As a teacher, Alex Chambers is, no doubt, familiar with the traditional what-did-you-do-over-summer-break assignment. Thing is, his essay might be the most exciting.
Chambers, 35, a gay WNBA fan living in Phoenix, lived a lifelong dream this past summer: attending games at all 13 WNBA arenas. Naturally, he's nicknamed "Superfan"a moniker given to him by the WNBA, sans cape and theme music, when he was featured on the in-stadium jumbo-tron in Detroit. WNBA All-Star Diana Taurasi also has called Chambers, "Journey dude."
"This was just an idea to travel, and catch a home game for each team in the WNBA, or the 'W' as we diehard fans call it," Chambers said. "As a teacher, having summers off can be a good thing and a bad thing. Great to have time off, but bad, as I can get complacent and just sit on my butt and do nothing. Oh, and it also helps that I am addicted to planning and organizing; to me that was the best part of the trip. Well, one of the best. I knew I had friends and family in seven of the 13 cities that I could stay with, and I could save for [ the ] airfare. The pieces just started falling into place and, by February 2009, I had the whole thing planned out.
"I dedicated the journey to a friend of mine, Cyndee Luque, who lost her battle to breast cancer last year in April. It was very fitting, because the WNBA is always doing things to promote breast cancer awareness."
Chambers was a six-foot-tall freshman in high school, so everyone considered him a natural for basketball. But he was intimidated by the jock crowd and distanced himself from sports. Flash forward 20 years, Chambers began basketball training with a former WNBA pro and current assistant coach of the Phoenix Mercury, Bridget Pettis, a Chicago native.
"I was partially inspired by the athletes I watch in the WNBA. The message was clearget off your butt and do it!" she said. "So, I did. I've never been happier. I am glad to report that I am now playing a sport and enjoying it. I might not be so good at it, but am having fun."
But he's mostly a fan. After all, one of the highlights of his journey was getting his 2008 Olympic Women's basketball team shirt personally autographed by everyone on the team.
"I really underestimated how emotional of an impact [ this journey ] would have on me," Chambers said. "Maybe it was the constant travel, getting to know the fans, or being inspired every time I had the opportunity to meet one of my idols from the WNBA. I cannot exactly put my finger on it, but was an experience I will wear close to my heart for a while."
So how much did the journey cost?
"A lot … and that is all I will say," he said, laughing.
"I paid for most of it, but the W chipped in for tickets and my hotel room at the Mohegan Sun for the WNBA All-Star Game," Chambers said. "There were several fans from around the league who gave me their courtside seat, or offered rides to and from my hotel. One fan even offered her guest room for me to stay in. I was quite impressed by the generosity.
Chambers' journey started June 28 in Detroit and, 11 flights later, he was at the WNBA All-Star Game on July 25 in Connecticut. He attended the Chicago Sky home game on July 10, a loss to Indiana.
"Chicago fought hard, but Indiana proved to be too much," Chambers said. "I was bummed that Sylvia Fowles did not play [ that game ] . I took my little sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law to the game. He is quite a basketball fan himself. Even though the loss was a tough one, we enjoyed ourselves and my brother-in-law was quite impressed with his first WNBA game."
Chambers said the journey was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so he isn't planning a repeat in 2010but hopefully others will experience his adventure.
"A few fans suggest that I write a book about my journey. I was hesitant at first, but then I kind of liked the idea. I figured, well, as long as I am on track for creating 'Once in a lifetime' experiences, why not? I hope to have a complete draft by January," he said.
"When I was in my late 20s, I had a bad habit of putting things off. I would often tell myself that I would just do things later. Then when I tuned 30, I put a stop to that. I decided if I want to make things happen, I would do it. I've made trips to Australia and wrote a play. I even created a production company to produce the play. The '13 teams' idea was no different. So, when the idea popped into my head, I put the pieces together and decided to make it happen. I knew it was going to be expensive, and it was going to take [ me ] away from home for almost a month. However, none of that mattered. I knew I was going to make it happen and I did, and have absolutely no regrets. It is a great way to live life."
Note: Chambers should be happy. On Oct. 9, Phoenix won the WNBA title for the second time in three seasons, defeating the Indiana Fever 94-86 in the last game of a best-of-five series.
Want more about Alex Chambers? Here goes:
Status: Single. "Any eligible WNBA guy fans out there?"
High school: Deer Valley High School in Glendale, Ariz., class of 1992.
College: B.A. Columbia College Chicago, 1999. M.A. Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C., 2001. M.Ed. Arizona State University, 2007.
All-time favorite WNBA player: Diana Taurasi ( active ) ; Bridget Pettis ( retired )
Least favorite WNBA player, the one you always want to boo: "Any player who fouls my favorite player."
Favorite WNBA coach: Marynell Meadors of the Atlanta Dream
Favorite WNBA arena ( s ) : U.S. Airways Arena in Phoenix and Conseco Fieldhouse
Best fans: Phoenix
Worst fans: Los Angeles
Best arena food: Mohegan Sun Arena
Best pre-game entrances/introductions: "Any team that didn't use "Boom Boom Pow" by the Black Eyed Peas. I heard that song a billion times this summer. I liked the San Antonio introsvery reminiscent of a 1980s action movie."
Most exciting game: New York at Washington, D.C.
Biggest crowd: Seattle
Best interview: San Antonio Silver Stars
Coolest uniforms: "I do like the Chicago uniforms, mainly because I am a big fan of the light blue. I have a lot of it in my wardrobe."
Ugliest uniforms: "Hmm, not many uniforms are pretty, but none that were absolutely hideous. They have changed them from a few years ago, and I must say for the better."
Lowlight: Interviewing Courtney Paris of the Sacramento Monarchs, and finding out the camera was not recording. Then having the entire team erupt in laughter. "I would rather that moment would have never have happened."
Biggest surprise: "Having players call me by my name. By the time I got to Indiana, the players were like, 'Hi, Alex' like they knew me. Talk about surreal."
Chicago connections: "I went to school in Chicago from 1997-1999 at Columbia College. I also lived and worked in the South Loop. I still have several friends in the Chicago area, and love to come back and visit. My little sister has also made Chicago her home. I will be back in July to see her get married. Chicago will always be like a second home to me."
About the Sky moving to the Allstate Arena in 2010: "It's about time! They are a professional basketball team, so they should be treated as such. I am happy for them."
Seats or a press pass?: "I had tickets, but [ also ] had press credentials and was often invited to sit on press row."