It’s only fitting that I run the narrative on my experience of irrelevance at the NBA Draft at a time in which the Draft is no longer a relevant topic of conversation, but without further ado, here’s my tale:
As a result of that thing called geography and my status as a New Yorker, I seldom get the chance to enjoy too many Grizzlies-relevant activities in physical attendance, so when ESPN.com was kind enough to offer 3 Shades of Blue media credentials to the 2013 NBA Draft — located in my neck of the woods at the Barclays Center — I reckoned the logical thing to do was jump. And so, jump I did. The thing is, as one would predict of a team walking into a draft with nothing more than a handful of second-rounders in tow, the Grizzlies were not all that relevant.
So when I revealed my dilemma to 3 Shades of Blue Co-Owner and Lead Contributor Chip Crain, he offered up the suggestion that I discuss just that — what it’s like to be the most irrelevant guy in the media room of what had ultimately transpired as the most wildly capricious draft that one can hold in memory. The draft played out as a series of phases, all unique in their own in perspective, as they played out chronologically, like so:
Setting the Stage
Backtracking just a tad to establish a feel for the tone, the “basketball” portion of my day commenced at around noon (11:00 am CST) with an internet stream of the invigorating presser officially introducing David Joerger as the Grizzlies next head coach; the details of which will be analyzed, dissected, lamented, and lauded for better or for worse at a serious of later dates. It followed with a similar stream of the online audio version of the Chris Vernon Show, where Vernon grilled Grizzlies CEO and Managing Partner Jason Levien, and subsequently Joerger, himself, on the details of the transaction and the direction that the team is headed. If you have indulged in my earlier post related to the potential of his hire, you could infer that good spirits permeated the mentality with which I made my next move — and the day was still young.
Sparing the gory details, I hop the LIRR train over to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, make a pit stop at Target to snag a pack of safety pins to secure the back of my tie that won’t stay down, grab a bite to eat, and finally reach my destination: the Draft floor.
After a few moments of “taking it all in,” I come to the re-realization that a certain Shane Battier will be spending the night on the floor as a hired hand for ESPN, to interview the new draftees as they step down off the stage. As a representation of media personnel, I walked into the event with all intent to maintain a poker face throughout, but at the end of the day, the human element reigns supreme. If you’ve read my bio on this site, it states that “the Memphis Grizzlies’ draft selection of his favorite college player, Shane Battier, kick-started the process that roped this New Yorker into a lifestyle of League Pass subscriptions, late nights on the message boards, and awkward looks from the local Knick fans,” so to tell you that I’m not swooning to a degree in the presence of my childhood hero would be slightly inauthentic… to say the least.
Drawing from the perfect storm of being green enough to care, fervent enough to act, and naive enough to be candid, I found myself eleven-years-old again standing face-to-face with my ; the now two-time reigning NBA champion who provoked my gravitation towards the very organization that brings us all to 3SOB in the first place. So clumsily, but definitively, I approach the 6’8 broadcaster-to-be, and in true Battier fashion, he is grateful and receptive of my borderline tale of worship, as well as witty and amicable in his responses. When I “thank” him for the dagger three-pointer which sealed the first ever playoff victory in Grizzlies history, with a smirk, he quips, “I have a lot of good memories against the Spurs.” For the next few minutes, I awkwardly converse with the man whose very existence is unknowingly responsible for essentially shaping my lifestyle as it stands today. It’s rare in this day and age that your heroes turn out to be as you had imagined them when viewed through a human lens, but Shane has managed to live up to the billing and fortify his standing on that proverbial pedestal… even if he now plays for the Heat. (PS: No, that’s not me talking to him in the picture)
Of course, I’m content to chalk the night up as a success, pick up my ball, and go home at this point. But the proverbial ball had not begun rolling, as David Stern has not yet taken the stage to announce that consensus number one pick, Nerlens Noel, was headed to Cleveland (more on that later).
