Every once in a while, some of us are lucky enough to fall into circumstances in which we have an experience that seems too good to be true. Something so incredible it feels almost dream-like, as if there’s no way it could be an actual event happening in your life—something like being flown out to Dallas and put up in a hotel by an NBA player for a night so that you could see the premier of a movie that was based off a book you read in said NBA player’s book club which meets once a week on Twitter. Such were the circumstances in which I found myself in Dallas, Texas last Saturday.
If you don’t know about Ekpe Udoh—and being a casual NBA fan, you very well may not—he is at the top of the athlete’s division of the greatest humans list, right there above other guys like Pau Gasol, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Yasiel Puig. Udoh plays a limited role for the Milwaukee Bucks, but this isn’t a story about basketball, so who really cares? This is a story about a basketball player using his status and position in life to do good for others. This is the story of #EkpesBookClub.
But first we have to go back in time to last year to talk about another reason Ekpe is awesome: the #HangoutSquad. I don’t remember exactly when I started following Ekpe—we’re friends now so I’m just going to go ahead and call him by his first name—on Twitter, but it must have been a few years ago. Anyway, last year he was doing a Q&A, and I was in the middle of Google Hangout with some blogger friends and jokingly asked him if he wanted to join. Well to our surprise, he said he was down. It didn’t end up working out that first night, but Ekpe promised to join another night, and he stuck to his word. A few nights later he hopped on a Google Hangout to chat with a few others and myself. We talked music, movies, pizza toppings, chicken wings, and a little basketball. Now, Ekpe didn’t have to keep his word and actually join a Google Hangout with us—random people on the Internet who he’s never met before—and we wouldn’t have blamed him if he didn’t. He certainly didn’t have to continue to get together with us every few months to talk about whatever was on our minds—but he did anyway, because he’s a great person. Long live the #HangoutSquad
Okay, so back to #EkpesBookClub. Once again, Twitter dot com is the impetus to this story. Of course I continued to follow Ekpe, and one day a few months back I heard about this book club he had. He picked a book and then sent it to everyone—his generosity is astounding, but more on that later—and then they met once a week on Twitter to discuss what they had read. I thought that sounded pretty cool so I signed on up and sure enough, a week later there was a book in my mailbox—Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It was the story of Louis Zamperini, one of the toughest people to have ever lived and one of the highest-ranking members of the greatest humans list.
And okay, so I’ve never been in a book club before, but this was so cool. I don’t know the exact way in real life book clubs work, but I assume you have to go to someone’s house once in a while and then stay there for a few hours and talk about the book. Then since you’re in the club there’s going to come a time when you have to host a meeting yourself and that’s no fun because having a lot of people over to your house is overrated. You have to clean and get food and drinks and it’s just inconvenient. Reading is awesome. In real life book clubs are not. You know what is awesome though? #EkpesBookClub. All you have to do is read a certain section of the book and then hop on Twitter and share your thoughts and questions with the group. You don’t even have to leave your bed if you don’t want. I mean, if you’re going to join a book club, Ekpe’s is the only way to go.
So after Unbroken, we moved on to a fictional story—The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which was just turned into a movie. This is when we heard rumblings of Ekpe taking the club to the next level. A few times, he mentioned bringing members of the club together to see the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars. Of course everyone was psyched about the possibility, but I think in the back of everyone’s minds it was just a J.R. Smith-like pipe dream and we were all thinking, “yeah, that would be sick, but there’s no way.” Now we know not to doubt Ekpe, but I mean, think about it. An NBA player bringing together virtual strangers to see a movie version of a book they read in book club? That’s not a thing that happens—unless said NBA player is Ekpe Udoh.
Sure enough, a few weeks later there was an email in my inbox about sending contact information so they could buy our plane ticket and give the hotel our information. WHAAAATTTTTTTT? You know the shocked face emoji, the one with the eyes and mouth open wide and the two hands on the cheeks? Don’t lie to everyone, I know you do, it’s a top ten emoji. Well that was my face when I saw that email. Which, I don’t think I need to explain why. You read that first sentence, right?
All right, let’s fast-forward to last Saturday. Anytime you travel—flying in particular—there’s some anxiety about everything working out. Am I going to make my flight on time? Do I have all the correct information and identification? There are a million things that could go wrong and you really don’t stop worrying about any of them until your flight has landed and you have your bags. Well when you’re flying to $Texas by yourself to meet a bunch of strangers and you’re already pretty socially awkward, that anxiety is multiplied times a million.
Anyway, even though I had a connecting flight in Houston, everything was as smooth as could be, and I made it down to Dallas safe and sound. After a few minutes of confusion outside, I found the SUV Ekpe had sent to pick us up and I was off to the hotel along with a few other folks from Milwaukee. They seemed nice enough, I don’t know, you can only get to know people so well during a 20 minute car ride.
Eventually we rolled up to this hotel, go to check in and the guy at the front desk hands me a t-shirt because Ekpe’s the best and had t-shirts made for everyone. We were a little late to the hotel, so as soon as I checked in and got settled in my room—which was pristine and I think (I don’t have much to compare it too) the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in—I made my way to this conference room for lunch.
