Photo courtesy Washington Wizards
Photo courtesy Washington Wizards

A Media Day stroll with Wizard Otto Porter Jr.

Otto Porter Jr. emerges from one of the various rooms buried deep within the Verizon Center, and he looks spooked. “I just talked to you about the scary stuff.” The 6’8” 23-year old says this not in a “ghost is haunting my house” sort of way, but more like a kid visiting their first haunted house way. He’s just experienced a virtual reality media day station and he’s excited.

“It was a virtual reality thing, and I was in this living room and it was dark, but a light was flashing,” Porter explains. “The TV screen was, oh-my-god. I was looking in front, and a ghost just appeared on my shoulder, and I jumped. Movies I can handle, but not when I’m in it.”

For twenty-five minutes, actually double that if you count the various breaks, I talked to Porter Jr. in between media day stops. The conversation wasn’t structured like a movie or novel, start to finish: there were long periods of absence between questions, answers and topics. Though the back and forth was fragmented, his responses were complete. And through the process I learned two things: NBA media day is like the first day of school, and Otto Porter Jr. is a very laid back guy.

The Jr. is because he’s the second Otto Porter in his family. He’s also not the first basketball standout in the family, as both mom, a sweet jump shooter, and dad, a ferocious dunker, starred on the hardwood at various levels long before our Otto, the Wizards’ Otto faced off with either of them, or his cousins, on the blacktops of Haywood City, Vanduser and Morley, Missouri.

“[Basketball] was part of my life growing up, and it was something I grew to love,” Porter says. “Growing up playing with my dad, and my family, it taught me a lot. The games instilled the will to win in me. Losing was never an option, and there was a lot of trash talking.”

Since the back-and-forths in the tiny towns with populations between about 200 and 600, Porter has made Washington, DC his home away from home. It started when he committed to Georgetown University in 2011, where he starred for the Hoyas wowing crowds with a versatile game, which saw him cut for baskets, defend with tremendous length and put his family groomed basketball IQ to the test.

“It was a culture shock, and it was a revelation that there is a world out there besides what you know,” Porter says. “A lot of Georgetown fans are really DC fans, they’re definitely hardcore fans, they can be a little funny, but being here at Georgetown, I’ve gotten to know them pretty well.”

Since he was drafted by the Wizards third overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, Porter is basically a local. Like a lot of people who live in an area for a solid chunk of time, Porter acknowledges the ups and downs of inhabiting the district. The place is alive with energy, but it’s crowded. The weather is cool in the fall and spring, but is unbearably hot in the summer and crudely cold in the winter. Even though he’s no longer a student, Porter still appreciates the walkability of his surroundings, specifically the waterfront of Georgetown.

“Well this is definitely my second home, between home-home and here,” Porter says. “I like the people and the environment I’m in. From the DC people to the tourists to the attractions, it’s always busy. It’s the nation’s capital. It’s definitely an interesting city. I don’t go downtown that much unless my family is here anymore. I used to be into the monuments when I first got here, I was basically a big tourist. Now I do a lot of walks in other areas; the Georgetown waterfront is nice.”

It’s hard to blame Porter for being uninterested in the downtown monuments scene, because at 6’8” he sort of sticks out among the masses, hovering over me like a circus performer on stilts. And in the social media age, it’s hard for an athlete to do anything without drawing attention. This morning, all that attention is on Otto and his teammates as they’re chauffeured to and from rooms in the Verizon Center tunnels for media day. In each Porter is asked to fulfill an obligation, and afterwards the Wizards will load onto a bus to Richmond for training camp, where the actual basketball preparation will begin.

Last season the Wizards underachieved according to most basketball analysts. The team was coming off an unexpected postseason run in 2014, where they fell 4-2 in a hard fought series in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Atlanta Hawks. A loss many felt could have been avoided if point guard John Wall wasn’t out with an injury.  With a complete roster in 2015, hopes were high for a victory.

But instead of thriving under the spotlight, the team sputtered, finishing with a 41-41 record, and instead of postseason redemption, they missed the playoffs. Former coach Randy Wittman was fired and replaced by newcomer Scott Brooks, who experienced success with the Oklahoma City Thunder and stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

“In the new system, my length is an advantage,” Porter says. “That’s a big thing along with angles and my knowledge of the game. I try to use all that to my advantage, and I think those bode well in the system.”

One could say the first few years of Porter’s professional career had some rough patches, as he struggled with recurring injuries to his right hip. Despite this, Porter has improved on his outside shot and defense since entering the league, finding a nice niche with the Wizards.

“A goal of mine this season is to win [the NBA Most Improved Award],” Porter says. “I can definitely win that award.”

After we cover basketball, I ask him about doing media. It felt like the right thing to ask after his numerous interviews and photo shoots, while doing another interview in between.

“It’s part of the process, it’s good,” Porter says. “It means the season is here. Everybody is excited.”

Even though I believe him, he seemed more excited about the haunting virtual reality session.
For 2016-2017 Wizards season schedules and tickets, visit www.nba.com/wizards.

Photos courtesy Washington Wizards