I pick a seat and begin to piece together my network for the duration of the draft: a guy who contributes for the TrueHoop affiliated HawksHoop and Knickerblogger, another TrueHooper from Cavs: the Blog, a guy writing a book on the life of Kevin Durant, a guy who covers the Trailblazers, electronic communications with two guys in attendance (a writer for Complex and a die-hard Wizards fan), as well as the usual text message conversations that often correlate to big NBA happenings, with my Laker fan girlfriend, her Knicks fan cousin, and a few college buddies with interests in the Celtics and the New York teams (not to mention, of course the 3 Shades crew on Twitter: @3sob, @3shadesofblue, @HPTMatt, @jmay11, @KateeForbis) . In other words, what I’m getting at here is that for better or for worse, just about everybody with which I am in contact has a bit more stake in what was about to go down than I.
After a great deal of anticipation, boos begin to rain down from the skies as David Stern takes the stage to announce that the Cleveland Cavaliers were on the clock. Five minutes later, the NBA audience is caught looking at the first curve-ball thrown its way, on a night that is to be full of movement and off-speed pitches — “With the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select Anthony Bennett.” The bodies of those around twitch with a degree of almost involuntary compulsion upon reception of the news, as the building as a whole emits a cheer of disbelief. Maybe I’m being a tad dramatic, though, as the influence of social media has drastically altered the landscape of breaking news. In a sense, Stern’s declaration of the Cavaliers’ selection actually serves as a mere verification of the pick, as extremity of the shock in response to the news was dampened by the following tweet that preceded it complements of ESPN Insider, Chad Ford.
Hearing Cavs will take Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick!
— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 27, 2013
And with that, a theme had developed for the night. The battle had diverted from fighting the anticipation of which prospect’s name the NBA Commissioner will attempt to pronounce, towards which media member (or friend sitting at home) could be most attuned to their Twitter feed and process an update on what somebody’s “sources tell them” the quickest.
Regardless, no amount of premature information filtering could have prepared the media floor for the shenanigans that were about to ensue, as suddenly Victor Oladipo goes number two. Just as quickly as the Wizards guy texts me that he’d love to see Noel land in the nation’s capital, Otto Porter goes number three. “Surely the Bobcats would not let Noel slip through their fingertips,” I wonder aloud, and sure enough they do, as Cody Zeller is the next guy to shake Stern’s hand! Now the room is buzzing with the “where will the blanket to stop the free-fall of Nerlens Noel come from?” chatter, as, with each successive pick, the “zoomed in uncomfortably close” disappointment of the 19 year old center is broadcast to the arena through the mammoth Barclays Center Jumbotron. Then — what do you know — the Suns take big man Alex Len over the flat-top-rocking Kentucky product.
Suddenly, at the sixth pick in the draft, the New Orleans Pelicans are looking at a draft board structured in the vein of most of the big-boards when the college season came to the close.
When the Pelicans finally put Noel out of his misery, with the sixth overall pick, the chatter finally escalates into actual basketball discussion featuring the prospects of a post-duo consisting of he and Anthony Davis. But the conversation breaks down before the awful “Nawlins” Noel jokes even had a chance to run their course (which believe me, would not have taken long), as Twitter trickles out the intel that he will be sent packing to Philadelphia in return for All-Star point guard, Jrue Holiday.
The rest of the lottery (and slightly beyond) manifests as spillover of the craziness that went down in the early-going, with some permutation of surprise picks, spoiler tweets, and guys having to put on the hat of a team that you know they’re not going to play for. This continues to be the theme until we begin to establish…
Now is when I’m starting to get excited. There’s plenty of movement going on between teams, and there was plenty of talk leading up to this point of the Grizzlies — with three second-round picks in tow — looking to slide up into the first round. With a handful of teams in possession of mid-to-late firsts looking to cash in what they can and get off of the pick, it appears to be the ideal scenario for Levien and Co. to do something exciting.
However, the Grizzlies had not made any moves yet, and expectation that they would is beginning to dwindle.
