By Tom Nader | Sports Editor
One of my first big assignments after being hired full-time at the Record-Courier was to interview NBA center John Edwards.
After never really finding consistent playing time at Hudson High School, despite his enormous size, he had previously joined the Kent State men’s basketball team as a “project.”
Then-KSU head coach Gary Waters and his staff saw that Edwards was raw in talent, but he was 7-foot tall — a rare commodity in basketball, especially in the Mid-American Conference.
Edwards would go on to blossom in Kent, listening and learning from a patient coaching staff before being named First Team All-MAC and MAC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He also was a part of leading two Golden Flashes teams to the NCAA Tournament, including the famous Elite Eight run.
When his college career ended, he was invited to the Indiana Pacers’ training camp in 2004. The Pacers, like Waters and the Flashes, saw the potential of Edwards. Eventually, after a rash of injuries to Indiana big men, Edwards became the Pacers’ only non-drafted free agent invitee to earn a spot on the main roster when the season started.
Edwards played 25 games for the Pacers during that 2004-05 season, then signed a deal with the Atlanta Hawks for 2005-06.
When the Hawks came to Cleveland on Dec. 13, 2005, I was given the assignment to go to Quicken Loans Arena and interview the former Kent State standout.
The assignment, in theory, seemed relatively simple: Talk to Edwards and file a story before the start of the actual game (giving our editors back at the office enough time to get the story on the page before the deadline rush hit later in the night). Other than that, I wasn’t really given any guidance.
And I had never had to deal with interviewing a professional athlete before to know the protocol of how to go about arranging one.
Looking back, I should have contacted the appropriate media relations people from both the Hawks and Cavs to set everything up.
I know that now. I didn’t know that then.
The one thing I did know was that players were only available to the media before the game for a short window of time.
I figured the smartest thing I could do was to show up hours before game time and try to track Edwards down near or inside the Hawks locker room.
When I got to the arena, I situated my stuff in the media room and began my search to find Edwards.
Hawks locker room? Nope, not there.
Back hallways near and around the Hawks’ locker room? No luck.
All I could find were glances from Atlanta staff members who were probably wondering who I was and what I was doing.
I eventually wandered out to the actual court, more so drifting as my mind raced to try and figure out what to do next rather than actually searching for Edwards or someone that could help.
I was suddenly realizing that tracking down an NBA player for an interview is not as easy as doing the same with a high school or college player. Imagine that? And that I probably dropped the ball in being smart about trying to pre-arrange an interview through the Hawks or Cavs.
As I emerged from a corridor and out under the bright lights of the arena, I noticed that handful of Atlanta players were working out and warming up in preparation for that night’s game. I quickly began to bounce my eyes from player to player to see if Edwards was a part of the group.
To my luck, he was.
He had stationed himself on the low block, back to the basket, working on low-post moves as he received passes from a coaching assistant.
I watched Edwards catch and turn toward the baseline for jump hooks. He took the next set of passes and turned into the paint for left-handed finger rolls. Up-and-under moves were next, and he continued to work on a variety of others before finishing with a set of free throws.
As all of this was going on, I figured he had to leave the court at some point and head back to the Hawks’ locker room, so I positioned myself to where he would have to walk right by me. And I was prepared to introduce myself when the moment happened. Soon Edwards took his last free throw and began walking in my direction. And soon, the 7-foot giant was right in front of me.
I stepped in front of his path and stuck out my hand, introduced myself, what newspaper I was from and asked him if he had a few minutes for an interview. I am nearly 6-foot-4, but Edwards standing at 7-feet was a giant even to me. He stared down at me, and I thought with certainty that a “No thank you” or something not as polite might be the response I was going to hear.
Instead, he said he remembered the Record-Courier’s coverage from when he played at Kent State and would be happy to talk.
Whew, was I relieved, but still a bit nervous.
He asked me to follow him back to the locker room.
When we got there, his teammates were swirling about — it was probably less than hour until game time. Some were at the dry-erase board, others were listening to loud music in front of their locker and others were talking to each other about a variety of topics. As the only reporter in the locker room one thing was for certain: I felt out of place and like an intruder.
Edwards pointed to his locker and said, “I will meet you right there,” and he walked out of the room.
Already feeling like an unwelcomed guest who was interrupting the team’s pregame routine, I now found myself standing alone, wondering where John Edwards had gone. And how long would he be gone for.
Only a couple of minutes passed, though it felt like much longer, and Edwards turned the corner carrying a folding chair.
The primary reason for his momentary absence was to find an extra chair that I could sit on to conduct the interview.
It was a simple act, but a courteous one and I was blown away that he would even think of it. He owed me nothing. In fact, because I had not gone through the proper channels to arrange the interview in the first place, it would have been completely in his right to decline the interview from the start.
As I sat down to begin talking with him, I told him that I would try not to take too much of his time. He replied, “I have time. Don’t worry.”
He gave me a 20-minute interview and it still remains one of the most memorable I have ever had because he was engaging and even more so because of how friendly and throughtful he was to a no-name reporter.