No, That’s What’s Up: Behind The Scenes Of The Basketball Wives Reunion

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“What do you think of being called catty? Do you care?” asked Shaunie O’Neal in the makeup-and-hair room backstage of the Basketball Wives reunion. Not surprisingly, she steered the conversation behind the scenes much like she did on air. “No,” said Suzie Ketcham and Evelyn Lozada in unison, in the tone of bored students faced with an obvious question. Evelyn added, “I’ve been called worse, girl. I embrace catty!” That’s Evelyn for you: the mindset of a champion, the honesty of an open book, the cattiness of…a cat. If you were searching for a 2010 reality star prototype, Evelyn is all the specimen you need.

Really, each of the Baskeball Wives were prototypical (sans Gloria, obviously, who wasn’t lured to the reunion even by the promise of camera time). I’d find this out during my hours spent with them before they filmed the show’s reunion. They filled that time talking about themselves. Really, these five women have a microscopic precision when it comes to examining themselves and their show.

Below is a series of anecdotes and pictures culled from my time on the reunion set. No water was spilled during the assembly of this post…

I arrived on set to find Jennifer and Royce in the makeup room. In my experience, women on reality TV (and in general) are less than excited to be photographed without a full face of makeup, so I tiptoed lightly, asking Jennifer if it was cool to take a picture of her in the process of getting her face put on.

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She allowed me to, reasoning, “I put myself out there this much already…” Wise and self-aware!

Royce and Evelyn were similarly open…

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…albeit the latter, obviously, wasn’t so thrilled about it. There’s something so honest about the picture above, though, that I couldn’t not post it. And believe me that once Evelyn resumed talking…

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…she barely remembered that the camera was there. As usual! At one point, Jennifer asked if these pictures were going to end up on VH1.com. I told her of course they were — I wasn’t keeping them for my private collection (although if you could see what is in my private collection, you’d probably be horrified and overwhelmed with schadenfreude).

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Basically, it was in this prep room that most of the pre-show action took place. The five women came in and out in various stages of dress and protection…

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…for the three or so hours leading up to the reunion taping. It was essentially an open-forum Barbershop scenario (or, I guess, since it was almost entirely female, a Beauty Shop scenario sans the Janet Jackson name-mangling). Grand entrances were made (Evelyn walked in and the first thing she said was, “Your t**s look big,” to Royce, who explained she was rocking a Victoria’s Secret Bombshell Bra; Shaunie merely exclaimed, “Bitches!”), drinks were consumed (Jennifer sipped a mimosa, Shaunie requested champagne and Evelyn asked Susie to pour her a Grey Goose on the rocks — all together telling orders, I think). Royce’s iPod played Chris Brown and Janet Jackson (she rushed to turn off “Anytime, Anyplace,” figuring it was too low-energy, but everyone told her to keep it on) and Royce occasionally danced and sipped (non-diet) Coke while popping Nerds, like the big kid that she is. (When the reunion host, Tanika Ray, finally met the girls, she told Royce, “You’re so cute!” to which Royce replied, “I’m not cute! I’m sexy!” I feel like the kid thing might be a complex for her, yet the Coke and Nerd energy cocktail persists.)

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The transient nature of the discussion makes me feel like it’d be best organized by subject, instead of via linear narrative. Obviously, the subject on everyone’s mind was…

Gloria

It would be inaccurate to say that Gloria was the elephant in the room, since a) she wasn’t in the room and b) that would imply that no one wanted to talk about her, when in fact, they did. “I wish Gloria was here. She talks so much s*** that she needs to be here,” said Jennifer. Royce agreed about the s*** talk, but thought that Gloria’s absence was telling: “It’s not disappointing to me [that she isn't here]. It just shows that she’s not willing to face the things that she said to the media. You can say it to everybody else, but you can’t say it to us? It would be different if she just kept her mouth shut and wasn’t doing radio interviews, but she is and the fact that she can’t say it to our faces is what I have a problem with. I think she’s scared. She knows that we’re going to tell her about herself. But she’s the type who likes to throw the rock and hide her hand.” Shaunie seemed to think that Gloria was skipping out on this reunion at her own peril: “What are you running from? There are some things that she probably doesn’t want to be said, which I think are totally going to be said if not more, today.”

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The one person that Gloria contends that she’s remained cool with, Suzie, was indeed more diplomatic than her peers: “I’m a very forgiving person, too, and I feel like [Gloria] was put in this position because of her sister, where she was being bombarded. But at the same time, she defended her sister so strongly, I didn’t like the way she reacted to it. I thought she should have been like, ‘If my sister did it, it’s f***ed up.’ If she didn’t do it, it’s f***ed up, too. I would have been apologizing profusely to Shaunie if that were me.”

