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NBA draft memorable moments

Memorable draft moments

Before you throw yourself into Tuesday night’s NBA draft, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. For the past eight years (1997-2004), I have been keeping a running diary of the draft while watching it with my father (except for 2003, when the diary carried on without him). So here’s a look back at my favorite 60 moments from that stretch, presented in reverse order from 60th to first:

No. 60
2003: After the Clippers take Chris Kaman at No. 6, we find out that Kaman’s dad is named “Leroy,” earning Leroy Kaman an immediate entry onto the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars with Khalil Greene, Grady Little, Jarrod Washburn, Darius Songaila, Marcus Giles and Lew Ford.

bill simmons

No. 59
2004: The Hawks take high schooler Josh Smith as Jay 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 said. “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 [Tirico] now?”

Josh Smith (monotone, deer in the headlights): “Hey, Mike, back to you.”

No. 58
2002: Mike Fratello interviews Jerry West (starting to look disturbingly like Renée 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. Other than that, the Grizzlies were right back in the hunt.

No. 57
1998: With the third pick, Denver passes up Pierce, Nowitzki, Carter and Jamison to take Raef LaFrentz. If that weren’t tough enough for Nuggets fans, TNT guest analyst Rick Majerus promptly compares LaFrentz to Adam Keefe – and means it as a compliment. You didn’t see that quote in the 1998-99 Nuggets media guide.

No. 56
2002: The Clips select Maryland’s Chris Wilcox at No. 7, who’s wearing a Snoop Dogg-esque black pinstriped suit and a big smile. Kenny Smith calls him “the reincarnation of Antonio McDyess.” Hubie Brown 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 wonders, “Wait a second, don’t they already have Elton Brand?” And Charles Barkley says, “They either took that pick for somebody else, or they’re stupid.” That pick ran the gamut of emotions.

No. 55
2000: Commissioner Stern announces the first-ever All-Stiff Draft Night Trade: Houston deals Joel Przybilla to Milwaukee for Jason Collier and a future No. 1. This trade was approved by the NBA’s official coroner, Dr. Sam Quincy.

No. 54
1998: After Detroit takes Bonzi Wells at No. 11, we see Bonzi surrounded in the Green Room by family members in white fedoras, all looking like extras in a Notorious B.I.G. video. Tremendous “posse coordination” at such an early age. One year later, Baron Davis tops him after getting taken by Charlotte at No. 3 – already wearing a white gangtsa suit from the Kenny Smith Collection, he adds Charlotte’s teal hat for the retro “Miami Vice” look. Snazzy combo.

No. 53
2003: A decade of Portland grabbing the Best Head Case Available (Erick Barkley, Zach Randolph, Qyntel Woods) crests when the Blazers select somebody named “Outlaw” (high schooler Travis Outlaw) with the 18th pick. That pick was so inevitable, even Tom Tolbert had a joke ready for it.

No. 52
2001: The Bulls take Eddy Curry at No. 4, leading to TNT guest analyst Rick Pitino congratulating Bulls GM Jerry Krause on a successful bluff (making everyone think the Bulls wanted Pau Gasol). Now that’s the kiss of death – getting complimented on a front-office move by Pitino. Somebody should have immediately thrown a black cat on the stage.

No. 51
2000: Craig Sager interviews new Chicago pick Jamal Crawford, his father (Clyde) and baby son (Eric, who’s completely unintelligible). It’s three generations of Crawfords! By the way, you know the NBA draft is happening when somebody named “Clyde” is being interviewed.

Josh Smith

No. 50
2003: Darko Milicic goes second, followed by him kissing a bunch of Serbian men on both sides of the cheek in succession and my buddy House screaming, “We just saw more kisses than the average episode of ‘Queer As Folk!’ ” During the montage of Darko highlights, House follows that with, “Look at the guys he’s playing against – I think he just posted up Scotty Thurman!” Poor House hadn’t been that riled up since HBO canceled “G-String Divas.” Not an auspicious start to the Darko Era.

No. 49
2000: The Green Room Watch finally ends as the Suns take 7-foot-2 Greek center Jake Tsakalidis at No. 25 (the last guy in the Green Room who hadn’t been picked, only because he was having trouble getting out of his European contract). That leads to this exchange:

Sager: What’s your (contract) status?
Translator: (Doesn’t speak for some reason)
Tsakalidis: Ehh, ahhh, rsxcdsrs no contract, no, jhdgssfsa fine, ahhh. Errr.
Sager: So you’re saying you can play for the Suns next year?
Tsakalidis: Ahhhh … I play. Mrrteggwgs. Next year. Grrsfsfsf. Ahhh. Errrrr.
Translator: Cheeseburger cheeseburger cheeseburger.

