I am ashamed of many things over the years. Like that stretch in the mid-’80s when I routinely wore a white linen jacket. The time I purchased “Heart’s Greatest Hits” on CD. Those two seconds when I was attracted to Chelsea Clinton. Even recently, I was flipping channels one morning, stumbled across Carrot Top on Cold Pizza and actually laughed out loud once or twice. Read that last sentence again.
But nothing matches my shame for last summer, when I opted against traveling cross-country to Boston to watch the NBA draft with my dad. The official reason: I couldn’t get out of work. Pretty lame. I received more e-mails from readers about that decision than any one I’ve ever made. People were shocked. People were horrified. You’re not going back? I should have just hit dad over the head with a steel chair.
For 12 months, I’ve been racked with guilt. Remember the “Killing Fields,” when Sydney couldn’t get Dith Pran on the plane out of Cambodia, so he had to leave him behind … and then he spent the rest of the movie with the “I can’t believe I ditched Dith Pran” Face going? That was me. So had to make up for it. This week I flew back to Boston for a belated Father’s Day trip, then arranged for us to watch the draft in an executive suite at the Ritz Carlton. It was the least I could do. Sure, I’m sending the bill to ESPN, and if they refuse to pay for it, I’m going into a Steve Francis-like funk for the next three years. But that’s beside the point.
It was just like old times: me and dad watching the draft. My buddies Jacko and House even joined us. An all-star cast. One for the ages. In fact, you’re never going to believe this, but I even kept a running diary …
7:30 p.m. ET — As Brent Musberger used to say, “You’re looking LIVE at Madison Square Garden!” I’m excited because my beloved Celts have three first-rounders. House is excited for Pavel Podkolzine, whom he describes as a “cross between Gheorge Muresan and Screech.” My dad’s excited because he just threw down two apple martinis at the Ritz bar. And Jacko is excited for two things: “The number of bad suits, and the number of mothers who weigh over 300 pounds.” So everyone’s pumped.
Four highlights from the pregame show:
- Possible No. 1 pick Dwight Howard on his changing fortunes: “I went from an ’84 Crown Victoria that only goes up to 84 miles an hour to a new BMW that goes up to 160.” Wow. You can almost hear the Orlando front office screaming, “Change of plans! Change of plans! Get Okafor on the phone!”
- Jay Bilas described Howard as “very ball-friendly.”
- Bilas also graded potential picks in a number of categories, including “Intangibles,” from 1 to 5. As Jacko said, “How do you rank intangibles from 1 to 5? Intangibles are the great unknown. And yet he ranks them. Is he clairvoyant?”
- My dad uttered a total of eight words: “Who is this guy?” and “Who is this guy?” Both times Stephen A. Smith was talking. I’m not making this up.
7:31 — David Stern comes out wearing a pink tie. This “Queer Eye” thing has really gotten out of hand. Meanwhile, my dad has already fallen asleep, shattering his previous draft-day record by nearly 75 minutes. That’s it. I’m calling the nursing home tomorrow.
7:35 — Just realized that I’m writing a column about a telecast that involves Dick Vitale, Stu Scott, Tom Tolbert and Stephen A. Smith … and all of them are off-limits.
7:37 —The Magic are on the clock with the first pick. If they’re smart, they take Emeka Okafor. If they’re dumb, they take Howard. It’s that simple.
7:39 — They go with Howard. Of course they do. He’s the third high schooler taken overall in the past four years, as well as the first top pick with braces since Pervis Ellison. Not a good sign. “Praise the Lord!” screams Dwight Howard Sr., who didn’t realize that the Lord had Okafor going first in his mock draft.
7:42 — I was just typing feverishly . . . I swear somebody just said the word “marginable.” More importantly, do you realize that the Clippers traded out of the No. 2 spot when there was a future All-Star center that could have been sitting there, just to pick up a second-rounder and dump a salary? Imagine being a Clippers fan? Having Elgin Baylor run your team must be like getting in the car with my mom at night, when she’s careening off curbs and saying things like, “I can’t believe how bad my eyes have gotten” and “We shouldn’t have ordered that bottle of wine.” Just constant fear.
7:45 — Charlotte can’t take Okafor fast enough. Seriously, I’m not sure they even started the clock. They borrowed Dwight Howard’s car and raced to the podium at 160 mph.
7:47 — Not only is Dick Vitale wearing a blood-red shirt, there’s a black and red background behind him. And he’s screaming. I keep waiting for him to morph into Beelzebub.
7:48 — We just found out that Okafor’s first name is “Chukwuemeka.” Didn’t they sing “Tubthumping”? And why wouldn’t Okafor go with “Chukie” over “Emeka.” Imagine the crowd chanting “Chooo-key! Chooo-key!
