It’s an emotional night, folks … not just because it’s the final NBA draft for TNT, but because it’s the last time I’m ever writing a draft diary. Hey, I still enjoy the goofy suits. I still enjoy when David Stern implores the players to look at the camera while shaking hands, and when he emerges from his secret room backstage. I still love hearing Peter Vescey getting booed by New York fans. I still enjoy trying to interpret some of the interviews, or trying to figure out who will be the last man out of the Green Room. I still love the “Who’s going next?” drama. I even love the “Is that his Mom or his Grandma?” drama.
But after six years of chronicling the draft from my Dad’s house, it’s time to hang it up — every joke has been made, everything has been said. For instance, I’m heading into this diary absolutely positive that troubled JUCO star Qyntel Woods will fall to Portland at No. 21. It has to happen, it’s bound to happen, and it’s going to happen. So how can I summon an adequate reaction for it? I’m turning into one of the pre-cogs from “Minority Report.” Anyway, this is it. I’m hanging it up.
(Of course, in the words of Rick Pitino, “I reserve the right to change my mind.”)
One more thing: Years from now, we will remember “Yao Ming over Jay Williams” the same way we remember “Bowie over Jordan,” “Traylor for Nowitzki,” “Carroll for McHale and Parish,” “Aguirre over Thomas” and every other great draft day blunder in NBA history. I’m not just predicting it, I’m guaranteeing it.
Think about it. At best, Ming develops into a bigger, more athletic Rik Smits. Fine. But then you throw in Yao’s adjustment problems (going from China to the United States — yikes), his laid-back demeanor (what happens when NBA players start pushing him around, elbowing him and intimidating him?), his inability to play in the low post, and the way he’ll struggle fitting in with his teammates, as well as lofty expectations, inevitable problems adjusting to a higher level of competition, the fact that NBA players will go out of their way to dunk on him (just like they did with Shawn Bradley — and they ruined his confidence, too), the isolation of playing here, the meddling Chinese government … I mean, did Smits have to deal with any of those things?
Can’t you picture Shaq rubbing his hands together and saying, “I’m going to dunk on that Chinese guy as much as humanly possible next season”? This is a disaster waiting to happen. Repeat: This is a disaster waiting to happen. I feel very strongly about this. Just wanted to get that heard before the jury.
On to the draft …
7:30 — We’re coming to you live from Madison Square Garden! TNT starts off with a retrospective montage, as Ernie Johnson Jr. pulls the “For nearly two decades, we brought you images of emotion …” routine. He’s joined by Chuck and Kenny, as well as Hubie Brown, Craig Sager and wild-card guest Quin Snyder (the Missouri coach), who looks disturbingly like the guy from “American Psycho” tonight.
Meanwhile, I’m joined by my Dad, his golden retrievers (Abbie and Maggie) and my stepmom, who’s cooking dinner for us tonight and lurking as a potential “second-half-of-the-draft monkey wrench” for my Dad. By pick No. 16, she’ll be showing him a health care plan or something. I can feel it.
7:32 — All right, how come whenever they show footage of Yao Ming, he has that distracted, beaten-down, “You have no idea how much my life sucks” aura about him? He looks like a hostage in a hostage video — all he’s missing is a blindfold and a black eye. Can we get this man out of China, please?
7:33 — TNT’s Heather Cox (live from Houston) shows off the “OK, you can take Yao Ming” letter of approval from China and the Shanghai Sharks, sent at about midnight Tuesday. “This is a very gamble draft,” Heather says about Houston’s situation. Would you like to buy an adjective, Heather?
7:35 — Dei Lynam (live from China) tells us Yao has been surfing the Internet for hours, reading up-to-the-minute news about his draft situation (just to make sure he’s still headed to Houston). You can read more about it on Yao’s website, getmethehelloutofhere.com.
7:36 — As Stern announces Yao as the No. 1 pick, TNT quickly switches to their live feed in China, just to catch the Ming, his parents and his coach exchanging awkward high-fives. There’s no way to possibly express how funny that was. That’s the Draft Night Highlight of all-time. I’m not kidding.