Remember the first day of college when you meet your roommate and the other people on your hall and it’s mad awkward because everyone’s just sort of feeling each other out and don’t really know what to say to each other? Well that’s what lunch was like except with people ranging from high school kids to adults that had their own children. At least it was at first.
Anytime you meet someone in real life after you’ve had any sort of relationship online, there’s some natural awkwardness there because you feel like you know them in a way, but in reality you hardly know them at all. But after a few minutes it subsided and everyone was getting along well. Then about twenty to twenty-five minutes into our ice breaking, Ekpe sauntered through the door with Rich Homie Quan’s “Walk Thru” blaring from the speakers. (Okay I made the last part up.)
Ekpe made the rounds, welcoming us to Dallas and thanking us for making the trip as if we were doing him a favor. It was crazy how thankful he was that we were there considering he paid for literally everything. I say that in a joking manner, but he really was thankful because this was his vision coming to life right in front of him, and that was cool to see. After Ekpe got there we all stood up and introduced ourselves like it was the first day of class, but instead of saying a fun fact about ourselves, we said our Twitter handles. So don’t ever tell me, “it’s just Twitter,” because Twitter is real life.
Following lunch we moved on to phase two of the first ever in-person meeting of #EkpesBookClub: the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. All of us piled into this bus Ekpe had rented to drive us around, because once again, Ekpe is awesome and had everything taken care of. This place was sick. You want to know what an earthquake feels like? They have this platform you can stand on that shakes like an earthquake. You want to see huge gems and minerals like giant pieces of gold? They have that. You want to see complete wolly mammoth and T-Rex skeletons? They have those too.
I pretty much strolled around by myself because I’m weird and making small talk with people I don’t know very well is one of my least favorite things, but I loved the museum. 10/10. Would go again.
Soon it was time to hop back in the bus and we went back to the hotel for a few minutes to chill before the movie. We had about thirty or forty minutes and I spent the majority of that time trying to figure out how to log on to the hotel’s Wi-Fi because priorities.
Then it was movie time. This was why Ekpe had brought us together in Dallas. We were going to see the movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, which we had read a few months earlier. Before we could watch the movie however, it was picture time. Also, Quincy Acy came through because him and Ekpe are buddies. Yes, his beard is immaculate. The photo-op was extensive because, I mean, this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You have to take pictures. Here’s the GOAT and I. I almost asked him to take a rap squat picture but I decided against it at the last minute. Let’s be honest, I would have won the Internet with said picture, so I guess I should have just asked, but I decided to stick with my go to move of playing it safe. Can’t switch the #brand up in critical moments. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So then we watched the movie, which was just okay. It wasn’t terrible; I just enjoyed the book a lot more. I won’t give anything away, but it’s about two cancer-stricken kids who fall in love and as you can imagine it doesn’t end too well. You can skip the movie, but the book is worth your time. It’s a quick read and quite humorous despite the subject matter.
For the final event of the day, we jumped back in the bus—which was now illuminated by multi-colored lights on the ceiling. Our destination was Truluck’s, a fancy seafood restaurant. Our thirty person crew that included two six-foot-seven plus basketball players drew the gaze of every patron in the restaurant as we filed into a private room Ekpe had rented because once again, Ekpe’s the best.
Now I’m not really a salad person, but the few courtesy bites I choked down were not as terrible an experience as I expected. The blackened redfish pontchartrain I ordered, however, was splendid. It came with this rice side and mini scrimps that were also fantastic. I’m a crazy picky eater in general, and blackened redfish pontchartrain is not something I would order most of the time but I was at a highly regarded seafood restaurant so I figured that was a good as place as any to expand my horizons. I mean, I had come out to Dallas by myself for an in-person meeting of an online book club filled with strangers, so why not put myself out there one more time, right?
Three hours, a piece of delicious chocolate cake and a champagne toast later, it was time for our dinner and book club meeting to come to a close. Once again Ekpe thanked all of us for attending and making his dream come true. Watching him throughout the day you could tell all of this meant a lot to him. You hear all the time about numerous players giving back to their communities in various ways, but Ekpe didn’t do it for the publicity. He did it because he’s a great person and wanted to make something amazing happen. And so he deserves some good pub for this, because few people are so generous with their time and money that they would even hold a book club on Twitter and send out free books. Then to bring all of us out to Dallas for the weekend and pay for everything—even food and the museum tickets? That’s incredible. Ekpe truly went above and beyond to make this whole thing happen, and though I can never repay him, I can at least let the world know about his astounding generosity and kindness.
Surreal. That’s what I would choose if I had one word to sum up the whole event. From the flight, to the hotel room, to the movie, to the dinner, to meeting Ekpe and the rest of the club, it was a whirlwind of a day. Without a doubt it was one of the best and most interesting experiences of my life, and something I’ll never forget. Again, none of it would have been possible without Ekpe, so once again I want to thank him for having this vision and making everything happen.
Reading is awesome, Dallas is awesome, Ekpe Udoh is awesome.