPs. "It was absolutely exhausting, but kind of fun too," he recalled.

The good news was, he felt he had a very good excuse to talk to them. On the phone he talked to Steve Lavin (ex-UCLA head coach and national championship winner), Nate Thurmond (Warriors great), Dick Davey (Santa Clara University head coach) and Carroll Williams (legendary former long-time Santa Clara University head coach).

Feeling the anticipation of the crowd is one of the joys of holding a raffle.

By email he was in touch with Fred Lau, former SF Police Chief and current head of security at Oakland Airport, who had once arranged a post-Warriors-versus-Rockets-game meeting between his son's Asian youth team and none other than Yao. Unfortunately on that night, Yao was feeling down because the Rockets had just lost to the Warriors. Twu doesn't know if Lau attended the screening, but he sent Lau's son a couple of movie posters.

Twu went face-to-face with Golden State Warriors Troy Murphy, Adonal Foyle, Mike Dunleavy, Mickael Pietrus, and probably a few more he can't remember. Jim Barnett, the Warriors TV color commentator, was particularly nice. Barnett was in a hurry out the Arena tunnel to catch a plane to the next game and stopped for a moment to ask Twu some more in-depth questions about the screening.

Baron Davis was nice too. Twu wasn't able to talk to him directly, but managed to get some Davis family members to deliver a letter. Davis came out of the locker room to wave and acknowledge Twu's presence.

"B.D. definitely gives back to the community through his foundation," Twu said thoughtfully, "so I wouldn't be surprised if there are other benefits he needs to concentrate his time on."

Twu even hung out at the Warriors lounge down by the locker rooms for as many as two or three games ("It's all a blur," Twu points out), thanks to passes he got from Dream League Advisory Board member Chris Sabbe, who has been on the Warriors scorekeeping staff for the past seven years.

Wendy Leung and Leona Wong greet VIPs -- the jail-like ticketbooths are perhaps the only drawback of the Palace.

That was semi-embarrassing because most people were in the lounge having drinks and chatting it up. There Twu was, with a box of flyers at his feet, looking around for VIPs. Twu chuckled, "At least people knew I was there for a purpose!"

The pounding of the pavement didn't end there. At a guest appearance at the San Leandro Verizon store, Twu handed Adonal Foyle a few tickets. A week later at the Emeryville Verizon store, Twu handed Troy Murphy about 30 tickets. "He drives a nice 7-series BMW," Twu added. "Those tickets might still be in his glove compartment."

Alas, none of big basketball VIPs showed up to the Palace screening.

Twu was fine with that because, he said, "If I were in their shoes, I'd probably have concerns about being mobbed for autographs, having safe passage from the parking lot, who in the media would show up, that sort of thing. Those weren't things we were necessarily equipped to handle, but if you just wanted to come and see the movie and show support, you were more than satisfied."

Come to think of it, any NBA players probably wouldn't have been mobbed, at least not that much. There were only 300 and it was a family-like atmosphere. A celebrity athlete certainly would have enjoyed being king for a day with these basketball-lovers had he or she attended.

In retrospect, getting Lou Campanelli (who is now head of Pac-10 officiating), Brovelli, and Bill Hogan (USF Athletic Director) was not bad at all. And Willie Wong of Pete Newell lore, that was pretty good too. Wong's friend Cappy, Steve Lavin's dad, couldn't make the drive out as the evening was somewhat overcast and drizzling.

Twu recalled that Campanelli was extremely friendly on the phone. So was Davey, who couldn't make it due to recruiting. Giron also missed the screening because he was visting his son Jimmy, a Pac-10 referee who obviously reports to Campanelli, in Las Vegas. Giron, who has seen college and NBA greats come and go, was funny and kept saying things like, "If you talk to Jason Kidd, tell him I own him."

One of Twu's Dream League kid staffers James Love spotted Hook Mitchell while they were passing out flyers at the Oakland Coliseum BART before a Warriors game. Love ended up getting autographs from nearly every Warriors player outside the team lounge that night, since it was the last game that season, but Mitchell didn't make it to the screening, nor did any Warriors.

"Hook had a scheduling conflict for San Francisco, although he wanted to come to our San Jose screening and setup a table to sell his DVD, but I told him our San Jose crowd would be much, much smaller and an older demographic too," explained Twu. So Twu recommended Mitchell, whose own documentary is entitled Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell, not trek the 45 miles to the South Bay.

Foyle, Joe Ellis (former Warrior great), Thurmond, Williams, Giron, and Sophie Maxwell (SF Board of Supervisors) all told Twu they had scheduling conflicts, which was not surprising given the short notice.

The crowd was eagerly waiting the start of Yao.

Janny Hu of the SF Chronicle and Tim Kawakami of the SJ Mercury were planning to attend, but had beat assignments come up at the last minute.

Rick Quan (sports anchor at CBS-KPIX), James Hasegawa (owner of the ABA SJ Skyrockets), and Parimal Rohit (owner of the ABA SF Pilots) showed up late but got to enjoy the film.

And one guest recently became a marginal celebrity "VIP" as well: Jeffrey Moon, member of the San Francisco Legends senior streetball basketball team, who got a bigger part than anticipated in the film XXX: State of the Union starring Ice Cube and is off to bigger and better things in Hollywood.

Barely anyone remembers Brovelli as an ex-coach of the NBA and Campanelli and Hogan aren't household names by a long shot, but Dream League got its point across to some key people out there.

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