7:38 — Lynam interviews Yao (with his interpreter). That always makes for riveting TV … especially the parts when people are speaking uninterrupted Chinese for over a minute. This exchange was fun though:
Yao (in Chinese): “Thank God this worked out. You would have found a 7-foot-5 body hanging from a bunk bed if this didn’t work out. Thank God. Thank God.”
Interpreter: “I’m confident I will learn from the NBA and improve myself.”
7:41 — The Bulls happily take Jay “No, I’m not the guy who allegedly killed his chaffeur” Williams second. Can’t go wrong with that one. “I’m very excited, I think Chicago has nothin’ but upside,” Jay says. Upside? Hey, he’s stealing Hubie Brown’s material! Somebody stop him!
7:44 — Ernie correctly chides Cox for calling Rockets GM Carroll Dawson “CD.” This whole “initials/name-shortening thing” has to be the most annoying TV development of the last 10 years. BS hates it. It drives B-Simm insane.
7:46 — G-State takes Junior Dunleavy No. 3. “What an upside,” Ernie says, beating Hubie to the punch. Plus, there hasn’t been an American white guy taken that high since Keith Van Horn. Big day.
7:48 — When Sager asks Dunleavy Jr. if he would enjoy playing for his father in the NBA, Junior says, “I wouldn’t mind it.”
Please. Who in God’s name would want to play for their father, especially in the NBA? It’s bad enough when it happens in high school … what about the pros, when Danny Fortson is bitching in the locker room because your Dad only played him 20 minutes, or when Erick Dampier is playfully calling you “Daddy’s Boy,” or when you run into Dad on the road, in your hotel lobby, at 3 a.m. (when you’re about to be the lunch meat in a Groupie Sandwich, no less)? Sounds like a nightmare. All right, I’m babbling.
7:51 — Picking fourth, Memphis takes Drew Gooden, who was shut down by Holy Cross in the NCAAs three months ago (apparently all game tapes have been destroyed). With some luck, he has a chance to be the next Juwan Howard. Meanwhile, Dad and I have this exchange:
Me: “What do you think of that pick?”
Dad (staring at Gooden): “That suit has no buttons.”
7:53 — Coming up at No. 5: the Nuggets, who were busy before the draft, dealing Antonio McDyess, two ACL ligaments and the No. 25 pick for Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson, the No. 7 pick and four vertebrae to be named later. “This is our pick, right?” Dad asks. “I think we should take Caron Butler.”
(Note: Dad is still bitter that the Celtics could have had Denver’s pick this year, if they hadn’t jumped the gun and used it last year to take Kedrick Brown. He’s only mentioned it 320 times tonight … so far. It doesn’t help that Butler is still sitting there — both of us think he’ll be an All-Star when everything’s said and done, whether it happens in the NBA or a prison rec league.)
7:55 — Reporting from Denver, TNT’s Todd Harris says the Nuggets will take 7-footer Nikoloz Tsksisksksjsksksksksksksksksklvili. Kinda ruins the moment. Stern seems ticked off as he heads to the podium, then stumbles over Nikoloz’s name, which makes it worse. Hubie saves the day by complimenting Nik’s upside. Sadly, no subtitles for Nik’s interview with Sager.
8:01 — The Cavs take Dajuan Wagner No. 6, who immediately hugs about nine women ranging from the ages of 19 to 88. Not a bad gamble by the Cavs. More importantly, Hubie just analyzed the pick for 48 consecutive seconds, shattering last year’s record of 36. Forty-eight straight seconds! That might never be topped.
8:05 — Mike Fratello interviews Jerry West, who’s starting to look disturbingly like Renee Zellweger. “You were 27th in rebound percentage, 27th in scoring, so you solved some of those problems, but you’re also a very poor shooting team,” Fratello tells West. Besides that, there’s a good foundation here in Memphis.
