Live, From New York, It’s Wednesday Night

Live, From New York, It’s Wednesday Night
Jun 29, 2006, 12:13 pm
Couldn’t make it to the draft? I could and I did, with a media credential and my trusty laptop in tow. What follows is your chance to see the big night through my eyes, the eyes of columnist, the eyes of a sage.

Enter the Terror Dome

Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I stroll into the world’s most famous arena for draft night. After taking a Redick-esque mugshot for my media pass, I step beyond the velvet rope a full two and a half hours before tipoff. Among the first few people to ignore me as I make my way through the press section are my main man Ahmad Rashad, and Steven A. Smith, who is sitting in a make-up chair with a wicked scowl on his face. Mascara or no mascara, that dude is pissssssed. The usual cast of ESPN characters is milling around. Stu Scott looks a bit sleepy, Greg Anthony looks like he could still play, and Jay Bilas looks like an ostrich.

Minutes pass, and I feel like a small fish in a big pond. It’s unclear exactly where I’m supposed to go, but perfectly clear that I’m underdressed. All of the NBA staffers are looking rather Calvin Klein, while I putz around looking rather Calvin and Hobbes. There are no signs directing me to media seating chart, but luckily, I stumble upon it looking for the bathroom. To my dismay, my assigned seat is not in the premiere publications section, so I won’t be rubbing elbows with (stealing material from) Michael Wilbon. The green room players take the stage for a photo, looking rather awkward and uninterested. Rudy Gay appears to be taller than Shelden Williams, and Morrison’s mustache is simply hideous. After exploring and small talking with the folks at for a few, I settle into my perch on the left balcony, and like a hawk, I watch and I wait.

Pre-Game Jitters

By 6:45 a handful of fans have made their way in, and by 6:50 the MSG theater is buzzing. A small boy walks in holding a basketball and wearing a Kevin Pittsnogle jersey; I say a prayer for his soul. Knicks fans are well represented, some wearing Marbury jerseys and some holding a hot pink sign that reads “Sell the Knicks.” Even at half capacity, the energy in the room is palpable. Rumors are swirling in the media section about the Celtics trade and Toronto’s predicament at the top of the board, and my pre-draft predictions are looking worse and worse by the second.

ESPN’s pre-game show begins and the fans pipe up, booing and cheering loudest whenever Redick’s name is mentioned. J.J. is far and away the most hated player in the room, while Foye and Gay seem to have the most supporters. Steven A. is screaming at the top of his lungs and nobody seems to care. Cut to Rachel Nichols – informative. Cut to Dickie V – incoherent. In general, the crowd pays very little attention to the pre-game show, cheering or booing only when they hear the name of a team or player. People are filing in furiously as the folks on stage talk much and say little.

Alert! At 7:15 the first “Fire Isiah!” chant of the night rings down, unprovoked, from section 303. Coincidentally, this is the section in which the pink “Sell the Knicks” sign-bearers are seated in the first row. I start to get the feeling that this could go on all night, and when 303 gets a few seconds of air time, they cheer wildly, not that they need the encouragement. The pre-game show comes to an end and the lights go down. Feels like draft night.

Lights, Camera, Action

David Stern walks on stage and the crowd lets him have it for no reason whatsoever. “This is a very rowdy crowd,” says Stern, who wears a million dollar smirk and sounds like he has a small rodent lodged in his windpipe. The Raptors are on the clock…

The Raptors are off the clock and Bargnani is off the board. “Over-rated!” cascades down from the rafters, shouted by thousands of people who have never seen the kid play. A young NBA staffer walks into the press seats and hands us all a short blurb on Bargnani, who has just been selected. The sheet tells us that he is foreign, and that the other foreign players selected number 1 overall are either superstars or Michael Olowakandi. Bargnani walks past the balcony and out the back of the arena after his handshake with Stern. As he leaves, 303 taunts him by chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Pure class.

The Blazers are on the clock and their pick is the first one with a potential domino effect. When Stern announces Aldridge, the crowd gets rowdy. I find myself cheering for Aldridge, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I think he’s the best player in this draft class, or perhaps I’m just desperate to hear the sound of my voice echo through this empty world. I’m waiting impatiently for my information blurb from the NBA staffer, and Stern is up at the podium again before I know it.

Morrison goes to the Bobs at three, and Dan Patrick clowns him for being the most nervous player all night. The panel of experts tells us he can “flat out score the ball.” I wonder where the catch phrase “flat out” came from, and wonder if they get paid extra for using it. The crowd loves Morrison. It turns out my seat is one of the best in the house because every player exits directly in front of me, passing by 303 on the way out. Every time someone walks by the fans go nuts, snapping pictures and slapping fives. If Redick doesn’t exit with extra security, bloodshed is certain.