7:49 — Bobcats GM Bernie Bickerstaff seems woozy from landing Okafor; he’s making my dad seem lively right now. You can’t blame him — they just ended up with a possible franchise center. And if that wasn’t enough, during Tuesday’s expansion draft, Bernie used the word “Synergism.” I think that won an AVN Award last year. Can you have “marginable synergism?” I need to know these things.
7:50 — The Bulls take Ben Gordon third. Nice choice. Also sparked the first “Was that his mother or his sister?” debate of the evening. That should definitely be its own game show on ESPN6.
We all love the pick, including House: “Teams are finally getting a clue. Hey, maybe we should take the best players on teams that win an NCAA title! It’s not rocket science, people! If you come through at a lower level, odds are, you’re coming through at a higher level! What’s wrong with these guys?” He’s like Stephen A. House right now.
7:53 — When it comes right down to it, there isn’t a more secretly exciting phrase in sports than “The Clippers are on the clock.” That’s right up there with, “I’m here with Mike Tyson” and “Have you seen these pictures of Latrell Sprewell on his yacht?”
7:54 — Rejuvenated by the sight of the Clippers logo, dad dives into the mini-bar for ginger ale, peanuts and pretzels. Total cost: $298. Meanwhile, House is looking through the room service menu and excitedly saying things like “Oh, look at this, veal schnitzel!” and “Oh, vichyssoise!” Yep, this may have been a mistake.
7:56 — The Clippers take Shaun Livingston, a high school point guard who oozes upside. Of course, before they traded down from No. 2 to no. 4, they could have taken Okafor, a 6-foot-9 center who already realized his upside. But that would have made too much sense. A relieved Livingston shakes hands with David Stern, who has the “I’ve gotta do something about all these high schoolers, this is getting out of hand” Face going.
7:58 — Here come the Wiz at No. 5. This seems like a good time to mention that House is wearing a game-worn Tom Gugliotta jersey from the ’93-’94 Bullets season. If that’s not a collector’s item, I don’t know what is. By the way, he’s 34 years old.
7:59 – Bilas goes on a rant about Livingston, including the first “upside” comment of the night. Somewhere, Hubie Brown is beaming. That’s followed by the Wizards taking Devin Harris at No. 5 — he’s headed to Dallas in the Antawn Jamison trade — followed by Mike Tirico’s revelation that Harris roomed with two females at college last year. Two women? What? He looks like he’s about 14. Let’s get the “Outside the Lines” crew working on this.
8:05 — Elgin raves about Livingston’s potential to Jim Gray, adding, “It might take a season, it might take half a season, it might take a year.” Or it could even take 12 months.
8:06 — With the Hawks on the clock, ESPN cuts to Atlanta and shows all seven Hawks season-ticket holders watching the draft on the Jumbotron. All right, I made that up. They end up taking Josh Childress and his mushroom cloud ‘fro. I was already on the fence about Childress, but Tirico just compared him to the other great California players in recent years … then named the O’Bannon brothers and Jason Kapono. Bust alert! Bust alert!
8:11 — Luol Deng goes seventh to the Suns, who are trading him to the Bulls right after the draft, but he has to wear a Suns hat for now. You figure it out. Another nice move by the Bulls: Two proven commodities now in Gordon and Deng. As far as GM’s go, John Paxson has emerged as the Patrick Swayze to his brother’s Don Swayze.
(Note: Deng’s thumbnail sketch says he’s fluent in Dinka, Arabic and English, plus he was “taught basketball by Manute Bol.” I’m not sure what to do with this information.)
8:17 — Wow! Toronto just took Rafael Aruojo eighth! Even I didn’t like him that much, and I’m the one who once called him a “6-foot-11 Najera.” Sadly, his interview doesn’t come with subtitles.
8:23 — Andre Igoudala goes ninth to Philly, then hugs someone wearing an African tribal gown in his entourage. That almost made up for the lack of ridiculous suits tonight. By the way, between Andre Igoudala and Luol Deng, my Dad has a “Whatever happened to the days of Joe Smith and Dale Ellis?” look on his face right now.
8:25 — Stu takes one look at Andre’s suit and says he’s “rockin’ the pinstripe.” Boo yeah! On the bright side, that prompted my dad to say, “Who is this guy?” for the third time tonight.
8:29 — The Cavs take Luke Jackson, who didn’t bother coming to the draft. Andy Katz reports that Jackson “just felt more comfortable watching it at home.” Oh. He promises to show up for the season though. Meanwhile, we’re anxiously awaiting ESPN’s thumbnail sketch for each pick, especially the “Favorite class” and “Must Improve” categories. It’s not every day that you can find out things like “Shaun Livingston likes trigonometry.” Too bad Jackson didn’t get a “Must Improve: Giving a crap.”