8:08 — Stern pauses dramatically before announcing the Knicks’s pick — Brazil’s Maybyner “Nene” Hilario at No. 7 — which elicits boos from the New York crowd (they don’t know the McDyess trade is official yet). Nene seems like a happy guy — he even does a little swagger-shuffle thing before shaking hands with Stern. Unfortunately, during his interview with Saigs, Knicks fans start a “Fire Layden!” chant (directed at Knicks GM Scott Layden). High comedy. And yes, I just called Craig Sager “Saigs.”
(By the way, how come Brazil’s soccer players get to pull the “one-name” thing — like Ronaldo — yet poor Nene has two names and a nickname? Couldn’t he just use the nickname and be “Nene”? Why does Ronaldo get to do it? I’m confused.)
8:13 — Vecsey confirms the McDyess-Camby/Hilario trade. Knicks fans boo lustily.
8:14 — The Clips select Maryland’s Chris Wilcox, wearing a Snoop Dogg-esque black pinstripe suit and a big smile. Kenny calls him “the reincarnation of Antonio McDyess.” Hubie notes that his “work ethic has to improve,” yet mentions his considerable upside. Maryland coach Gary Williams (via video) one-ups Hubie, complimenting Wilcox’s “topside.” Dad says, “Wait a second, don’t they already have Elton Brand?” And Barkley says, “They either took that pick for somebody else, or they’re stupid.” That pick ran the gamut of emotions.
8:42 — Ummm … could somebody wake up Quin Snyder? He hasn’t spoken in about 30 minutes. I think Hubie Brown lulled him into some sort of coma. Is there a cattle prod in the house?
8:19 — The Suns take high schooler Amare Stoudemire, who aparently bought one of Manute Bol’s old three-piece suits on eBay. Even the lead singer from the Talking Heads is embarrassed right now. “They call me a man among boys in high school, I’m about to play with the men, where the men at,” Amare tells Saigs. Amen.
8:26 — Dad and I are totally outraged that Caron Butler slipped to No. 10, to an Eastern Conference rival, no less (Miami). Second-best guy in the draft and freaking Riley gets him; it’s Paul Pierce all over again. Hubie calls it an “excellent choice.” Oh, really? I’m so bitter right now. How the $%#% does Miami land Caron Butler with the 10th pick? Pat Riley is like Michael Myers — even when you cut his head off, he ends up somehow coming back for another sequel. Can’t he just go away? Please?
8:27 — Barkley makes the first Pierce/Butler comparison (both guys dropping to No. 10, both guys haunting everyone who passed them up), which will be made roughly 200,000 times over the years. “I’m gonna make them pay for passing on me,” Butler says defiantly.
(The lesson, as always: Ninety percent of NBA GMs are complete morons. I’m enraged right now. My entire night is ruined. Seriously.)
8:31 — A decade after failing miserably with a soft Indiana guy (Cal Cheaney), Washington rolls the dice with another soft Indiana guy (Jared Jeffries). Apparently, MJ missed playing with Brad Sellers.
8:37 — Hubie successfully says “Tskitishvili” and “Hilario” in the same sentence. Bravo. That sentence had a ton of upside.
8:38 — The Clippers stun the crowd, taking yet another power forward (Fresno State’s Marvin Ely, the first senior taken tonight). Barkley says they “definitely” have a trade in the works. I’m not willing to accept that. This is the Clippers. They are perfectly capable of wasting two top-12 picks on power forwards when they already have Elton Brand. Totally believable. There’s a reason Reggie Theus once called Elgin Baylor a “veteran of the lottery process.”
8:43 — The Bucks take Marcus Haislip. Dad sums it up best: “Everything I read says he’s gonna be a stiff.” Hopefully, we’ll see that quote in the Bucks media guide next fall.
8:47 — Finish this sentence:
Watching an NBA draft when your favorite team doesn’t have a pick is like …
A. Going to a casino with no money and no ATM card.
B. Going to a bachelor party that doesn’t have strippers.
C. Watching “Midnight Run” on TBS with all the F-bombs deleted.
(I’m going with “B,” personally.)