Obviously, the point of the reunion was to resolve issues that weren’t yet resolved and one that Evelyn and Jennifer have continually mentioned in post-show interviews is that they somehow have evidence that Gloria’s fiance Matt Barnes isn’t as faithful as Gloria has given him credit for. They claim that this was brought up even before the cameras stopped rolling, at the so-called “last supper” that closed out the first season of the show. “She was like, ‘I don’t care, that’s my n****!’” Evelyn recalled. “I said, ‘Toine was my n**** and Toine f***ed everybody!’” Here’s hoping Season 2 picks up where Season 1 left off just for the chance to watch that play out.

Haters

Any reality star will tell you that the adversity coming from within via costars and the pressurized situations in which they’re made to interact, comes tenfold from without once their show starts airing. “In the beginning we had so much hate. Don’t you think they haters have died down?” asked Suzie to a response of general apathy from her costars. Haters, as they say, gonna hate. While most of the women seem aware that this comes with the territory, the basis of the hating (or lack thereof) seems to be what truly bothers Shaunie. In response to some judgmental criticism via Twitter, Shaunie said that she asked said tweeter, “How do you think you know someone based on 30 minutes every week?” Jennifer corrected Shaunie by saying what people are seeing is even less – more along the lines of 22 minutes a week. “You get pieces of emotional moments. You can’t actually know someone,” said Shaunie. Reality, you see, has its limits.

But what about those who actually do know the women and call them out publicly? Gloria’s fiance Matt Barnes recently took to Twitter to accuse Jennifer and Evelyn of being puppets, and to call all the women “tricks.” “Matt Barnes!” said Shaunie. “I think we need a cut out of anything he gets. He keeps talking about Basketball Wives so people keep talking about him! Nobody’s talking about Matt Barnes.” Except, of course, for them.

Eric Williams, Jennifer’s husband, too, almost took that route to call out these women, according to Evelyn. (As mentioned on the reunion, he wasn’t happy about Jennifer’s friends telling her she should cheat on him, among things.) Jennifer explained, “He tweeted me, ‘I’m about to go in on all the Basketball Wives and I’m going hard.’” Soon after, Jennifer started getting messages from her friends that her husband was following them. “I was so embarrassed,” said Jennifer, reminding me of a kid whose mom just discovered Facebook. She told Eric he was too old for Twitter. Soon after, he deleted his account.

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Twitter, indeed, seems to be integral to the Basketball Wives experience. Every week the show aired, at least some aspect of it ended up trending on Twitter (usually just as #basketballwives). One of the most memorable insults uttered on the show came via Gloria who called Royce a “Twitter-crazed cheerleader.” Not that Royce is ashamed: “I think all of us here are Twitter-crazed, and I was a cheerleader. So hey, it is what it is. Thank you. Just because you say it with a mean face in a harsh tone I’m supposed to take it as an insult? I don’t think so.”

The Basketball Wives’ embrace of Twitter sometimes comes off more as reliance: “I don’t even need to read the news anymore, the Twitter followers will let you know what’s going on with your life,” said Evelyn. Some time during this informal, makeup-room round table, a producer interrupted to address the women, asking, “Are you guys twittering right now? I’m getting calls…”

Idle chatter

Twitter isn’t the only thing that lets Evelyn know supposedly what’s going on with her life. She announced to the room that a recent item on Sandra Rose, for example, alleged that she was dating Chris Brown. “Do you even know Chris Brown?” asked Shaunie. “No!” countered Evelyn. “I f***ing went out with Suzie. I’m standing by the DJ booth and then he walks in and starts singing. He’s to my right. I’m not looking at him or anything. They took a picture and on Sandra Rose it’s like, ‘Rumored: Evelyn Lozada dating Chris Brown.’ And then they go, ‘Exhibit A’ and there’s an arrow on my head and an arrow on his head. I didn’t have a conversation with the guy. When he was walking off, he said, ‘I know who you are.’” That sounds appropriately ominous. Evelyn at least has a sense of humor about the rumor: when “I Can Transform Ya” later played from Royce’s iPod, Evelyn remarked, “Oh, it’s my boo.” After all, she does have the cougar reputation to live up to.