Chicago takes Thomas and Steven A. rips them to shreds. Well done by Steven A., considering the only other information the panel could come up with is that Tyrus is a “freakish athlete.” Finally the Bargnani interview transcript arrives at my desk and it isn’t worth the wait. The NBA needs to switch up the interview format a little bit and hand the assignment over to someone like Dave Chappelle. I’d pay good money to see Rick James asking Bargnani “what did the five fingers say to the face?” before slapping him back to Venice.

Shelden Williams to the Hawks. No surprise here, and the crowd is not amused when Shelden slow-rolls out of the theater with a too cool for school or autographs strut. Roy to the Timberwolves and Foye to the Blazers (via the Celtics), but a few minutes later these two trade places. Portland has completely remade itself in about 1 hour, and this is why we watch the draft.

Rudy Gay is selected by the Rockets, though he will be moved to the Grizzlies for Battier. The panel does some good work here, questioning the trade because Battier can’t score the ball and Van Gundy needs points. Of course, he wouldn’t need as many points if McGrady could stay on the floor for more than 50 games. I’m fascinated with the criticism taken by T-Mac and Vince respectively. For all his transgressions, Vince has carried the Nets the last two years, scored 50 in a playoff game, and somehow got panned for attending his college graduation during the Raptors’ playoff run a few years back, though it didn’t affect the series at all. Meanwhile, McGrady spends half of every season in street clothes, has never been out of the first round, and has more mood swings than Courtney Love, but isn’t nearly as hated. Tough nut to crack.

O’Bryant gets snatched up by Golden State, and his interview with Stu has all the pop of a 6 month old keg of Natural Light. Sene to the Sonics, bringing a premature end to the Robert Swift era. All of the true centers are now off the board in the first 10 picks. Marcus Williams has slipped, and because he didn’t work out for the Sixers, there is no telling how low he might slide. The banter among media is that he’ll drop to the Pacers, which is great value at 17.

Redick to the Magic and the crowd goes crazy. I make my break for the bathroom because there is a 10 minute lapse between the pick and the player’s exit, and I need to get back before Redick walks through the section 303 gauntlet. I exit through the same tunnel that the players do, behind the velvet rope, which is lined with fans and their cameras/autograph paraphernalia. The joke of the draft comes at my expense, when a 14 year old punk shouts out “look, it’s Josh Childress!” Onlookers laugh, I cry. While I’m gone, the Hornets take Hilton Armstrong.

I return in time for Redick’s exit. This is the highlight of the night, and it takes place during a commercial break, which makes this report a exclusive. J.J. is flying up the walkway like he’s running from the law, and the fans are sinking their teeth in. As he makes his final turn, one particularly angry audience member is chanting “D-U-I!” at the top of his lungs, with his hands in bullhorn position in front of his face. But then, at the last second, the heckler stops shouting and reaches out his hand… for a high five. If J.J. had decked him, it would have been deserved. But to my, and surely the fan’s, surprise, Redick turned the other cheek and slapped the five. A life lesson in forgiveness for all of us.

The commish announces the Celtics trade 3 hours after we knew it was going to happen, and Dan Patrick laughs audibly from the set, while on the air. Nobody exudes smugness like Danny boy. Once Olbermann left and descended into dementia on MSNBC, Patrick became untouchable and he knew it. Since then, he’s been bullying co-hosts, interviewees, and league officials like Anthony Mason.

Philly takes Sefolosha for the Bulls, and the Bulls’ best post player is still Luke Schenscher. Utah takes Brewer, the Hornets take Simmons, and Chicago takes Carney for the Sixers. Each of these strikes me as sensible, and the Carney pick pretty much guarantees one epic dunk per night out of the Sixers between Iguodala and R-Car. Stern then announces the Blazers – Bulls trade, again, hours after it became common knowledge, and the Pacers take Shawne Williams, who has a legitimate shot to be the best of the Memphis players in this year’s draft. Marcus Williams is still in the green room, and Knicks fans know it.

The Wizards select Pecherov and Fran Fraschilla reveals that Pecherov is essentially a role player in Paris, who will probably stay overseas for a while. This a mind-boggling pick, especially after Arenas mentioned the possibility of opting out of his contract last week if the team doesn’t show improvement. Have no fear, Gilbert dear, Air Pecherov is here. And by here, I mean definitely not here in 2006, possibly in uniform by 2007, and chipping in 15 minutes a game by 2008.

The Kings draft local product Quincy Douby and the crowd erupts. DX’s Joseph Treutlein turns to me and coolly notes that the cheers are for Marcus Williams who is now available for the Knicks at 20. I reply that the cheers could actually be for Douby, who played at Rutgers and is a Brooklyn native. Literally one second after the word “Brooklyn” leaves my mouth, the crowd bursts into a “Mar-cus Wil-liams!” chant. Treutlein 1, Jeffries 0.