8:48 — Indiana takes the first guy who isn’t even in the Green Room: Fred Jones. “Fred is not here tonight,” says Stern ominously. That’s never a good sign.
8:50 — Houston takes Slovenian small forward Bostjan Nachbar, who immediately hugs about 20 Slovenians. I think the entire country is attending the draft tonight. “Never heard of him,” Dad says. He’s not enjoying the European influx.
8:57 — Philly takes Czech guard Jiri Welsch (five Europeans in 16 picks). TNT shows the “grainy surveilliance video” highlight montage of him (Ernie’s words). As you know, it’s not possible to find any video on Europeans or high schoolers unless it looks like the Zapruder film.
8:58 — Dad’s take on Jiri Welsch: “What is this guy again? A guard? Where’s he from?” While he’s digging through his newspapers, Hubie talks for 48 uninterrupted seconds, tying his own record from early tonight. He’s in rare form. Both of Dad’s dogs have already left the living room.
9:00 — All right, I’ll ask: Who replaced Rudy Tomjanovich’s voice with Harvey Fierstein’s?
9:02 — Wow! The Wizards take Juan Dixon at No. 17! Absolutely stunning. I’m speechless. Couldn’t they have gotten Dixon about 12 picks later? Apparently, MJ’s scouting this season consisted of watching a doubleheader at Popeye Jones’ condo during the Final Four.
9:05 — You know, if Craig Sager ever wrote a book, it would definitely be called, “What’s This Mean To You?”
9:09 — Stiff alert! Stiff alert! Curtis Borchardt is off the board! With some work, he could be the next Chris Mihm. “Tremendous upside in the post,” Hubie points out. There’s also tremendous downside in his feet — he’s coming off stress fractures in both feet. Yup, nothing helps foot problems heal for a 7-footer better than an 82-game NBA schedule. That’s always an elixir.
9:13 — Utah takes somebody named Ryan Humphrey. “I watched Notre Dame, I never heard of this guy,” Dad frowns. Needless to say, Ryan isn’t in the Green Room. That reminds me, Kareem Rush looks like the leader in the Jumaine Jones Memorial “Who’s Gonna Be Last in The Green Room” Award. He’s in a heated battle with Casey Jacobsen and Qyntell Woods (a mortal lock for the Blazers at No. 21, under Bob Whitsitt’s “Best Head Case Available” philosophy).
9:18 — Quin Snyder … I mean … he’s coming off like a fan who won a contest to appear on TNT’s set. This guy’s in charge of a major college program? Speaking of Missouri, the Raptors took Rush at No. 20. Two left in the Green Room.
9:20 — Cheryl Miller interviews Elgin Baylor. I don’t even have a joke here.
9:21 — Well, it happened: My stepmom is killing my Dad. Something about a bank, and checks … suddenly he’s sifting through a folder with five different files in front of him, and he has the Yao Ming face going. At least he made it into the 20s before it happened. On the bright side, she did make dinner … I’m cutting her some slack on this one.
9:23 — Hubie spends 41 uninterrupted seconds going through the Portland lineup. What’s the need? We know who they’re taking. It’s destiny.
9:23 — Yup … the Blazers select Qyntel Woods. That’s a Hall of Fame WATFO (the acronym for “What Are The &$#*#*@* Odds?”). More important, Casey Jacobsen has won the 2002 Jumaine Jones Trophy!
9:26 — Phoenix has Boston’s pick at No. 22 (thanks to the Rodney Rogers trade), and Dad’s a little riled up because Gonzaga’s Dan Dickau is still on the board. “I thought he was unstoppable last year,” Dad explains. “Gonna make a great pro.” Somehow the Suns end up taking another white guy, Casey Jacobsen, whose blonde girlfriend gets the loudest round of applause of the night from the MSG crowd.
“Hey, I didn’t know Craig Sager had a brotha!” Barkley exclaims about Casey, who’s wearing bowling shoes. Sager uses the opportunity to ask his “brother” if Casey’s girlfriend has a younger sister. That was just plain shameless.