No. 48
1999: Looking for the best white guy available, Golden State takes Jeff Foster at No. 20. Majerus sums it up best by saying, “He’s not gonna come in right away and impact the Warriors in any way, shape or form.”

No. 47
2001: Stern announces No. 26 pick Samuel Dalembert being selected by the Sixers, followed by Dalembert suddenly and inexplicably hopping out of the stands to shake hands with a clearly terrified Stern. These are the things that happen when you get rid of the Green Room.

(Note: Over the next three years, a growing collection of uninvited picks end up pulling a Dalembert, highlighted by Sasha Vujacic emerging from the stands and nearly getting gunned down by security.)

No. 46
1999: TNT’s John Thompson utters the phrase “He should have stayed in school” 15 times in the course of one night. Of course, the same could be said about John Thompson.

No. 45
2004: Before the draft even starts, Bilas describes Dwight Howard as “very ball friendly” and announces he has graded potential draftees in a number of categories from 1 to 5, including “Intangibles,” prompting my buddy Jacko to wonder, “How do you rank intangibles from 1 to 5? Intangibles are the great unknown. And yet he ranks them. Is he clairvoyant?”

No. 44
1997: Near the end of the first round, TNT’s Peter Vecsey confidently reports the Timberwolves and Clippers just swung a trade. Dad and I move to the edge of our seats … only to be told that Minnesota traded Stojko Vrankovic to the Clips straight up for Stanley Roberts. Unbelievable. We get our revenge four years later, after Vecsey reports that the Knicks don’t have enough to trade for C-Webb and the New York fans in the building respond with an impromptu, “Vecsey sucks! Vecsey sucks!” chant on live TV.

Marc Cornstein, Darko Milicic and Semi Pajovic

No. 43
1999: Shawn Marion (No. 9) puts on a black Suns hat with a gray suit and bright blue shirt. Very nice. An excited Majerus calls Marion “the sleeper of the draft … I just like him very much … as you can tell, I’m very high on him.” He then gets electroshocked by TNT’s producer.

No. 42
1998: Unhappy with the American white stiff center they selected last June (Paul Grant), Minnesota takes a Slovenian white stiff center (Radislav Nesterovic).

No. 41
1997: The Mavs take center Kelvin Cato, a former dishwasher who ended up at Iowa State after a growth spurt. TNT’s two “draft facts” about him are “Never played high school basketball” and “Owns a 9-foot Burmese python snake.” Apparently rattled by these facts, Dallas immediately deals Cato to Portland for the No. 18 pick (Chris Anstey) and monetary considerations.

No. 40
2001: Hubie talks for 36 uninterrupted seconds, even using the rare “second person” for part of the time. Now, you’re Hubie Brown. You’re going to be speaking, uninterrupted, without taking a breath, for the next 36 seconds. Of course, when the draft moves to ESPN in 2003, Dick Vitale easily shatters Hubie’s record (going 70 seconds).

No. 39
2000: Barkley attacks the Clippers by ranting, “I don’t think the Clippers are a good environment for [new No. 1 pick Darius] Miles. They’re a terrible organization. … I hope he gets out of there. … The Clippers are one of the problems in sports. People think you have to win to make money – the Clippers are a perfect example of a team that lets all their good players go every year … they’re giving their fans a bad product … that’s one of the problems in sports today. There’s just no excuse for what the Clippers have been doing for the past 10-15 years, letting all their good players go.”

(You gotta love Chuck! The best part was seeing Ernie Johnson’s face tighten on the split screen as his producer screamed in his earpiece, “Cut him off … cut him off … CUT HIM THE *$%# OFF!!!!!”)

No. 38
1999: The Knicks take 7-foot-3 French star Frederic Weis with the No. 15 pick, the funniest pick of the last five years. Bonjour, Latrell! Bonjour, Marcus! Flustered by the pick, Johnson swings it to a startled Vecsey, who’s completely out of info. Vecsey makes up a “Steve Smith for Isaiah Rider” trade rumor on the spot.

No. 37
2001: The Clips trade the rights to No. 2 pick Tyson Chandler to Chicago for Elton Brand. That’s right, after 47 years, Elgin Baylor finally made a good trade! Watching the draft live, Dad and I immediately start stockpiling water and canned goods and preparing for the apocalypse.