8:30 — Dick Vitale uses the phrase “flat-out” three times in less than a minute, followed by an life-altering split-screen argument between Vitale and Stephen A. Smith. If you missed it, you can see a continuous replay of this moment on the new ESPN channel, ESPN 666.
8:35 — At No. 11, the Warriors take the Latvian Guy — no relation to the Russian Guy, the Other Russian Guy, The Serbian Guy, the Really Tall Korean Guy, the Slovenian Guy or the Spanish Guy. He immediately breaks into tears. That sets off a round of “Must Improve: Controlling Emotions” and “Must Improve: Hygiene” jokes. I’m telling you, there isn’t a more underrated three hours than the NBA draft.
8:38 — I can’t even describe what just happened when Stu Scott interviewed the Latvian Guy, as the poor kid kept muttering “I play inside … inside … I play inside … inside” over and over again. They should have brought the fainter from the Spelling Bee to collapse on him. And just when it couldn’t get any better, we had the following exchange at the end:
Stu (throwing it back to Tirico): “They compare his personality on the court to Kenyon Martin. Don’t front.”
Dad (glancing around the room): “What does that mean? What did he just say?”
8:40 — For the past two minutes, we just had my dad trying to guess what “Don’t front” meant. If only there were cameras on hand. At one point, he asked, “How was it used again?”, like it was the Spelling Bee or something. We kept waiting for him to ask for the country of origin.
8:43 — Thank God … the Sonics just took Robert Swift, the high school center who looks like a cross between Fred Weis and Eric Montross. Of course, the Celtics loved him. Talk about dodging a bullet. Any time someone is avoiding workouts, all-star games, even interviews … is this ever a good sign? Now he gets to be tutored by the likes of Jerome James, Vitaly Potapenko and Cal Booth. Can somebody have “downside”?
8:45 — My dad’s take on Stephen A.: “I feel like I’m being yelled at.”
8:46 — Here’s a doozy: Portland takes Sebastian Telfair and his 100-person entourage at No. 13. Unbelievable. Horrendous pick. I’m speechless. ESPN smartly cuts to Jameer Nelson, a mortal lock for the Jumaine Jones Memorial “Last Guy Left In The Green Room” Award.
8:56 — With the Celtics on the clock, ESPN runs footage of the Johnson-Brown-Forte picks from 2001 just to torture me. Thanks, guys. You forgot to show Lenny Bias trying on the green Celtics hat. I feel sick.
8:57 — Boston takes … high schooler Al Jefferson. Good pick. Other than Kirk Snyder, he was the best guy on the board, and we didn’t need Snyder. Dad and I exchange nods of approval. “I’m surprised he lasted this long” says Bilas, adding that he’s “relentless” and has “upside.” I think we’re about two years away from somebody creating an NBA Draft Cliché Karaoke Machine.
8:59 — Even as I’m typing Jacko’s latest rant about Dick Vitale, my Page 2 editors are telepathically pressing the backspace on the computer so none of the letters are actually making it on the screen. This is amazing.
9:00 — Seen on ESPN’s 28/58 ticker: “Minnesota 37, San Antonio 25.” I’ll let you take one guess. Now we’re waiting for them to show the results from our Golden Tee scores at the Baseball Tavern last night: “Simmons -7 … House +24 … Jacko +56.”
9:02 — Dad is delighted that Kirk Snyder’s suit doesn’t fit. “Look, it has five buttons!” he says excitedly. “I think he borrowed it from Okafor 20 minutes ago.”
9:08 — The Hawks take high schooler Josh Smith as Bilas rips the pick to shreds: “If you had to pick which guy was most likely to be a bust in the first round, it would be this guy. He has no right hand and he can’t shoot.” That’s followed by poor Smith having to defend himself to Stu Scott, capped off by a phenomenal exchange:
Stu: “Your nickname is J-Smoove … would you like to smoothly toss it back to Mike now?”
Josh Smith (monotone, deer in the headlights): “Hey Mike, back to you.”
(That was the TiVo moment of the night. Hands down.)
9:10 — Not only is Bilas now refusing to use verbs, my dad just called Al Jefferson “Al Harrington” for the third time tonight. Things are heating up.
9:11 — Yet another classic moment: Vitale was zoning out, not realizing he was on camera until somebody alerted him, so he jolted upright and transformed into his “Dickie V.” persona in about 0.0000003 seconds. That was amazing. Somebody must have accidentally unplugged him.
9:19 — We’re all starting to lose interest in the draft. Three high schoolers just went in a row, two of whom were named “Josh.” Speaking just for myself, I have an actual opinion on 12 guys on this draft: Okafor and Gordon (future All-Stars); Deng (solid fifth wheel for a contender some day); Araujo (better version of Mark Madsen); Harris, Nelson and Childress (overrated); Delonte West (this year’s “sleeper who will come back to haunt everyone”); Snyder, Igoudala and Tony Allen (8-man rotation guys); and Chris Duhon (he’s not better than Kevin Ollie?). Other than that, it’s that same useless feeling you get when you’re watching the Oscars during categories like “Best Foreign Documentary” and “Best Makeup.” Wake me up when I know someone.
