USA Basketball Stars Create ‘Awe-Inspiring’ Scene in Session with Panini America
LAS VEGAS — As veteran autograph acquisitions managers for Panini America, Alex Carbajal and Tone Stakes have spent the better part of the last five years hopping across North America overseeing signing sessions big and small in the name of Panini America trading card sets. But it’s likely that they’ll never again see a session like the spectacle they tag-teamed last Monday, during the first day of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team Mini-Camp in Las Vegas.
It was the one that featured Kevin Durant. And Kyrie Irving. And Blake Griffin. And John Wall. And Kevin Love. And LaMarcus Aldridge. And DeMarcus Cousins. And Bradley Beal. And Tobias Harris. And Mason Plumlee. In the same room . . . at the same time . . . signing cards for such heavy-hitter products as 2014-15 Flawless Basketball and 2014-15 Noir Basketball. Oh, and just to make the scene more surreal, legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski dropped by to say “hello.”
And to think, it all happened during a furious, glorious 30-minute window that will undoubtedly go down in Panini America history.
“It was definitely the top signing I’ve ever done when you look at the amount of star power in that room,” Stakes said. “Between the players you had multiple NBA All-Star appearances, an MVP, Rookies of the Year, Olympic champions. What more could you ask for as a basketball fan? The best part is that we were in a 12-by-12 room with, at one time, five 7-footers. I’m not even sure how that’s possible as the square footage does not equate. It has to be a record for the most amount of people taller than 6 feet in a room that could barely fit a Mini Cooper.”
And while the magnitude of the assembled NBA star power in that room certainly wasn’t lost on Carbajal or Stakes. It also had an impact on other members of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team, most of whom stopped by to pay their respects to the players with pens in one hand and Panini America cards in the other.
“We have worked with all of these players before, but to have them all in one small room signing at the same time was very awe-inspiring,” said Carbajal , who admitted that some of the players wanted to keep the Flawless cards featuring them in Team USA uniforms. “This was by far the No. 1 signing session on my career list so far and it made for an experience like no other.”
The vibe in the room between the players remained lighthearted for the duration as Wall dished out good-natured disses with the same ease he displays in dishing out assists. The back-and-forth banter between all of the players filled the room with laughs throughout the session and helped make the best of a cramped situation.
Indeed, the sheer volume of super-sized superstars made elbow room difficult to come by. So Carbajal and Stakes strategically situated the players throughout, separating the 7-footers and placing the exclusive Panini Authentic spokesmen (Durant, Irving, Wall and Griffin) on the wings to accommodate the additional items they had to sign.
“Tone and I had to jump from player to player, helping with spacing the cards that needed drying, boxing cards that had been signed and moving them off the table, and unboxing new cards and placing them next to the player,” Carbajal said. “Although you would think the signing must have been a blur, it seemed like we were moving in slow motion — maybe because Tone and I were just soaking it all up.”
Added Stakes: “It was a blast. And looking back, it was another one of those incredible experiences that I’m lucky to be a part of here at Panini America. As a basketball fan, this will be one of the many great memories I’ll tell my grand kids about. Even though we’re lucky enough to get to experience a lot of cool things with athletes and entertainers in our roles here, it’s amazing to me that there are still moments like this that make me feel like a 12-year-old fan again.”
You can check out the scenes and signatures from the monumental signing session in the gallery that follows. Enjoy the images and stay tuned to The Knight’s Lance for continued coverage.