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Something that Evelyn maybe doesn’t take as lightly as the Chris Brown rumors, but is nonetheless wide open to talking about, is her on-air confrontation with Vanessa (whom she resolved to refer to strictly as “Horse Face” during the reunion – I was disappointed she didn’t end up doing so). The most interesting things said about her water-/paper-/pen-flinging episode with the woman that she’s accused of stalking her was what we didn’t see on air: “I asked if she wanted to lick my clit. She just sat there. Did you see her face? She’s crazy. You sit there with no reaction, you’re crazy.” Reflecting on the scene, Suzie painted a picture that suggests the reality of reality TV can be even more absurd than what ends up on the screen: “[The confrontation] was at this Japanese restaurant, this Zen type of place, and we were boxed in. These poor Japanese people were so scared. And then there was this family, where there was a little boy, a mom and a dad. The mom’s mom just died and she was crying in the corner…” “They were in the corner having a serious moment, and there I was, trying to kill Vanessa,” jumped in Evelyn. “They left. We cleared that place out.”

“She looked so bad on interviews,” added Evelyn as the final word on Vanessa. “She looks like she ate bad shrimp or something.” Her biting, image-specific comment was similar to a brief conversation that day about Gloria’s sister Laura (who allegedly had an affair with Shaq):

Suzie: Gloria’s sister looked like ass!
Jennifer: Oh, she looked terrible.
Shaunie: Why didn’t she have makeup on or something?
Jennifer: She knew the cameras were coming!

Here, they sounded more like viewers than participants. Of course, reality shows being setup how they are (you see the action, you see those involved then commenting on it), the talent is encouraged to examine itself (and then, in the cases of post-show interviews or reunions, the talent is often called on to examine itself examining itself). Essentially, the talent is given a dual role, having to provide both action and commentary. The ability to narrate one’s story is among the most important talents for a reality star to have. Still, as the hours passed, these women were still talking about what went on during the taping (on describing the concept of “mo money, mo problems” to homeless people, Suzie recalled, “They were looking at me like, ‘What?’ Maybe telling homeless people that wasn’t the right thing to do. That wasn’t very smart of me.”); people’s varied responses to them (it’s not all hate – Evelyn described rapture in her wake: “We had a girl crying in the bathroom. It was like, ‘Oh my god, is she serious?”); and the show’s title (Shaunie: “I always go back to: that’s VH1′s fault. They named it that. Not us. But then again, I told some lady the other day that for the Atlanta Housewives, there’s only one of them on there.”).

Obviously, I helped steer some of this discussion, but the amazing thing was that I didn’t really have to most of the time. These women seem to have a genuine passion for examining their examined lives. At the very least, it’s a great way to pass the time when you’re preparing to go out on stage and…examine your examined life. I asked Evelyn if she ever got sick of talking about the show or her role on it. “No,” she told me. “It’s such a big part of our lives right now. It’s like, what else…I have other stuff going on in my life right now, but this is so tense. Usually Sundays and Mondays, we’re stressed. Royce is calling me, saying, ‘What are you saying about me? My Twitter followers said…’”

Season 2

And, of course, in addition to looking back, these women are already looking forward to the upcoming taping of Season 2, a three-month ordeal that will more or less span the summer. “I’m not excited about shooting in the dead of summer in Miami. It’s gonna be hot as hell,” said Jennifer.

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Meanwhile, Evelyn joked, “Someone else needs to cry for Season 2. My niece calls me like, ‘Why you always crying on the TV?’” She also said, “Someone needs to go to jail Season 2.” Little did she know that later that day, Suzie would get an early jump on that after her water-throwing incident with Sandra. “Somebody needs to have sex, somebody has to get pregnant,” said Suzie. Later, Royce would tell me that she wants to get married and have more kids. The implication was that we were all invited to watch.

But with everyone more or less at peace with Royce’s free-spiritedness and with Gloria threatening to pull out of the show all together next season (even though Shaunie says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Gloria comes back”), where will the drama come from? The new wives? The old ones turning on each other? Royce, for one, isn’t too concerned. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to be about drama versus where do we go now?” she told me. “You have things that come out of the woodwork, of course. It’s going to be about where we go from here: me dating, same thing with Evelyn, Jen and her marriage. Shaunie’s divorced now. I think it’s about us living our lives, dealing with the past and just trying to move on.”

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And don’t count on these women taking their new-found fame lying down. While some people get on reality TV, hear a more or less positive response and then figure that they no longer need to work and their very existence is entertaining enough, Evelyn, for one, seems entirely proactive. Before retreating to their own, private dressing rooms for lunch and to screen the Season 1 finale (the reunion taped the day before it aired so showing up on set, none of them had seen it), Evelyn announced to the room, “Guys, we gotta make this reunion bananas.” (“We shouldn’t throw any more water, what do you guys think?” asked Shaunie, in a rare moment when her addressing the room yielded no response.) I asked Evelyn if making things bananas was her aim during the taping of the first season. “The first two, three weeks, it was very, ‘Awwww!’” she said. “It was like, ‘Who’s going to want to watch this?’ And then we got very comfortable with the cameras and we got comfortable speaking about what we speak about when the cameras weren’t there. Then we started thinking, ‘We need a season 2. We can’t be one season and done.’” Obviously, the plan worked. Don’t let anyone tell you that the Basketball Wives don’t have hustle.