9:23 — Room service! Two chicken caesars, 1 fried calamari, 1 clam chowder, 1 cheeseburger, 1 chicken sandwich, 1 large bottle of sparkling water, 2 iced teas. Our total? $573.34.
9:26 — Mmmmmmm … $28 clam chowder … mmmmmmm …
9:28 — Denver tabs Jameer Nelson as the crowd explodes. They already have Andre Miller and Earl Boykins, so he’s obviously getting traded. Of course, four full minutes pass before someone (David Aldridge) mentions this possibility on the show. That prompts Jacko to say, “I think every draft, no matter what the sport, should have Mel Kiper Jr. in it.” Me, too.
9:33 — Utah takes 7-foot-5 Pavel Prdzswsbqzpdne, who stands up and immediately whiffs on two high-fives. Not a good start for the Pavel Era. Katz calls it a “safe pick.” Of course, the USA Today’s scouting report mentioned that Pavel “takes medication for a hormonal disorder related to pituitary gland.” I don’t know if “safe” was the best choice of words, not after the Gheorge Muresan Era and Giant Gonzalez’s wrestling career. Jacko quickly jokes, “Must improve: Genetic deficiency.”
9:35 — Stu Scott interviews Pavel and his interpreter. Just to clear things up, Pavel does understand English … he just can’t understand Stu Scott. Seriously, I’m not fronting.
9:38 — Picking for the Blazers, the Nets take Victor Khryapa, setting off a round of “Do you know his brother, Fulla?” and “How ’bout his cousin, Tayka?” jokes. I just wish Rick Pitino had the chance to take someone named “Khryapa.” It would have been like two worlds colliding.
9:41 — Picking again, the Blazers take Sergei Monia, who platooned with Khryapa on the CSKA Moscow team in Europe. Either that’s one helluva platoon, or the Blazers just screwed up twice. I’m leaning towards the latter. Meanwhile, we just learned that Monia’s favorite actor is Robert DeNiro. Tough blow to Yakov Smirnoff there. A wakeup call, really.
9:43 — You know, if the Celtics don’t take Delonte West with one of these next two picks, I’m driving to the FleetCenter with a bomb strapped to my chest. Just wanted to get that heard before the jury.
9:46 — Yes! Boston takes Delonte West! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Something good happened! He’s good! I know he’s good! I watched him all year! He’s a more unselfish version of Cuttino Mobley! I have an opinion! Woo-hoo! I have an opinion!
9:50 — The C’s follow with Tony Allen at No. 25. I’m torn. On the bright side, he can do everything Lindsay Hunter does, and Hunter was the third guard on two championship teams. On the flip side, the ESPN guys said Allen went to multiple junior colleges and had an “attitude problem” in the Chicago pre-draft camp. Red flags galore. I think my dad just threw up in his mouth.
9:53 — Not only is Nelson headed to Orlando, but Utah trades Pavel to Dallas for a future first-rounder and the rights to Pavel’s royalties from “My Giant 2.”
(All right, I’ll ask: What’s the point of picking someone at No. 21, then trading him to a 50-win team that’s about to get Shaq? So you can move backwards 8-to-10 spots in any of the next five drafts? Did Elgin Baylor consult them on this trade?)
9:58 — Sacramento takes Kevin Martin at No. 26. “Never heard of this guy,” dad hisses. He’s tired and grumpy.
10:01 — The Lakers take Sasha Vujacic, who pulled a Sam Dalembert — sitting in the stands, then hopping onstage to shake hands with a surprised Stern. You can almost imagine Stern whispering, “Don’t ever defy my instructions again, I will BREAK you.” More importantly, can you imagine showing up in L.A. from Slovenia and becoming a multi-millionaire at the same time? Can’t you see him dressing up like Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd in the “Wild and Crazy Guys” sketch?
10:04 — Dad nods off again.
10:10 — Indy wraps up the first round with seven-footer David Harrison. According to Bilas, “He has small hands and relatively short arms.” Sounds like a winner.
Final reflections? Just some quickies. We heard the word “wingspan” more times than “upside” (7 to 6). We heard four new made-up draft terms: “ball-friendly,” “logician,” “explosion ability” and “blowbyablity.” There were nearly as many high schoolers (8) and foreigners (9) taken as college players (12). Only three teams blatantly screwed up: The Clippers, Raptors and Blazers. Only one team dramatically improved (the Bulls). The Bobcats launched their franchise. My favorite sleeper actually ended up on the Celtics, which never happens. Best of all, I made up for last summer with my dad, even if it nearly bankrupted me in the process.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wake him up.