No. 36
2004: With consecutive picks at 22 and 23, the Blazers take Viktor Khryapa (setting off a round of “Do you know his brother, Fulla?” and “How ’bout his cousin, Tayka?” jokes) and 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 toward the latter. Meanwhile, we learn that Monia’s favorite actor is Robert DeNiro. Tough blow to Yakov Smirnoff there. A wake-up call, really.

No. 35
1999: Corey Maggette’s agonizing Green Room wait ends when Seattle snaps him up at No. 13 (the second time in two years they saved someone from the Green Room; more on this in a second). After Johnson says Maggette has “unlimited” potential, Thompson quickly adds, “Very unlimited.”

Shawn Marion
No. 34
1997: While watching an interview with Golden State No. 8 pick Adonal Foyle (who hails from the Caribbean and has an accent that makes him sound like a cross between Bob Marley and Michael Caine), my squinting father wonders, “Where’s this guy from again?” About two hours later, after nodding off and waking up again, Dad sees Thompson babbling on the screen, squints and wonders, “Where’s this guy from again?” That shatters Dad’s “Where’s this guy from again?” record, set during the ’94 draft.

No. 33
2002: With Kenny and Chuck making fun of the influx of foreign players, Stern (standing 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.” And that’s why he’s the most powerful man in the country.

No. 32
1998: Vecsey reports Golden State and Toronto are swapping picks: Toronto takes Antawn Jamison for Golden State at No. 4, then the Warriors take Vince Carter for Toronto at No. 5, and “There’s also some money changing hands.” We later find out that Toronto gave up Jamison for Vince Carter, Baltic Avenue, Park Place, $200 and three immunities.

(Bonus points: Carter and Jamison seem to be wearing the exact same three-piece suit, which leads to my dad’s award-winning theory that there was only one three-piece suit in the 1998 Green Room and every draft pick passed it along to the next pick. Seriously, watch that draft on NBA TV some time. It’s uncanny.)

No. 31
2001: We knew Shane Battier was headed to the Grizzlies at No. 6 because Stern looked happy walking to the podium for the first time all night. All right, it’s a four-year senior! Battier also becomes the first draftee in history to use the word “archaic” in his post-pick interview.

No. 30
2004: Vitale uses the phrase “flat-out” three times in less than a minute, followed by a life-altering split-screen argument between Vitale and Stephen A. Smith. If you missed it, you can see a continuous replay of the moment on ESPN’s new channel, ESPN 666.

No. 29
1999: As the second round winds down, Majerus calls No. 44 pick Lee Nailon a high-energy guy, “like a ping-pong ball in a bathtub.” Minutes later, after Johnson tells us that stiff center Todd MacCulloch (No. 47) enjoys bungee-jumping, parachuting, parasailing and cliff-diving and has a dog named Chainsaw who once got his tongue stuck to a frozen pole, Majerus deadpans, “Is there a ‘developing a hook shot’ story in there?”

(The lesson, as always: You know it’s getting late when Rick Majerus makes you laugh out loud.)

No. 28
1997: After Houston picks Rodrick Rhodes, Hubie describes him as having “incredible upside.” Not just upside, folks … incredible upside. Six years later, he tops himself in the 2003 draft while discussing the European influx in the first round via satellite, creating the immortal phrase “Tremendous upside potential.”

Adonal Foyle
No. 27
2000: After the Nets take Kenyon Martin at No. 1, the TNT cameras show Martin hugging various women in the Green Room while Dad and I have the following exchange:

Dad: He’s hugging all the mothers of his kids.
SG: No, no, that’s Marcus Fizer. Fizer’s the one with all the kids.
Dad: Oh. (pause) How many kids does Martin have?

No. 26
2000: With their 29th pick, the Lakers execute a little-known league rule by using a WNBA territorial pick to take Mark Madsen.

No. 25
1999: As the first round winds to a close, TNT’s cameras home in on a distraught Jumaine Jones (the winner of the “Last Guy in the Green Room” contest), as Majerus keeps saying, “He should have stayed in college; he should have stayed in college.” Just an emotionally scarring five minutes. Although not nearly as emotionally scarring as …

No. 24
1998: High schooler Rashard Lewis sets the NBA record for “Most Time Spent in the Green Room,” improbably lasting through the first round, surviving two “Why hasn’t Lewis been taken yet?” highlight montages, surviving at least 35 “There’s Rashard sitting by himself in the Green Room” close-ups, even getting passed on by his hometown Rockets before the Sonics mercifully take him as the 32nd overall pick (which means he doesn’t even get to shake hands with Stern). The entire chain of events brings Lewis to tears. And you wonder why the NBA eventually fought for that age minimum.

