ALBUQUERQUE - My morning began inauspiciously, when I drove to the Denver airport, printed my boarding pass and went through security for my 10:09 flight only then realizing the flight was 10:09 p.m.
But this serendipitous twist led me to meet an icon of irreverence.
For many basketball fans, the video game NBA Jam was an important part of their lives. This two-on-two arcade game was innovative in the early '90s, swallowing quarters, as fans played as their favorite NBA stars.
The game has become a staple on modern video-game systems, but nothing is like playing the arcade version - the Denver bar 1-Up has it, and you can find me and fellow D-list sports-media celebrities such as Nate Kreckman and Jonah Keri boom-shakalakaing dunks for hours.
So because teams on NBA Jam only had two players, fans were obviously familiar with every guy featured on the game. Except - the Mavericks were so pitiful back then, one of their two guys was Mike Iuzzolino.
I grew up watching the NBA. And later in life, I was an NBA reporter. Yet when 1-Up opened a few years ago, and I played the game for the first time since childhood, I had no idea who this guy was. None. Neither did Kreckman. We were flabbergasted at the existence of this human, bewildered that an NBA nobody was forever preserved on the greatest basketball video game of all time (no offense, Double Dribble).
In this cinematic treasure below, Nate and I express our sheer bafflement, while Nate, spotting Iuzzolino's teammate Derek Harper, does nothing short of a spot-on Marv Albert impression, spouting off mid-'90s Knicks names.
I did a little research on the World Wide Web, discovering that Iuzzolino did, indeed, exist. After college ball at St. Francis, the second-rounder played two NBA seasons, averaging 9.0 points per game. And then, he dropped off the NBA radar.
So that leads us to today.
Because of my airport mix-up, I flew standby on a mid-day flight to Albuquerque (where I'm going to write a column about Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl).
When I landed at the airport, I went to Quiznos, and over yonder I spotted the New Mexico basketball team, boarding a flight. While waiting for my turkey on wheat (no cheese), I became curious about who was the New Mexico coach these days, so I looked it up on my phone.
As I perused the staff list, I spotted the director of basketball operations - Mike Iuzzolino!
So, I hopped out of line, darted straight to the gate, weaving my way through the players. And there he was, like Indiana Jones discovering the Lost Ark - Iuzzolino, in person, not pixelated.
"Hey, uh Mike," I said, "This is random, but I'm a fan of you from your NBA days."
Surprised and humbled - and surely wondering just how I picked him out of a crowd - our hero replied: "Oh, are you from Dallas?"
"No," I admitted. "I just know you from NBA Jam."
He smiled wide. And then, he was a good sport, agreeing to be in this photo with me: the biggest NBA Jam fan ever and the most random NBA Jam player ever.
Hochman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This blog is reprinted with permission of the Denver Post. New Mexico had a 9-3 record entering Saturday night's game with Colorado State. Iuzzolino, an Altoona native, is in his first season with the Lobos after spending the last three at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.