Isiah Thomas’s face graces the big screens inside the MSG Theater and the room reaches its peak volume. Trying to describe Knicks’ fans hatred for Thomas at the moment is like trying to describe the heat index in hell. However, with Marcus Williams still in the green room, the pick seems obvious and everyone in the building is waiting for Stern to call his name and give the crowd reason to cheer.

Stern’s short walk to the podium seems to take forever. Finally, he steps up, and… announces the Bulls-Sixers trade instead of Knicks’ pick. This is what makes him the best in the business. Here is the moment the whole room has been waiting for and he milks it to perfection. And then it happens. “With the 20th pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select... Renaldo Balkman

The room explodes. I can barely hear myself think through the noise, but my expert ability to read a crowd tells me this is not what fans were hoping for. A few notes on Balkman: DX’s mock draft has him going at pick number 57, and Jay Bilas clearly agrees, as he strongly asserts “this is a second round basketball player.” Treutlein turns to me and says “they just traded Trevor Ariza, and now they get a poor man’s version back.” Nobody in our vicinity disagrees. Tellingly, he is the only player for whom the NBA staff prepared a full-fledged player profile for instead of the shorter draft-related information blurb, because they knew that nobody in the media section saw this one coming. Under “Personal,” the profile reads, “Nickname is “Kool.” Favorite food is peach soda and pizza.” Now you know.

Just when you thought the Suns couldn’t get any quicker, they take Rajon Rondo (traded to Boston), who runs like he has jets on his feet and shoots like he has poop on his hands. The Nets strike it rich with Marcus Williams at 22, who looks devastated, and they follow up with Josh “foul per minute” Boone. The crowd loves both picks, and UConn, as usual, has traveled well. Kyle Lowry goes to Memphis and Shannon Brown to Cleveland as the clock strikes 10pm.

The Los Angeles Kobes select Jordan Farmar with the 26th pick, and most of the energy has left the room after the Knicks pick. The entire atmosphere of the draft changes when there are no longer any players in the green room waiting to get called, and most of the big deals have already been made. I realize that I’ve been here for about five hours with nothing to show for it except the Steven A. mascara joke I made in the first paragraph. I need something, anything, to get me to the end of the first round.

Dan Patrick answers my prayers by informing the listening public that the Suns’ selection, Sergio Rodriguez, is nicknamed “Spanish Chocolate,” for his JWill-like ball handling skills, and has been sold to Portland. Let’s take these one by one. First, the nickname is fantastic, especially in light of the ever-present threat of nicknaming him SRod, like every other athlete with Rodriguez for a last name. Second, the Blazers are making a ton of moves, which is exactly what you want to see on draft night. Despite a lack of guaranteed star power, the ambition or perhaps restlessness of teams with high and/or multiple picks has kept this draft buzzing.

Morrison reemerges from the area he had exited to hours earlier and looks pleased as pie. His Bobcats baseball cap is now flipped backwards, and he nearly swings and misses reaching back for a high five on his walk back toward the front of the theater. Probably the most likeable player in this year’s class, and the goofiest blue chip prospect in years.

Dallas takes Ager at 28 and Patrick mentions that he is such a devout Christian that Tom Izzo allowed him to come late to Sunday practice at Michigan State. The Knicks take Mardy Collins at 29, and Steven A. notes that he’s a character guy because he played for John Cheney at Temple. The more they talk about character and collegiate pedigree, the less they talk about talent. On one hand, I don’t have to sit through any more yelling about what a “flat out freakish athlete” player X is, but on the other hand there’s a good chance these draftees will be complete and total non-factors. Somebody check Greg Anthony for a pulse.

With the final pick in round one the Blazers take Freeland, who Fran says is at least 2 years away. Steven A. refuses to waste his time talking about them, and I refuse to waste mine cataloguing the 2nd round.

Parting Thoughts

Every end is a new beginning, and as I type these words, ESPN is running its hyped up tribute to Russ Granik in honor of his final draft. We watch the draft because eras end and begin right in front of our eyes, like the new Blazers and the sudden influx of point guard talent in Boston.

But keeping track of all the picks and the moves is a small part of the live draft experience. Being here live helps me appreciate the little things, like the presence of Ager and his family waiting together in the stands for his name to be called, and the small group of folks waiving the Israeli flag as Lior Eliyahu gets picked in the second round. Despite these and other more than worthy story lines, the draft’s location makes it a Knick fan dominated event, and most of the talking heads (Stern, Steven A., etc.) play to the New York crowd in one way or another.

Reviewing the whole night is futile, because I have a range of emotions and opinions springing from the attention I’ve given to each team leading up to and during the draft. But for the casual fan with a less of a diversified investment in the process, one Knicks fan summed draft night up nicely during his televised interview with Marc Jones: “It was good, but Isiah’s a bum.” Fair enough.

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