Wowza, what a Monday! Free Agency is in full “contracts can’t be officially signed for another week” swing and CtB hits you with Kevin’s epic lead-out to the draft and lead-in to free agency, Mallory’s podcast with the always spectacular Scott Raab and now … a couple of Instagrammed snapshots and personal anecdotes.
Aim to please, folks. Aim to please.
But seeing the draft in person is a weird jag. After last year’s draft, Scott Henkle and I talked at length about the unique experience of attending the draft as a fan/spectator in a piece for The Classical. This year, the experience was equally unique, just replace “drinking overpriced beers” with “the nagging feeling that you should always be tracking down ‘the scoop’ and then realizing that the NBA will bend over backwards to make sure the scoop they want you to get finds you— and not one bit more.” Access to the recently drafted players — especially the top picks — is very controlled and has everything to do with getting these players on as much television as possible.
Anthony Bennett’s name was called. Then he was ushered to his on-air interview with Dennis Scott of NBA TV. Then onto his press conference, which ran a scant five minutes, before he was ushered to the “Live Shot” area (the Nets’ practice court converted into about a dozen booths, a veritable gamut of TV interviews) where we were told he would be for over an hour. Not only was other press not allowed to hear the “Live Shot” interviews, but we weren’t allowed to wait (okay, fine, creepily linger) outside the area.
So, there was a lot of hanging around and taking pictures of, say, a Greek basketball prospect who a certain writer once hoped his team would find a way to draft.
Or getting an up-close look at the truly great way Lucas Nogueira’s hair destroyed attempts to be contained (this has to be the single greatest fashion moment since the days of the mid-90s suits … I’m looking at you, Jalen Rose!).
But, really, what one takes away from covering the NBA Draft is that it may just be the NBAest of all the events on the NBA calendar. These players haven’t done anything yet, so it’s not really about them (in fact, I’ve taken to comparing the draft to if someone sold tickets to your college graduation and let those spectators get drunk and heckle you). If you watch, you’re not watching anything actually happen. Yeah, sure, there are picks and trades, but those are things that “happen” only in the sense that they go down on some night in late June and then you have to wait for three to four months (or more … sometimes much, much more) to know if what you saw happen actually meant anything. The draft is a vehicle through which the NBA tells a viewer or live spectator how great of a thing the NBA is.
In truth, though, if you are viewing (or live spectating) the draft in the first place, chances are you’ve already sung a song or two in the choir being preached to.
The NBA Draft is theater and David Stern understands this like no one else.
He has recognized the part he was born to play in this spectacle and he plays it (well… um…) spectacularly. He constantly pokes and prods the crowd. I don’t know how the boos sound on TV. But, in the arena, it sounds like this. It’s vehement and violent— and when the crowd starts to lose interest somewhere around the 15th pick, Stern will go full villain and wave on the crowd to whip them into a frenzy for another few picks. He knows, by the end of the first round, he’ll be able to say “Your World Champion Miami Heat” and the crowd will rain hate upon him from that point to the end of the round.
Come to think of it, booing Stern is, hands down, my favorite part of attending the draft.
Well, was my favorite part, I guess. There was a moment, right around the 28th pick when it struck me: Stern would soon be announcing the final first round selection of his nearly 30 years of being Commissioner of the NBA. The NBA, unsurprisingly, soon made sure the crowd was aware of this by playing video tributes to Stern on the jumbo-tron.
And the crowd responded perfectly. When Stern came out to announce Golden State’s pick at 30— and in advance of a special appearance by the first pick Stern ever announced, Hakeem Olajuwon, and some thankful and, I’m sure, thoughtful words that no one in the arena could actually hear (it’s one of the first things you notice attending the draft— the audio is terrible)—the crowd rose to its feet and actually began cheering the outgoing Commish. They cheered him long and loud, with a passion perfectly matching their earlier booing.
It will be interesting to see if Silver ever comes close to matching Stern’s showmanship. My guess: he won’t … at least not for a while. Assuming Stern’s role in the NBA Draft is a little like being cast to play King Lear. Even the best actors need to age into roles like this. There needs to be a history. There needs to have been highs and lows, successes and failures, trades blocked and rescinded, lockouts instituted and lifted, super team formed and broken up.
Still, to the crowd’s credit, as Silver came out to start the second round, usually the time where the Deputy Commissioner would be cheered, Silver was treated to his first ever boo shower. Let it not be his last. Let it rain, friends.