Watson -- chillin' on his bed with his girlfriend and their 3-month-old daughter, Ayanna, who are visiting -- is content spending the night flipping through some 40 cable TV channels. It's a typically casual night for Watson, a star in the NBA Development League. That is, until his phone rings at around 10:30 p.m.
It's Bob Hoffman, the Vipers head coach. He has good news.
"I was so excited, and nervous. I couldn't sleep at all that night," Watson, 24, said. "I think I got only a couple hours of sleep. The next day, I was on a plane."
Come Tuesday, at about 9 a.m., Watson is tucked away in an office at Warriors headquarters atop the Oakland City Center Marriott parking lot, inking Charles Watson Jr. at the bottom of a 10-day NBA contract. Watson, a point guard known as "Quiet Storm," does everything he can to hold back the boyish glee dancing inside, the kind of joy that follows having a dream come true.
After going undrafted following four solid years at the University of Tennessee, after a season playing in Italy and Greece, after a month in the D-League, Watson is finally headed
That's how long Watson has to convince the Warriors he belongs in the NBA, or at least show enough to receive a second -- and final -- 10-day contract. After that, the Warriors would have two options: release him or sign him to a contract for the remainder of the season.
The ink is hardly dry on his contract, and Watson is swallowed by the NBA experience. By 10 a.m. Tuesday, an hour before practice, he is parked in assistant coach Stephen Silas' office. The two huddle over a laptop as Silas bombards Watson with a brief overview of Golden State's offensive and defensive schemes.
Watson nods occasionally, signaling he understands. But his wide-eyed stare betrays him. The jargon Silas mercilessly reels off -- terms such as "seven" and "change" and "UCLA" -- might as well be Aramaic slang.
"I had no idea what he was talking about," Watson admitted. "I was watching the video and thinking, 'I hope I don't have to know this by practice.'"
After being force-fed the CliffsNotes to one of the NBA's more radical systems, Watson heads downstairs to the locker room. He puts on his practice uniform for the first time, answers questions from Dr. Robert Albo, the Warriors' director of medicine, and takes a physical, which leaves him enough time for breakfast, meeting his new teammates and pre-practice work.
Afterward, the Warriors fly to Portland for Wednesday's game against the Trail Blazers.
At about 10 a.m., while the rest of the Warriors are snug in their cozy rooms at the Benson Hotel, Watson exits the hotel lobby. He yanks the hood of his sweatshirt over his head after a collision with Portland's brisk morning breeze. He is off to Starbucks in search of green tea. Warriors starting point guard Baron Davis, whom Watson is auditioning to back up, sent the rookie on an errand. Let the hazing begin.
Watson has no problem paying dues, working hard and serving others. His father, Charles, works at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas and runs his own janitorial service, Cleaner Than Clean. His mother, Cathy, has worked for the City of Las Vegas for 25 years. Watson spent many a days at work with both.
Making a tea run for his new teammate is easy.
"Yes, of course I got (the tea)," Watson reports on his D-League blog with DraftExpress.com. "I got an extra $40 out of the deal because he let me keep the change."
Watson happily takes Davis' leftovers that evening, too.
With the Warriors getting routed by Portland, Watson logs 30 minutes in his NBA debut. He displays veteran poise --hitting outside shots, sharing the ball (four assists) and defending well. He finishes with 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting in the Warriors' 109-91 defeat. Though mostly coming with the game out of reach, Watson's production is reminiscent of his days with the Vipers, for whom he averaged 26.4 points, 5.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds and shot 50.6 percent from the field in 16 games.
"He's just so calm, relaxed," Watson's mom, Cathy, said from the Watson residence in Las Vegas. "He got that from his dad."
Back to the grind. After a red-eye flight back to Oakland, Watson is up early for practice Thursday. He does some drills before practice, then after practice he studies as if final exams were at stake.
He survived his first game without knowing the Warriors' system by adhering to their overall philosophy -- run the floor and make plays. Realizing he won't get away with that for long, Watson takes two DVDs worth of game action to his room at the Oakland Marriott and spends hours learning the offense, followed by hours of sleep. Of course, that is after he samples the offerings of the team's chef, who fulfills requests before and after practices. It beats the continental breakfast at the Hawthorne Suites in McAllen, his home while in the D-League.
"You can have omelets, bacon, whatever," Watson said. "I usually get waffles, two or three eggs and sausage."
Watson has been playing basketball since the second grade at the Doolittle Community Center in West Las Vegas, but this is a day that will stick with him for the rest of his life. With the Warriors ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies 50-37 and 6:13 left in the first half, Warriors coach Don Nelson sends Watson into the game.
Watson heard about the Oracle Arena crowd and its unabashed love for the Warriors, a sense he gleaned from watching Golden State's playoff series against Dallas last season.
But no warning could prepare him for what he's experiencing at the scorer's table.
"When I was coming to check into the game," Watson blogged, "fans were yelling 'Go C.J., we are proud of you.' And when I checked into the game and the announcer said my name, everyone stood up and started cheering for me. That was the (best) moment of my life. I can go ahead and die now."
That would've been premature. Still six days to go.
Watson is finally in his comfort zone.
He's not on the court. He's at Scott's Seafood Restaurant in Oakland's Jack London Square. He's not around his new teammates. He's with his parents and his maternal aunt Connie Sneed. The only person missing is Watson's younger brother, Kashif, 21, who is in school at Irvine Community College and, according to Watson, already salivating over his next life as the brother of an NBA baller.
Being suddenly thrust into a new environment can be lonely -- especially for someone who's reserved like Watson. He said the family gathering comes at the perfect time. Nothing says normalcy for him like family dinner.
