I suppose it all started because I didn’t have cable.
For a variety of reasons I spent my formative years watching must-see, non-network events at my Grandma Nora’s house. And in 1994, the tradition took on a life of its own.
You see, I fell in love with the NBA Draft.
For reasons I still don’t fully understand, I transformed from a casual, uninformed basketball fan (I vaguely remember Chris Webber going to Golden State via Orlando) into a full-fledged, hoops-obsessed draft connoisseur (to the point where I can tell you that Missouri’s Jevon Crudup was the 48th overall pick) sometime between late 1993 and early 1994.
And since the ’94 draft was broadcast on TNT, I was in a bind.
I had never cared so much about a single sporting event – or any televised event, for that matter – in my life. I absolutely had to see it.
So I went to Grandma Nora’s house.
I can still remember that June night 12 years ago. I sat in front of the TV with a yellow legal pad, dutifully recording the draft’s proceedings from the star-studded opening trio (instant contributors Glenn Robinson, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill) to the final selection (Zeljko Rebraca, who would be traded three times before making his NBA debut seven years later).
Because my sudden infatuation with the NBA draft has held for so long, I can remember exactly where I was and how I followed the event each year from 1994 to the present. It’s like my personal Kennedy assassination moment, and I can count on it every time late June rolls around. I’ve watched at Grandma Nora’s house six times (always making sure to record the draft order by hand). Three times I’ve had to scour the newspaper for the draft list when I wasn’t near a TV (twice at Camp Tamakwa in Algonquin Park in Ontario and once in Israel). This is not to mention the three times I’ve followed the selections live on the Internet from Spain, Italy and Russia from 2003-05.
This year, I was there.
With my media credential hanging from my neck, I covered the 2006 NBA Draft from The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Granted, I was seated in the left balcony and had to strain my neck for a mediocre view of the stage (The Michigan Daily doesn’t get as much respect as The New York Times or ESPN.), but it was an unforgettable experience.
After following from a distance since I was 10 years old, it was strange to see the developments unfold in person. I spent much of the first round in the interview area, set far back from the theater itself. One by one, draftees would trickle in and answer questions from an assorted and constantly changing collection of journalists in those familiar draft-day caps. Eventually, I moved back into the theater to catch the later stages. For the final 15 picks, I took a seat right in front of the stage to watch NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik work his magic. Granik has announced the second-round selections since long before I began watching the draft, and his upcoming retirement meant I was watching his final appearance in a draft-night setting from close range (and witnessing a piece of history, according to my not-exactly-normal standards).
When all was said and done, I’d taken in some pretty interesting sights and sounds. Some highlights:
Seeing Stephen A. Smith getting a makeup job.
Speaking with NBA Commissioner David Stern and Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce at the unveiling of the league’s new Official Game Ball.
Getting Tyrus Thomas to say that his draft-night clothing choice was “G-14 classified.”
Realizing that former Piston Jerome Williams (a.k.a. Junk Yard Dog) had a brand new set of teeth while interviewing him. Needless to say, I didn’t ask.
Hearing Knicks fans react to Isiah Thomas’s pick of Renaldo Balkman in the first round.
Sure, it was a thrill to cover the draft. I loved every minute of it.
But something was missing.
It was the feeling of lying on the floor in front of the TV, writing down pick after pick. It was the overwhelming certainty that I’d be back in this exact same spot next year. It was the sense of tradition.
Edelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.