No. 23
1999: Johnson tells us that No. 26 pick Vonteego Cummings got his first name after a neighbor combined the names of two cars, “The Volkswagen and the Montego.” And he’s not kidding.

No. 22
2003: After the Nuggets take Carmelo Anthony at No. 3, his mom, Mary, is interviewed by Stu Scott:

Stu: “I’m here with Mary … gotta be an emotional moment … what’s running through your mind right now?”

Mom: (Sobs uncontrollably for 10 seconds)

Stu (leaning closer): “Is this a dream for you?”

Mom: “Yes.” (more sobbing)

Stu (practically sitting on her lap): “At one point did you know your son was not just a special person but a special basketball player?”

Mom: “I wanna say … ” (more crying)

Stu: “It’s OK … tears of joy, I’m sure. We’ll come back and talk to you later.”


No. 21
2001: Pitino says the Celtics could be looking at “Troy Parker” at No. 21. Troy Parker? Wasn’t he in “Boogie Nights”? After the Spurs take Tony Parker later in the round, Barkley says, “I don’t know that much about him, but they got him in the first round, so he must be a good player.” Insightful work by the TNT crew.

No. 20
2002: Memphis (picking fourth) takes Drew Gooden as Dad and I have the following exchange:

Me: “What do you think of that pick?”
Dad (staring at Gooden): “That suit has no buttons.”

No. 19
1997: The Sixers take Keith Van Horn, who’s forced to wear a Sixers hat and endure an interview with Sager even though he’s headed to New Jersey in a draft-day deal (which can’t be announced until after the first round). That leads to a new face for the Pantheon of Faces – the Keith Van Horn “I was excited to play in Philly, but now I have to spend my career in New Jersey, yet I still have to pretend that I’m excited to play for Philly until this trade is announced” Face.

No. 18
2000: The Pistons take Mateen Cleaves, who looks into the camera and says, “Wassup, Flint, I’m coming home, baby. Tony, I love you, boy. I’m coming home, baby. Yeah, baby, yo. Yeah, baby!” Word up, ‘Teen.

No. 17
1998: After Houston takes Turkey’s Mirsad Turkcan near the end of Round 1, Majerus compares Turkcan to Moses Malone and officially gets cut off by the bar at Vancouver’s GM Place.

(Note: This was the same draft where Majerus described Kings pick Jason Williams by gushing “He’s got great ‘feel for the game,’ and you can’t coach ‘feel for the game.’ ” We later found out that Williams also had great “feel for the bong.”)

Kenyon Martin
No. 16
1999: At No. 16, the Bulls snare Ron Artest, who looks ecstatic just to get out of the Green Room. Artest repeatedly points at the camera, his friends, the crowd, even a stunned Stern (who repeatedly implores him to look at the camera and finally just gives up). In his subsequent interview with Sager, Artest develops some rare form of draft ADD, resulting in this exchange:

Sager: The only other person from Queens Ridge is the rapper Nas. What would he say about this?
Artest: (crying, pointing at crowd, more crying)
Sager: (finally tapping Artest on the knee)
Artest: Um, what’d you say?

No. 15
1998: While talking about Michael Olowokandi, TNT’s Doc Rivers uses the word “upside” three times in 10 seconds, shattering the world record. That’s right up there with Joe DiMaggio hitting in 56 straight games; you will never see that one get broken. Five minutes later, Baylor tops Rivers by referring to the player he just drafted with the No. 1 overall pick as “O-oh-lah-kanda.” Then Baylor mentions his “upside.” Everyone likes the KandiMan’s upside. Looking back, it was quite an upside, as far as upsides go.

No. 14
2000: After Donnell Harvey (Knicks) and Deshawn Stevenson (Jazz) get tabbed, the Bulls select a Croatian center named Dalibor Bagaric at No. 24. Confused, my dad looks up from his Sporting News and says simply, “He’s not on my list.”

(Maybe my all-time favorite “Dad at the draft” moment. You really had to be there.)