At the same time I’m reminded that while the draft is a league-wide event, and I’m solely in attendance as a result of what I write for this Grizzlies blog, I’m located in a Brooklyn, New York venue. As we creep towards the hometown Nets’ selection at the 22nd overall pick, the room begins to fill with anticipation over what they would do. The Brooklynettes are breaking into their routines and tossing out a seemingly endless supply of t-shirts to the fans in attendance, to bribe them into dancing for the Jumbotron. The Brooklyn Knight is, well, doing what it is that he does, in attempt to inspire the same. And then the excitement begins to boil over as David Stern delivers, “With the 22nd pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, your Brooklyn Nets select Mason Plumlee from Duke University.” The fans seem pretty happy with the pick. If they only knew what was about to follow.
But before Nets fans have their biggest moment of the night, it is the New York Knicks on the clock, just two picks behind the home team — or what was thought to be the home team. Let me make one thing clear about what became apparent at this moment: you can put a team in Brooklyn; you can give them a marvel of a building with killer sight-lines, a hypnotic black-and-white color scheme, and you can remind each and every resident that it is the Nets — not the Knickerbockers, that have been to the finals more recently… but the Knicks still own this town. As many decibels as the building reached when Plumlee came off the board, the count has to be at least doubled this time, in what appeared to be the climax of the night for the crowd. Be it borne out of the sentiment, “what a great pick,” “hey, I recognize that guy’s name,” or simply, “man, I love this team,” the arena absolutely erupts with Stern’s utterance that Tim Hardaway Jr. is on his way to the Big Apple. Simultaneously, my phone is blowing up for the following few minutes with text messages chiming in on the addition of Hardaway Jr. to the Knicks’ roster.
Like any good explosion, however, all that’s left in the aftermath are fragments of what once was. With the “real” home team’s night in the books, the fanatics, and even a hefty percentage of media personnel, are headed for the exits.
Concurrent with the home-court theme of the time-frame though, the Nets, not to be outdone, are on their way to making the greatest waves of the night. Shortly thereafter (around the end of the first-round), in a suddenly more intimate moment of celebration, what is left of the attending mass electrifies with interest regarding the rapidly-dispersing Twitter acknowledgement that the Boston Celtics will in fact be trading franchise cornerstones Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets in exchange for a king’s ransom of future first-round picks and some silly contracts. Being in attendance, I’m not privy to the apparent on-air Bill Simmons meltdown in response to the trade, but boy am I hearing about it.
Anyways, with the Grizzlies looking like they’re going to hang tight and keep the night on the low from here, I figure the much more tame and emptied room offers as good an opportunity as any to make a “good night” phone call to my girlfriend. The never-ending war between phone service carriers and a fully covered establishment housing a large number of people extends the call to maybe six minutes or so when all is said and done, but in such time, could I really miss my only chance at…
That’s right, after a night of hounding Twitter and being probably too far ahead of the informational curve for my own liking, I return from my phone call to find out that I am actually late to the boat, when learning of the Darrell Arthur trade.
Hearing Grizzlies have trade in the works: Darrell Arthur and 55th pick will be dealt to Denver for Kosta Koufos
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 28, 2013
Solid move in my book, as I can hardly remember a Grizzlies team that has boasted competent backup at the center position; the Darko days seem so long ago. Not to mention, I recall a domineering performance by Kosta Koufos against the Grizzlies this past season.
I turn to my right to share my exhilaration with the guy from Hawkshoop, but he’s nowhere in sight, as he has wandered off in attempt to snag some sound bites off of Atlanta’s newest seven-footer, 16th overall selection Lucas Nogueira, who happened to be in attendance. I look to my left only to remember that the Blazers guy had been out of sight since his team took C.J. McCollum off the board in the first round. My girlfriend has gone to bed, so I cannot resort to bugging her about it. The next trend is rapidly developing, as I’ve suddenly transitioned from being irrelevant but in grand company to relevant and alone. I settle for conjuring up a quick announcement post on the blog to outlet my enthusiasm.