As always, his parents picked up the tab.
"His time will come," Cathy said with a laugh.
Still in his shooting shirt, Watson stands at midcourt before Sunday's game against visiting Indiana. With his right hand, he grips the paw of Warriors special assistant Mitch Richmond. With his left hand, he cups a fancy plate from Tiffany's. He smiles for the camera.
Watson is being honored as the 100th call-up from the D-League, which was established in 2001. Never mind that the news of this milestone is dated nearly a week, or that his current focus is on making the NBA his home. Watson is a model spokesman for a league he hopes never to see again.
"(Going back down) would be sad," said Watson, who finished with two points, an assist and a steal in seven minutes of the Warriors' 106-101 win over the Pacers. "It's an experience, and it all happens for a reason. I think I'd probably play even harder, be more focused, make sure I get another call-up and try to stay."
The reason for the cut-glass plate? The engraved plaque that was to be presented to Watson didn't arrive on time.
"Will I still get the plaque?" Watson asked a Warriors official, who informed him the plaque was on its way. "Can I keep the plate? ... It'll make a good gift for my mom."
His second road trip with the Warriors begins on the team's charter plane to Minneapolis with him signing for a white envelope handed to him by Warriors travel secretary Eric Housen. It contains his per diem for the entire road trip: $604. That's $109 per day for five days, plus a partial day's pay. The D-League per diem is $40 per day.
"I put that envelope straight in my backpack," Watson said.
Traveling by chartered flight is a far cry from the D-League.
No airport lines to worry about -- the team bus drives to the plane on the tarmac. Everyone has a first class-quality seat, with enough leg room for NBA players to stretch out and watch movies on their laptops. There are card tables with facing seats for the players to dabble in games or round-table discussions.
And the food. Oh, the food.
"Chicken wings. Baked ziti. Vegetables. Whatever you want to drink. All the snacks you want," Watson said. "Whatever you want, they pretty much have. It's nice."
Watson divides his flight time between the book he's reading -- "Reposition Yourself" by T.D. Jakes -- and his iPod. He sits next to rookie forward Brandan Wright. The two have history. Their parents -- all Nashville, Tenn., natives -- know each other. Good thing, too, because Watson doesn't want to sit in the wrong seat. That's a good way to get hazed.
Wright schools Watson on other ways to keep his nose clean.
"I try to tell him a little bit, but it's unpredictable around here," Wright said. "I told him to pay his fines on time, 'cause if you don't, they'll double it or even triple it. I told him to be on time for everything -- meaning at least 10 to 15 minutes early."
Watson slaps the hand of guard Monta Ellis as he checks into the Jan. 15 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ellis heads to the bench with 10:24 left in the second quarter. Some 30 seconds later, the ball and Watson wind up alone together in the left corner. With no hesitation, he fires up a 3-pointer.
"I've hit a couple jump shots," Watson said, "and it surprised me because I know I don't shoot that well just coming off the bench. Usually I will get warm. But I know I won't play that much, so I've got to come in and get my legs under me to make a shot."
Maybe he should've warmed up some more -- especially after sitting on the bench the whole first quarter, and with the Minnesota winter sneaking inside the Target Center. Watson's 3-pointer banks off the side of the backboard.
His night gets better, though. He is on the court during the third-quarter surge that gives the Warriors the lead for good, totaling two points and two assists during a 22-6 run. Still, he doesn't put up the numbers he did in earlier games.
You'd think he'd be down about an unimpressive performance. With the clock ticking on his dream, you'd think he would be pressing about making another splash. Not Watson. He laughs about his errant 3-pointer.
What was once a belief is now a certainty to Watson. He's sure he belongs.
"I am surprised a little bit," Watson said. "I was kind of nervous the first game, then, after while, all the nervousness went away. It was just basketball after that. That's how I've been playing ever since the first game. I feel a lot more comfortable, especially with the freedom Coach gives you. It's a lot better to just go out and play."
In the D-League, Watson makes $4,000 a month, in bi-monthly installments. But Wednesday, just over $25,000 is wired into Watson's bank account. Ten days' worth of pay for a minimum-salary NBA rookie. That doesn't count the per diem. Nor does he have to spend any of that money on food, lodging or transportation.
"I haven't even looked in my account," Watson said after registering two points, an assist and a steal in seven minutes in the Warriors' loss at Indiana on Jan. 16. "I'm probably just going to stare at the screen when I do check it. That's a lot of money. I can pay a lot of bills with that."
The Warriors check into the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago shortly after midnight. Watson has already learned his fate. The Warriors want to keep him on the roster for at least another 10 days.
In the morning, Watson surveys his room, which is some 20 floors up. By now, the awe of NBA players' high-end accommodations has diminished a bit. Still, he takes a few moments to admire the digs. Spacious layout. Plush king-sized bed. Sony flatscreen TV with DVD player. Classic furnishings and decorations. View of the Magnificent Mile. He plays with the remote that controls everything electronic in the room.
"In the D-League," Watson said, "we stay at a Marriott or a Holiday Inn Express on the road."
The Warriors aren't practicing, which is standard after back-to-back games. So Watson spends most of the day in his room, avoiding the freezing outdoors, catching up with relatives and his D-League teammates. The next morning, he's hand delivered a package that had been FedEx'd from the Warriors offices in Oakland and contains a few sheets of paper begging for ink. He smiles, almost involuntarily, as he reads -- better yet, skims -- over his second 10-day contract.
He scribbles Charles Watson Jr. again. The dream continues.
Contact Marcus Thompson II at email@example.com.