No. 13
1997: During a draft night party at the FleetCenter for Celtics fans and assembled media, Pitino takes Chauncey Billups (No. 3) and Ron Mercer (No. 6), then calls his new rookie tandem “my dream backcourt for the next 10 years.” They end up playing 171 combined games in Boston before Pitino ships them out of town in separate deals.

No. 12
1999: Johnson tells us that soon-to-be-lottery pick Steve Francis brought 300 members of his extended family to the draft in Washington. Seriously, do you even know 300 people? That number might never be topped.

No. 11
2004: 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. Andy Katz calls it a “safe pick.” Of course, USA Today’s scouting report mentioned that Pavel “takes medication for a hormonal disorder related to pituitary gland.” Maybe “safe” wasn’t the best choice of words, not after the Gheorghe Muresan Era and Giant Gonzalez’s wrestling career. My buddy Jacko quickly jokes, “Must improve: Genetic deficiency.”

No. 10
1999: With the Clippers on the clock at No. 4, we were waiting breathlessly to see whether they would be dumb enough to take Lamar Odom, this year’s resident head case. As Dad put it, “The Clippers can’t take Lamar Odom … the league shouldn’t allow it … Stern should just rip up the card if they take him and announce Wally Szczerbiak’s name.” Of course, the Clippers end up taking Odom, who tells Sager that he’s “looking forward to being an L.A. Clipper.” Dad adds, “It was destiny.”

No. 9
1999: More from Sager and Odom (after Odom got taken No. 4):

Sager: Lamar, how much does this mean to your grandmother?
Odom: It means everything. I made a promise to her that I would finish school and that I would make the NBA.
Dad: Wait a second – he left school after one year, didn’t he?
SG: Yeah. He’s only 19.
Dad (still confused): What school was he talking about, elementary school?

No. 8
2003: After Zarko Cabarkapa goes to the Suns, Bilas tells us, “He has been compared favorably to Nikoloz Tskitishvili.” Enticing. That’s like saying, “As a comedian, he has been compared favorably to Paul Rodriguez.”

No. 7
2004: After taking Shaun Livingston at No. 4, Clippers GM Baylor raves about his potential, adding, “It might take a season, it might take half a season, it might take a year.” Or it could even take 12 months.

No. 6
2002: As Stern announces Yao Ming as the No. 1 pick, TNT quickly switches to its live feed in China just in time to catch Yao, his parents and his coach breaking the 1999
U.S. Ryder Cup team’s record for “Most Awkward Sequence Involving Multiple People Giving Each Other High-Fives.”

No. 5

2000: On location in Los Angeles, TNT’s Reggie Theus reports that he just spoke with the Clippers’ GM, calling Baylor a “veteran of the lottery process.” That’s like calling Art Schlichter a “veteran handicapper.” Can you think of a better way to describe Baylor’s career as an executive? He’s a veteran of the lottery process. Just perfect.

No. 4

2001: During the “We’re live at the NBA draft!” montage at the beginning of the telecast, TNT shows a close-up of potential lottery pick Eddie Griffin (coming off a checkered season at Seton Hall). So Griffin looks into the camera and smiles with one of those “I’m a nice guy … I’m sensitive … I’m not gonna punch you” looks. Unequivocally, absolutely the highlight of the 2001 draft.

No. 3
1998: TNT shows probable No. 1 pick Olowokandi, the Nigerian import who’s wearing a brown pinstriped shirt suit with a baby blue shirt, leading to this actual dialogue between me and Dad:

Me: How would you describe that suit?
Dad: Rented.

No. 2
2000: After the Clips stun everyone by taking Miles, the high schooler immediately throws on a blue Clippers hat to top off his cream-colored suit, then comes out and hugs a stunned Stern – a full-body, waist-to-waist hug that even surpassed Rip Hamilton’s hug in the ’99 draft. If somebody sold a framed picture of this hug on eBay, I think I would pay two grand for it.

No. 1
1999: After Vancouver selects Stevie Francis second, a disappointed Francis puts on a Grizzlies hat, shakes hands with Stern and tries to pretend he’s happy. But when he and his grandmother head on stage for an interview with Sager, Francis becomes steadily more distraught by the realization that he’s heading to Vancouver. When Sager asks him, “How does it feel?” – Francis rolls his eyes, holds back tears, leans back in his seat, stares up at the roof in dismay and looks as though he might start screaming. Sager quickly throws it back to Ernie.

(The NBA … it’s FANNNNNN-tastic! I love this game!)

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy’s World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.

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Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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