After their makeup, hair, meals and episode screening, the Basketball Wives were ready to hit the stage:

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Royce was the only one who gave a little extra to her impromptu photo shoot…

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So, extra came in the form of armpits. I’ll take it.

Finally, check out what a little sharpening on Photoshop can do…

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It makes Jennifer bling like she’s supposed to.

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And then the group gathered in a room just outside of the stage to be miked and share some pre-show banter (Tanika greeted them, saying Gloria skipping out on the reunion was the “biggest mistake”).

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Then, the actual taping came. It lasted for over five hours with roughly an hour devoted to each segment.

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Highlights of the unaired portion of those five hours included:

- Finding out that Shaunie met Royce via Twitter (in retrospect: duh!).

- Evelyn saying the following three sentences: “I have someone. He’s 25. It’s nothing serious.”

- Tanika Ray trying very hard to get Shaunie’s young boo, Marlon Yates, out on stage (Marlon was hanging out in the back and literally ran when he heard his name being called).

- An dance-off between Jen and Royce orchestrated by Tanika — Jen dropped it like it was hot, while Royce did a surprisingly conservative dance.

- Shaunie’s recounting of her pre-split epiphany: “I’m focused on these women and where he’s sticking it, and I realized that life is so much bigger than that. People are dying!”

- Evelyn recollection of a bizarre request from a fan: “Somebody told me he’d give me $2,000 to sniff my feet.”

- Suzie’s reveal of what she’s looking for in a man: “I just want somebody who can be my beset friend. Someone who can take some chilled Patrón shots with me. And that’s it.”

- The hour+ spent on Jennifer alone, as Tanika practically grilled her about her situation with her husband Eric (and really, when you interview Jennifer about her situation, it’s almost hard not to grill her — I found that out first-hand). Anyway, Jennifer’s extended segment basically came down to her saying, “He’s definitely pissed me off, but when a person is making an initiative, it speaks volumes.”

- Suzie reflecting on her al fresco drink-throwing with Sandra: “[Throwing drinks] is what you can do without going to jail.” Maybe to a point — of course, going to jail is exactly what happened after Suzie threw a bucket of water on Sandra during the reunion’s dramatic climax. What you didn’t see during the show is that after Suzie poured the bucket and then shoved Sandra, Sandra fell down face-first. It was shocking and seemed like a really, really serious injury…until Sandra got right back up and demanded for people to tell her where Suzie was. Literally, she went from on the floor to on her feet in seconds. As she was speaking to producers and wringing out her hair right in front of the table I was watching the show from (just behind the audience), I took some pictures of her, of course:

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I ended up feeling bad for Sandra. Even though she clearly came on with marketing herself in mind (and admitted as much to Evelyn re: plugs), I felt like she did have some things to say about the show, but between the interruptions and water being thrown on her, she didn’t really get to do so. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to talk to her — she was nowhere to be found backstage, either sequestered so that any drama could play out in front of the audience or she just wasn’t brought in till the last minute. In any event, she was the most memorable part of the reunion even before the altercation (some of her quotes were absolutely amazing: “Those are very untrue, unfounded…words. Allegations, I may say.”; “Never once! Never once! Never once did he admit that he was mar- or mention that he was married.”; “If you are working in this business, it’s a fine line between being called a groupie and being a professional in this business. And I’m a professional.”). Even though she was made to look like a fool yet again, I wouldn’t be surprised if her turn on this show actually gained her some fans. It gained her at least one, any any rate.

Oh, and here’s Royce reenacting her reaction to the on-stage mayhem:

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Drama seen, and raised.

The drink-throwing ordeal shut things down for maybe 30-45 minutes. During this time, the women had been on stage for nearly four hours and were starving. They picked at some food at the craft services table. Seeing Jennifer eat some buffalo wings in that sparkly, Ga Ga-esque dress was such an image clash, I had to actually restrain myself from taking pictures of it.

After that, the reunion picked right back up, as the women churned out the last segment or so. When it was done, a few of them met with some fans in the audience…

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…which was nice and rare, actually (Bret Michaels is the only one I’ve ever seen take real time out after reunions to take pictures and speak with people). In many of the discussions throughout the day re: Twitter and the Internet, the women seemed acutely aware of the importance of the show’s following. I thought it was reassuring to see the women give back to the fans, and I can’t wait to see how many bunches of bananas they give back come the fall when Season 2 starts airing. If nothing else, these women have a sense of their responsibility — I doubt they’ll let us down. And that, more than anything, is what’s up.

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