Commentary

The best job in the world

Originally Published: May 7, 2009
By Brian Brown | Special to ESPNRISE.com

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Ballboy
Brian BrownBrian Brown shows off his Mavericks ballkid uniform on his way to work a playoff game.

I have the coolest job a high school student can have.

Really.

I am a Dallas Mavericks ballkid.

While some of my friends work concessions at a movie theater or fold clothes at stores in the mall, I work for an NBA franchise. I sometimes help warm up NBA players before games. I'm one of the people running out on the court with mops when a player falls. When your section wins a gift card, that's me handing it to you. I give you your program when you walk in the door, and I'm the guy that turns you down for a second free T-shirt when it's one per customer.

I've passed a basketball to LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Shaq, Yao Ming and others. I get to help the mascot with his pregame half-court shots and hold him back when he taunts the other team during player introductions. It's not a bad gig.

Since I was 7 or 8, I went to Dallas Mavericks Hoop Camp. It is a camp sponsored by the team that is five full days of basketball in the summer. When I was around 13, I got an application to be a ballkid. I had to write an essay, send my report card and get a recommendation from my camp coach. For a couple years before, I took an application, but due to fear of failure, lack of confidence or a combination of both, I didn't end up sending it in. Then, one summer, I decided to just sit down and fill out the application. And here I am today.

Along with the best job in the world come misconceptions. For instance, I work for one quarter per game. I don't know which one until I'm there. Honestly, the workload associated with working out on the floor would be pretty strenuous to stretch over more than one quarter. When I'm not on the floor, I am either in the press box or giving out promotional items.

The crew on the floor mops during all timeouts and after a player falls during the game, and also mops the lane after free throws. Running out and mopping isn't necessarily the hard part, but more so the alertness that goes along with it. We have to be watching the players more than we are watching the game. If there's a fall, we're going to get it. Plain and simple.

When I tell someone about my job, it's always the same two questions from everyone, and it's always in this order:

Question: How much do you get paid?
Answer: Nothing.

It's funny to see how they take that news. It's as if they're devastated that someone working for an NBA team doesn't make money. I explain it this way: Front-row baseline seats for a playoff game against the Nuggets are around $1,200 apiece at face value. Divide that by four (since I'm on the court one quarter a game), and I'm getting paid around $300 dollars a night. Not bad.

Question: Do you hang out with the players?
Answer: No, LeBron James doesn't want my phone number.

[+] EnlargeAmerican Airlines Center
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBallkids work on the court for one quarter each game.

I understand why it's asked, but the likelihood of me being invited to a party with NBA players is pretty slim right now. My job is to be professional. We're not there to stand on the sideline and ask for autographs, and we're not hanging out in the locker room during the game. The way I see it, the players get enough kids yelling at them, and they have to get tired of signing their names on everything fans can get their hands on. I think it must be refreshing to them to have a teenager on the court who isn't begging for an autograph or a picture.

That said, there are some players who are extremely nice to us on the floor and will treat us on an equal level. It's kind of uplifting to see a pro athlete break that stereotype.

If there is any downside to the job, it would be stifling your fanhood when you're on the floor. Ballkids are there to be professionals and do our jobs. Everything else, including cheering, comes second. That said, I do celebrate on the inside -- sometimes it seeps out, but I do a pretty good job of keeping it contained. Whether we are on the front row or up in the press box, we are always in uniform and we are always representing the team.

That aspect is especially tough for me. I'm the kind of fan that will yell at the TV, run laps around my living room and have my night ruined when my team loses. I am a die-hard Mavericks fan, so you can imagine how hard it is being there in person. It's worth it for me, though. I can bite my tongue if it means I get to see the game in person.

That atmosphere is heightened in the playoffs. The NBA playoffs are like the regular season on (for lack of a better term) steroids. Fans are louder, games are more competitive, and the stadium is even more packed. The media increases, and security does the same. Everyone, from players to ballkids, has to be on the top of their games. You can feel the emotion in the air. There's nothing like it.

So even though I may not get a paycheck and I may not hang out with NBA players, I think I've reeled in a pretty good high school job. I work for an NBA team. Some people dream of that. And hey, it beats folding clothes at the mall any day.

Brian Brown is a junior at Plano West High School in Texas.
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