(Note to self: Don’t ever leave the Sports Gal alone in a room with Craig Sager.)
9:33 — Barkley’s finest moment of the night: “Craig Sager is the only guy on television who can’t get a date. It’s almost impossible to be on TV all the time and not get women.”
9:34 — From Memphis, Fratello offers the first genuinely insightful comment all night: “From (number) 10 on, it seems like teams have drafted based on need, rather than taking the best athlete that’s there at the particular time.” Either that, or the draft just sucked from 10 on. I think it’s a little of both.
9:35 — The Pistons grab Tayshaun Prince at No. 23. “He’s unbelievably long,” Quin says. I’m laying off that one.
9:36 — Hubie talking … Hubie talking … Hubie talking … Hubie talking … Hubie talking … Hubie talking … Hubie talking … Hubie talking … Hubie talking …
9:41 — Lynam interviews Yao Ming’s coach, Wang Fei (not a stage name). I’ve just about had my fill of translators tonight.
Speaking of Yao, can they televise the first meeting when Steve Francis, Moochie Norris and Cuttino Mobley get introduced to Yao Ming? Better yet, couldn’t they just televise the whole season, like one of those “Hard Knocks” type deals? Wouldn’t you love to see Cuttino and Stevie teaching Yao how to play the PlayStation? Or Yao coming along when Moochie gets his hair braided? They could even get thrown into a “Real World”-type house for eight months. Would anyone object to this?
9:45 — Barkley goes off on an inspired “College basketball is a scam … college programs are crooks” spiel which draws applause from the Knicks fans and finally wakes up Quin Snyder — he provides a detailed explanation why foreign players have an advantage over college players (functional developmental system, more games, more practice time, more pro experience, less groupies, etc.). That was actually interesting; I felt like I learned something. Of course, Dad just fell asleep for the first time tonight.
9:50 — With Kenny and Chuck making fun of the foreign influx, Stern (at the podium) gives them an exaggerated, “I can’t believe you guys” stare, then finally lays the smack down: “You know, when Kenny and Charles first came into the league, they didn’t speak English, either.”
(Now that’s a dagger! You gotta love the Commish. Shouldn’t Stern be President of the United States or am I crazy? Is there a savvier, smarter, smoother, more intimidating guy on the planet? Stern would have the Mideast crisis solved in about 15 minutes. There’s no question.)
9:56 — Hubie talks about the Lakers for 41 straight seconds, interrupted by Stern’s announcement of our second trade of the night: Philly deals the rights to Jiri Welsch to G-State for a future first-rounder. Man, even the trades suck tonight.
10:01 — The last five picks of the first round: Nenad Krstic (Nets); Frank Williams (Nuggets for the Knicks); John Salmons (Spurs); Chris Jefferies (Lakers); Dan Dickau (to the Kings but eventually dealt to Atlanta, breaking Dad’s heart). Just a disappointing draft all around –anticlimactic, predictable, plodding, too many no-names, and wayyyyy too many Euros. I think I only saw six of these guys play more than once — Butler, Dixon, Dunleavy, Jeffries, Williams and Gooden. Everyone else is a blank slate. Too bad.
10:03 — The dramatic moment of the night: Barkley interrupting Stern as the Commish is leaving the stage, then telling him, “You’re the best commissioner in sports, and I take great pride that, when I met you, your hair was all black.” So Stern steps back to the podium, smiles, tries to decide whether he should have Barkley killed after the draft ends, decides against it, then finally just deadpans, “Thank you, Charles.” That was fun.
10:05 — TNT ends the first round with an enjoyable montage from the past 18 drafts, including Kenny Walker’s Dangerfield impersonation, Karl Malone’s blue-on-blue jacket-tie combo, Chuck Person’s tux, Shawn Bradley putting his hand on Stern’s head, Jalen Rose’s red gangsta outfit, and even Walter McCarty singing. Good times all around. I wish we could have said the same about this year’s draft.