Ten Things You Learn Behind The Scenes At The NBA Draft

Leftover chicken fingers and a slew of interview requirements just scratch the surface of the madness.


1. Draftniks exist, and they feed on hope

Yes, there were draftniks — though their overall demeanor was noticeably more relaxed than that of their football brethren. This may be due to the fact that the NFL gives away all their draft tickets for free, causing Springsteen-ian lines and hours upon hours of endless waiting in the Disneyfied sturm und drang of Times Square. Attending the NBA Draft — this year held at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center — is a fee-based privilege, and if the smattering of scalpers outside last night was any indication, a highly-priced one.

Getting the small guy for the lowercase “ers” was a nice touch. (Photo by Robert Silverman)

Even so, there were these guys. This draft was if nothing else, like a four-hour Mardi Gras for beleaguered Sixers fans. By the beginning of the second round, when the bulk of the attendees were long gone, you could see Iverson jerseys, Dr. J throwbacks, and even a Sam Dalembert or two.

For a terrible team, hope is the greatest currency there is. And even if Sam Hinkie once again passed on players who will actually take the court next season, he extended the expiration date on the expected payoff for all of his well-made plans. Belief in the plan is enough (for now).

2. Were Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine’s mom sharing fabric?

They were able to make a suit jacket and a dress from the same bolt! (photo by Robert Silverman)

In a terribly awkward moment, No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and the mom of the 13th pick, Zach LaVine, evidently go to the same tailor. As Wiggins stood up after Cleveland made their choice, I had my eyes on Zach LaVine’s mom. She definitely came through in the clutch. If she was disturbed by this terrible fashion faux pas, she certainly didn’t let it show. I think this LaVine kid’s gonna pan out, because moms.

3. Marv Albert was in attendance, and it was sad

Not seemingly in any official capacity, mind you. He was seated in the guest area, just to my left, more or less unnoticed behind a phalanx of business bros in Celtics gear. He watched the goings-on with a preternatural degree of stillness. He had a lady-friend in a skin-tight, leopard-print dress by his side, but I can’t recall one moment he turned to talk to or even look at her.

I kept stealing furtive glances at him, hoping to find an appropriate moment to sidle up and ask a few questions, but he seemed lost in the hurly-burly of the action (so to speak), and after ten or so picks had clicked off, he got up and left. I found the whole scene so profoundly sad in way that I can’t really describe.

4. Post-selection media interviews are a freaking gauntlet

It was the Bataan Death March of non-answers to non-questions. After Player X got taken, went through the hugs of moms and dads and girlfriends and commissioners and received a team logo-emblazoned hat, he was shuttled off to the side for the first battery of eager questioners: the NBATV, ESPN, and NBA Radio crews.

In fairness, Vonleh’s bowtie is sweet. (AP)

He fired off the LaLooshian clichés, and then got shunted back to the official interview room, where another twenty to thirty eager journalists were ready to ask him to “Talk about playing for [insert coach]…” or, “How do you think you’ll fit in with [insert team]…,” and, “What do you think the biggest transition from [insert major/minor NCAA school]...”

Occasionally, something fun happened, like one reporter kvelling about Noah Vonleh’s white bow tie, and asking if he tied it himself.

Upon exiting the interview room, he was met by NBA Media officials and arena handlers/security and group of reporters, ostensibly from the general geographic location of the team that drafted him to be grilled again, though not in a manner that was at all different from the interview room

Then it was off to a third, even larger media area with still more reporters, a camera operator and boom guy, all under the guidance of some official-looking gentleman doing a Sorkin-esque backwards walk-and-talk. Player X then proceeded to engage in countless sit-down interviews with TV outlets of all sorts.

Sound exhausting? It was, just watching it.

5. Barclays sub-basements are terrifying but snack-filled

I got lost on more than one occasion going from the event itself to the interview room/media room and back again. In my labyrinthine wanderings, I crossed paths with one European first-rounder, and we both (shamefully) were eyeballing a leftover plate of chicken fingers sitting on a road box.

Yes, I considered snagging them, because I was starving, but discretion prevailed. The draft pick, however, said, “Hey. Chicken fingers!” As he reached to grab them, I turned, our eyes locked and we smiled, and he immediately thought better of it, continuing on his way, sans snack.

6. You forget players are (usually) really happy to be drafted

Everyone wanted to check out Tyler’s orange caps. (AP)

A few minutes after Tyler Ennis was picked by Phoenix, he returned to the stands and passed out orange Suns hats to a couple of kids that were hopping around in that way where you can’t tell if they’re Christmas Morning-type happy or just have to pee really badly. Then Ennis romped off to another group of friends higher up in the stands and was doling out more hats, and hugging and getting friendly punches on the arm.

You forget that the draft is basically a televised graduation/job fair and that these are kids, if only because fandom requires evaluating their job performance as if they were fully formed adults who must “produce.” But yeah, watching the genuine outpouring emotion—the result of a lifetime of work, the fear and the joy, finally being able to exhale—wiped all of that away.

7. New York still loathes Isiah Thomas

I can’t 100 percent confirm, but these guys probably were booing Isiah. (Photo by Robert Silverman)

Every time Thomas showed up on camera, he was met with a torrent of hate. He smiled that claymation-like smile of his, and waved/shook his fist, and it took every ounce of restraint I had not to boo, too.

8. First day of work, you’re flipping through groupie pics

Eventually, I made my way behind the seats to where they take the official NBA DRAFT ’14 photos. It was yet another black-curtained, sectioned-off chamber, and, technically, the media wasn’t allowed back there, but I may (allegedly) have turned my lanyard around (the one that said “media” on it) and trailed an entourage, and walked with a purpose. This is my S.O.P. for getting into places (allegedly) that I’m not allowed to go.

In any case, it was elbow-to-elbow with family and league officials and special guests back there. Since I wasn’t supposed to be there (allegedly) and I didn’t identify myself as a member of the press, I cannot confirm or deny that one highly drafted player was (allegedly) scrolling through seemingly unlimited Instagram messages and photos from women in the metro area that he now called home. He and a team official (or possibly just a hanger-on, it wasn’t clear) were practically drooling as they tried to determine which images were of the amateur variety and which were pro and/or retouched images.

At one point, the official/hanger on said with a knowing wink and a glance, “Oh yeah. She’s definitely in the industry.”

Why, what industry did he mean, exactly? Sadly, we’ll never know.

It wasn’t exactly skeevy or lecherous — and in retrospect, this was a kid who’s gonna be pretty rich, and living on his own as a star athlete in a big city. He’s going to get messages from very attractive total strangers; such is his lot in life. This is his big night. Skeev away, young man!

9. Billy King said hi, because he’s out of first-round picks

As the last straggle of reporters were filing stories in the media room, Billy King suck his head in the door and practically cooed, “Hi Woj…’ at Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski before darting away. So that’s how Woj gets those scoops.

10. Happy Thanasis Antetokounmpo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXbx_1L1Mtg

Here was the the scene when the New York Knicks picked him at 51. His brother Giannis was there; they both showed up in the interview room to field questions. Watching them talk made you happy. Thanasis’ wooden bow tie made you happy. Thanasis beaming while saying, “You can’t imagine. You can’t imagine. I was screaming when I saw that!” in response to a query about the Greek National Team advancing to the knockout stage in the World Cup made you happy. Even if you were not a Knicks fan, Thanasis would have been able to make Emily Dickinson start dancing jigs last night. My jaw muscles hurt from grinning. Welcome to New York.