(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on Friendship/Hinsdale native Geoff Sherman. He’s in the midst of up to a three-month stint in Orlando, Fla. at the Disney Bubble working statistics for the NBA as it concludes its Covid-19-induced abortive season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.)
The invitation was unexpected, but exciting.
In early summer, Friendship/Hinsdale native Geoff Sherman, a member of the Indiana Pacers stat crew, was contacted by the National Basketball Association.
The NBA was going to restart in late July with 22 teams invited to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in a bubble at Orlando to complete the regular season and contest the playoffs after a Covid-19 layoff.
He was asked about being part of the league’s stat crew for the duration of the schedule, a span that would cover up to three months.
The first hurdle, of course, was his full-time job as a sport management professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). But Sherman’s department chairman OK’d the opportunity with the understanding that he would teach his five classes from Florida via video.
HE ARRIVED at the “NBA Bubble” on July 12 with the finish of the regular season starting 19 days later.
This week the playoffs started and next Monday Sherman will begin teaching his fall classes “right in the thick of the playoffs.”
Of his surroundings, he admitted, “I don’t know how much I can really say because, technically, I’m contracted to the NBA. But it’s a bubble. We have a perimeter we can’t pass so we have things we can do here on the campus. We’re pretty much here 24-7. “You’re staying busy … it’s Week 6 and I can’t even believe it.
“It’s not really lockdown, but it kind of is. You’re in a cordoned space, but it’s not a negative at all. We’re fed really well, we’re transported … everything we need is basically right here. From the hotel, it’s about a 10-minute bus ride (to the playing areas).”
And there’s a reason the living quarters are separate.
“There is no resort at Wide World of Sports … it’s three arenas, a couple of soccer fields and a baseball diamond, so it’s kind of a sports park,” Sherman said. “I’m here with the NBA so I’m doing other games (than the Pacers) … we’re placed by our supervisor and there’s no real affiliation related to it because we’re NBA staff.
“We have a crew of eight and we’re from different places. I’ve got a couple of guys with me from Indy and a couple of guys from Washington and a guy from Dallas and a guy from Philly so we have guys from all over the league, one crew for each (of the 22 teams).”
He added, “They reach out and if we’re available, we’re available and if we’re not, we’re not (due to virtual work commitments). That was all they could do.
“It’s a contract with an unforeseen end (fewer crews will be needed as the playoffs progress) and I say that only because if something happens and we have to leave, they’re not going to restrain us.”
Sherman pointed out, “When we talk about eight guys, it’s also the table crew, scoreboard … shot clock … game clock … official score book. My crew is four guys. I’m one of the inputers, there’s a second inputer, there’s a caller and then a replay guy that’s in communication with the home office. In reality, we all have our own individual jobs but we’re a four-man team … we communicate with one another and make sure things are correct. Basically you’re inputting things that are happening live (into the NBA statistical software).”
IF HE IS kept on through the NBA Finals, he won’t return to Indianapolis until mid-October, but stays in constant contact with his wife and two elementary-school children.
“I spend a lot of time on FaceTime, on the iPhone and video-chat with them a half-hour or 45 minutes before they go to bed,” Sherman said.
But there’s also the upside of what he’s doing.
“The reality is that I’m here doing the games I’m told to do and loving every minute of it,” he admitted. “The environment is unbelievable. You think of it as an empty arena, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. When you’re stating a game, the crowd noise is there (albeit piped in), the music is there. I can’t tell you how great of a job the NBA has done making it feel like it’s legitimate at the arena.”
He conceded, “I’m having a great time, they’ve made it so fun … an environment in which you’re welcome. Everybody’s masked up and you feel really, really safe.
“The NBA is doing it the right way, and I’m not comparing it to others, but this is a safe place for these guys and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)