As I’m wrapping up the Koufos blog, I look up to find that the Grizzlies are on the clock. With the 44th pick in the draft they select Jamaal Franklin out of San Diego State – their reported target at the spots that they wanted to move up to in the first-round. “Awesome,” I think to myself. I turn left to try and rub it in to the guy from Cavs: the Blog, who all night had been expressing his desire for Cleveland to take Franklin with one of their early second-rounders, but he took off just after his team wrapped up its night with the selection of Carrick Felix. Again, I’m on my own to sit and digest this new bit of news. To the blog!
By the time we’re approaching the 60th and final selection — owned by the Grizzlies — I’m just about the only fool in the room that has not packed up his computer yet. Moments later, Janis Timma, the swingman out of Latvia is Memphis-bound. Timma seems like a good choice at this point; you don’t have to hit a home run with the 60th pick. The team could desperately use a versatile player at the small forward spot, and he worked out for Stu Lash prior to the draft.
I know better this time than to look for anything other than the blog to express this news to. This time, I’m all prepared with a blog drafted up in the vein of the Franklin post, and had already filled in Timma’s info thanks to a few “jumping the gun” tips of the hand on Twitter. Add in a couple pictures and this one is on its way. And with that all that remains is time for…
After all the picks were in and the dust of the 2013 Draft had officially settled, I booked it out of Barclays to rendezvous with the writer from Complex, as we discussed the events of the night. While he generally covers the NBA on the whole, his team of allegiance is the Indiana Pacers, so he was in a similar boat to mine for the majority of the evening. We were joined by his prospect-guru acquaintance, who offered up assurance that Timma looked great in some showcases last year.
I would be remiss, however, if I neglected to discuss the real star of the night, NBA commissioner David Stern. I purposely left out the specific Stern references when I laid out the draft process chronologically, because his presence was highly deserving of its own section. I learned very quickly during my trip to All-Star Weekend, my first league-event, the extent to which this man’s celebrity spans, and to get it straight, this was his night.
It was nothing short of a spectacle to watch as Stern was showered in boos of endearment; even more so, his graceful response to the ol’ Brooklyn cheer. The way that he commandeered the crowd as a heel was masterfully akin to the likes of Hulk Hogan’s days with the NWO. Stern is ever-comfortable in the role of the villain, and manages to have a bit of fun while he’s at it. “We have to explain to International viewers that booing is a sign of respect in America,” he exclaimed, in a cleverly combative response.
And yet, the chiding of the crowd was all in good fun, and Stern, ever the showman, was much obliged to ham it up and play along. In the ultimate appreciative fashion, rather than boo yet again, the remainder in attendance met him with a rousing standing ovation from as he took to the Draft stage for the very last time, in what was an attempt to announce the selection of Serbian guard Nemanja Nedovic to the Suns (who were picking for the Golden State Warriors). It was truly a special and warming moment, as Stern was met at the podium by Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver as well as surprise guest appearance, Hakim Olajuwon – the first player chosen in the first draft under Stern’s watch, some 30 years ago.
Looking back in retrospect, it was truly electric to be engulfed in this overall positive atmosphere. Regarded by the public as an arduous exhibition in watching paint dry, the draft served more as a safe haven for all the truly die-hard fans to wiggle out of the woodwork and get together to geek out for a few hours in the midst of the NBA Finals hangover stupor. Herein lays the beauty of such an event. Certainly not tailor made to arouse the interest of the casual fan, the draft plays home to an exceedingly knowledgeable and passionate sector of the league’s fan base.
Through the course of a night that in a broad sense only tangentially related to the team that we love, the experience itself accentuated, validated, and harvested a greater appreciation of the very thing that defines this game that we love in its most enchanted light; the sub-culture that can only be understood by those of us that share within it.
Next up, I’ll be arriving in Vegas for some NBA Summer League action. Give me a follow on Twitter @StevieDanziger to stay updated!