When I found out that the 2013 NBA Draft was going to be at Barclays, I wasn't sure I wanted to go. Like I'm gonna buy seats to the NBA Draft is equal parts surreal and awkward, a high school prom mixed with an awards show added to a bingo night with a dash of cattle auction. I didn't even think I wanted to go, but it's an hour after the show ended and I do nothing but recommend the experience.
I wasn't even sure I wanted to attend an event that is, literally, names being called out over a loudspeaker for three hours. That does not sound fun on paper. But with some gentle prodding from my sports-addicted brain - and the realization that 2013 would be commissioner David Stern's last draft - I gave in and shelled out to see what the dog-and-pony show was all about.
All I'll say is: you guys have to go to one of these.
I walk in the gates and become immediately aware of an arena vibe unlike any I've ever felt before. The hallways of the stadium are full of scattered pockets of humanity with no clear direction or purpose, like one might see at a swap meet or state fair. Occasionally a crowd is gathered around a young tall person in an extremely expensive suit. People ask to take photos with this person. A person it's quite clear they couldn't identify without him wearing a Hello My Name Is tag. If you're over 6'6" and don't go to the NBA draft every year wearing your nicest suit and a team cap, you my friend are doing it wrong.
I grab a beer and walk to my section, noticing immediately the range of jerseys being worn and that the number of white dudes wearing jerseys without an undershirt is at a tumorous level. I've said this before, but wearing a jersey to an NBA game is like bringing a glove to the ballpark. It's cool until a certain age, then you're that guy. So wearing a jersey without an undershirt is like bringing your glove to a game, wearing stirrups on your pants and smearing on eyeblack.
The draft stage is set up like you might expect a musical to be, except for the cables, speakers, dollies and cranes that obscure a good 80% of the things one might care to observe during the course of the show. The arena floor is divided equally between a series of banquet tables for prospects and their entourages, and a 15 wide by 10 deep grid of reporter laptops and their respective owners. The upper deck demographic is quite young and indeed has the energy of a thousand fifth-graders on a field trip to a Broadway show.
The draft is also amazing in that it begins with absolute peak energy. It is a tie game with ten seconds left in the fourth quarter, and then it's all downhill from there. When David Stern emerges to a downpour of boos - we'll get to this - and announces Anthony Bennett as the first overall pick, the almost-full arena lets out an in-unison WHOA usually reserved for Blake Griffin Dunks and March Madness buzzer-beaters.
And with that haymaker of a start, this weird night was off and running. Pockets of fans for each team would begin yelling when they were on the clock, picks began arriving faster and faster, ESPN cameras scurried along cables and twisted on cranes as the draft machine whirred. When the trades started happening I lost track of it all and just focused on having fun and figuring out who was falling to the Bulls for the 20th pick.
Let's skip ahead to that part, since it was our collective highlight of the evening. Gar Paxdorf has become renowned for taking a guy that no one else has rated that highly while I audibly moan about the three guys Chad Ford liked more in his mock draft. With the middling results of popular picks James Johnson and Marquis Teague and the undeniable success of sleeper picks Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler (and maybe one day Mirotic), I was quite pleased to not have a damned clue who Tony Snell was nor his skill level for putting an inflatable ball through a hoop. Turns out he's a wing that can shoot the rock and has the athleticism to defend, or so say myriad draft profiles that I've read since Stern announced his name while requesting louder jeers from his own personal peanut gallery.
But if the kid can play, he fills an area of great need for the Bulls backcourt. To all those expecting him to make an impact early and often however, please remember that Thibs is a big believer in the rookie redshirt. In the second round the Bulls took Florida stretch-4 Erik Murphy, another shooter that former Gator Joakim Noah promptly nicknamed Murph and Turph on Twitter. And so he shall be from this day forward.
Seems like a good haul for the Bulls, who played it conservative just as they usually do and, frankly, just as they should have. They've got a shot to come out of the East next season if if if if if if if things go well. There's simply no reason to get crazy now when they've been so patient in building this roster in the first place. Paxdorf can wait around for the free agency dust to settle to look for a backup big at the mini mid-level exception and a few veteran minimum contracts to fill out the roster. It ain't flashy, but it gives us hope. That should be good enough on draft day.
Other random observations:
- Interesting to me to see how the draftees are figured in to the entire operation. They are led and prodded around the arena not unlike Austin Powers being unfrozen from his cryo-stasis. In fact, there is a guy whose one job it was to sort-of gently push any prospect that hugged too many people too long. He would just put a hand on their lower back and begin straight-arming them onto the stage to meet an awaiting David Stern. It was like seeing the physical manifestation of the Oscars wrap-it-up music.
- Barclays is a fantastic arena with every amenity one could possibly want, but even its wifi was no match for a couple thousand NBA nerds on draft night. Not since I tried to log onto Prodigy with a dial up modem to cyber was the internet so blatantly useless. So much snark, lost to the ether.
- The NBA is a global force and a marketing powerhouse, but some of its in-game promotion is so heavy-handed that you can't help but feel somewhat offended by what they must think of you when they come up with this tripe. The State Farm™ @CliffPaul glasses-and-moustache disguise was a particularly annoying swag offering that was shoved in my hand upon entering the stadium.
- After the first ten picks, the crowd has shot its wad and begins resembling something I can only describe as the Mos Eisley cantina of the NBA. People were laying down across rows of seats, relentlessly checking iPhones and iPads, calling friends, chanting player names, just... whatever. What a mess. I half expected Stern to go Mr. Cooper on us and tell us all to straighten up or else. Once the Knicks made their pick - by far the biggest cheer of the night - it was an exodus. I couldn't stay for the second round but felt bad leaving Adam Silver to announce picks to a crowd of seven people, four of them waiting for their moms to pick them up.
And that leaves us with the ringmaster of this sideshow, one David Joel Stern. Love him or hate him, he is the NBA, and never was that more apparent to me than watching him conduct the NBA draft. He was booed vociferously upon first walking onto the stage, and then 28 more times - often at his own request - after that. He wore a sly grin throughout the evening that just killed me, like a knowing camp director letting his campers blow off some steam because, hey, it's all in good fun anyways, right? The final pick of his 30 year career as the best commissioner in professional sports was for the Phoenix Suns, and although the stadium was largely empty by that point there was a sense of anticipation in the air. He'd been booed for every pick so far. Would we as a crowd deviate and honor the man and his accomplishments? Or would we keep it real and give him one more shellacking for the road?
It was hard to hear the pick over all of the applause. It clearly took him aback a bit as Adam Silver brought out Hakeem Olajuwon in his draft day tuxedo (or at least bow tie) to put a bookend on Stern's career. I stood and cheered not for the debatable greatness of the man, but for the honor and excitement of bearing witness to the end of an era. Such things deserve acknowledgment. Sports commissioners come and go, but Stern was a singular personality in a world of forgettable ones. And after having such a weirdly enjoyable time Thursday, a little part of me wonders if the fun of the NBA draft didn't walk right out the door with him into the Brooklyn night.