I awoke Wednesday morning to an email from my editor about a giant, shiny sign. And not just any sign, a photoshopped sign of Carmelo Anthony in a Rockets jersey lit on the screen outside of Toyota Center.
— KHOU 11 Sports (@KHOUSports) July 2, 2014
I'm a big Rockets fan, and I've been skeptical of the idea of adding Anthony to the Rockets. But I haven't played organized basketball since 8th grade, so my analysis isn't the most qualified.
What I was qualified to do when it came to the Rockets' courting of Anthony was see what fans thought of it, and that's what I intended to do when I headed toward Toyota Center. But for me and a lot of the Rockets fans gathered yesterday, things didn't go as planned.
11:32 a.m. I park my car on La Branch Street, across from Toyota Center. I don't see many people standing near Toyota Center's main entrance, where the photoshopped sign of Anthony is. Instead they're standing next to the box office, outside of the administrative entrance, with La Branch to their backs. I head there.
11:33 a.m. Upon crossing the street, I see a man with well-coiffed hair, wearing a red, collared Ole Miss shirt and gray dress pants. He recognizes me at the same time that I recognize him. His name is Baker Elias; he's a friend of a friend who I met once before, when I was a freshman in high school. Despite the weak connection, Baker has just become my friend, because it's 95 degrees outside, there's little shade to be found and I have a feeling I'm going to be here for longer than I initially expected.
Baker tells me he arrived 10 minutes ago. He's on his lunch break. He's an intern at a finance firm with a downtown office. He says the approximately 20 people waiting outside the administrative entrance are hoping to see Melo when he leaves his meeting with the Rockets.
He chose to head to Toyota Center after seeing a picture of the photoshopped Carmelo sign on Twitter.
I was curious how long Baker would be willing to stay, so I ask him.
"Until my boss calls, or until I see Carmelo," he says.
11:40 a.m. I walk up to two casually dressed men. And by casual I mean the level of casual associated with a rainbow-colored Rick Ross tank.
The man in the Rick Ross tank is James Brown. He came to the Toyota Center with his friend John Henderson. Brown says they found out Carmelo was meeting with Rockets Wednesday via Twitter, and decided to head over.
"We saw what it was like in Chicago," Brown says. "They rolled out the red carpet for him."
Melo signs, with championship trophies, wrapped all around the United Center. pic.twitter.com/uxlv8MEiDS
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) July 1, 2014
The two men tell me they didn't stand outside the Rockets' door when the team met with Dwight Howard last year, when he was a free agent. Henderson says this is different, because Anthony would make the Rockets a championship contender.
"We just trying to get another parade," Brown says.
12:02 p.m. While fans continue to congregate 50 feet or so from the administrative entrance at a Toyota Center security guard's urging, a woman wearing a James Harden shirt stands underneath a tree, looking generally disinterested.
I introduce myself. Her name is Hilary Harges. She's been there since 8:30 a.m. "You must be a big Rockets fan," I say. "Yes," she tells me.
Even though it's almost 100 degrees and she has been there for almost four hours, I am not believing she came here just because she wanted to. I ask if she came with anyone.
She points. Her husband is closer to the entrance. He is wearing one of those official team caps that is so ugly it makes you remember profit is the end game for the NBA - their fans' appearance be damned. He is also wearing a custom, No. 11 Rockets jersey that had "Harges" on the back. It was size 4XL, and he was very visibly sweating.
Now I understand.
12:22 p.m. A few fans venture further down La Branch, and peer through the windows outside the Rockets' practice court. They're lining up to look through a slit between the giant Rockets window covers. It's one of those deals where if you crook your neck 32 degrees to the right, squint and imagine you have the eyes of a hawk, you can see perfectly into the Rockets' meeting with Anthony.
I look through the slit, and see Anthony sitting down in a white shirt.
Then Henderson starts telling people to come over where he is standing, on the block between the administrative entrance and the practice court windows. He's looking up at office windows. He says Howard is standing at the window.
I arrive too late to see, but Baker tells me he saw the Rockets center.
"He was just laughing," Baker says.
12:40 p.m. Back outside the administrative entrance, people are looking up at a corner window. They just saw James Harden exit a hallway through a set of doors. Then they saw Howard.
Anticipating Anthony to come next, everyone gets their phones out. No one wanted to be the One Person Who Didn't Take A Picture Of Carmelo Anthony's Back, Through A Window, As He Walked Through Two Doors A Floor Above.
I never see anyone who I can definitely say is Anthony. A man behind me says he sees Clyde Drexler. He could be delusional, he could not. Who knows? The heat does crazy things.
It appears the Rockets' meeting is over, which means Anthony should be walking through the doors soon, and we can all leave. Some "Melo" chants are attempted, but only three people participate. We're really showing up Chicago, I think to myself.
Baker is still here. His lunch break has now run two hours. He tells me he's committed to seeing Anthony.
One of the television news cameramen says Anthony has already left. His limo is exiting the players' garage, according to the cameraman. The only reason the camera crew was standing outside the administrative exit was to get the shot of Anthony through the window as he exited the hallway, deciding it was better than video of a Lincoln limousine exiting a garage.
Baker and I head around the corner, toward the players' garage. 12:55 p.m. On our way to the players' garage, I check the Twitter account of Jonathan Feigen, who covers the Rockets for the Houston Chronicle. I see this tweet:
I guess we're done here. Melo and party outta here.. pic.twitter.com/7c9OxvxkiI
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) July 2, 2014
No Melo. I show Baker.
"I just wasted two hours of my life," he says.
12:59 p.m. As I walk down La Branch, toward my car, which has been parked for about an hour-and-a-half longer than I paid for on the meter, I bump into Henderson and Brown. We see a black Lincoln Limousine, like the one Feigen just tweeted a picture of, driving down La Branch.
Henderson says the least Anthony could have done is give the fans a wave. He's convinced he will see Anthony soon enough.
"He'll be back," Henderson says.