In adulthood, there are precious few days when miracles seem possible. Back in 2007, with only a 5 percent chance, the Portland Trail Blazers won the first pick in the upcoming NBA draft. I immediately called my roommate to tell him the news. He began cheering uncontrollably, despite being on a date in a quiet restaurant. When he calmed down enough to form sentences again the only thing he could muster was, “We should take Durant.” In hindsight, he was right. The Blazers should have taken Kevin Durant. They didn’t.
Draft day is one of those miracle-manifesting days. Your team might pick the next era-defining superstar. They might make a blockbuster trade for an established All-Star. They might steal a franchise centerpiece in the second round. Sure, they probably won’t, but they might, and the uncertainty of that one phrase permeates everything that makes the NBA draft more fun than any other sporting event (except for, you know, actual basketball games.)
1. This year’s draft is crazier than ever
The cyclone of major free agents (Bron, Melo, etc.) a high number of teams with cap space and a historically loaded (if not overrated) draft have made this pre-draft season already one of the most active in recent memory. Usually there are some pre-draft trades, teams moving slightly up and down the draft board, but this year we are likely to see some major moves thanks to late injuries and teams’ machinations to chase superstar free agents. Established All-Stars are being shopped for a top-four pick. The consensus No. 1 pick from a few weeks ago recently revealed a foot injury that has people name-checking Greg Oden. Guys who were “can’t miss” a year ago like Wiggins and Parker are being picked apart while unknowns like Dante Exum are being compared to Kobe Bryant. Absolutely no one knows how the top-10 picks will shake out at 7:30 p.m. EST today. It is pandemonium of the very best type.
2. It’s like basketball, but not.
Basketball—the running, jumping and scoring associated with actual games—has nothing to do with the draft. Today is all about theoretical basketball, the physical activity that should be possible given combine measurements and rosters on paper. Yes, we’re talking about people who will eventually play the game, but the team element takes a backseat to individuals on draft day. What emerges is the secondary sport, the game of wheeling, dealing and conjecture that most of us NBA fanatics love almost as much as the sport itself. The outcomes of your team’s moves are not in the hands of its highly-skilled athletes but in those of management, guys whose names and track records only hardcore fans know. That adds whole other layer of stress for hoop heads because….
3. Your team's owner is probably a megalomaniac billionaire who vastly overrates his basketball savvy
Even five great players on a team aren’t guaranteed a championship without proper organizational support. You need only compare the Cavs and the Spurs to understand ownership matters. Closely read any good NBA reporter and you’ll find stories of owners who meddled with GMs, making rash decisions at the very last minute. Multiply that volatile management style by a million, now that franchises are being taken over by dot-com investors and Silicon Valley disruptors looking to “shake up” the old order of business. As for GMs, it’s common knowledge that many of them make decisions to sell tickets and save their jobs rather than as a part of some grand basketball strategy.
The whims of billionaires and the people they hire to run teams are entirely out of our control, the control of the players themselves and the control even of our lord and savior Adam Silver. All we can do is shake our heads when Dan Gilbert makes another ignorant pick and accept it as another element of uncertainty that makes the draft so intriguing.
4. Accepting that it’s a crapshoot
There is no magic formula for predicting how a guy will perform in the NBA, though the advent of advanced statistics makes many believe there’s an algorithm for everything. Go back and read about can’t-miss prospects past and you’ll find names you’ve never heard of. The last pick in the draft may turn out better than a lottery pick (a la Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette).
A fortuitous guess can make a GMs career; drafting the next big bust can end it. We crave certainty, but the truth of the matter is that fans and GMs, commentators and athletes are all making educated guesses about a future dependent on human performance. Key word: human. We can hope, lean this way or that, but until the games are actually played we won’t know who was right, and that’s awesome.
5. Pretending to be an expert
We’ve established that regardless of the research a team has done, no prediction is 100% reliable in figuring out how someone will compete against the best 400 or so basketball players in the world. So it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what school Noah Vonleh played for (Indiana) you can still tell your even-less-informed bros, “he could be the next LaMarcus.”
In fact, regardless of how little you actually know about Dante Exum’s handle, we all seem to have no shortage of opinions about the top draft picks. If we’re being honest, a lot of sports involves liking and not liking dudes based on very little actual fact and I wholeheartedly embrace that when it comes to whether you’d rather your team draft Nik Stauskas or Gary Harris.
6. Tolerating Bill Simmons
Like many basketball fans, I have a love/hate relationship with Bill Simmons, probably the most influential and divisive basketball writer of our time. During the regular season I don’t have time to spend an hour reading one of Simmon’s 7,000-word “essays.” But Simmons is one of the few in mainstream media who shares an unbridled enthusiasm for the draft, so in the days before, during and after the draft (and on to free agency,) I’ll gladly lap up Simmons’ rumors, conjecture, and fandom-influenced perceptions: all things that don’t make for objective reporting, but which perfectly compliment the circus of whisper and misdirection that is the NBA draft. And of course, there’s the broadcast which gives us amazing Simmons fanboy awkward moments.7 of 11
7. The “Fashion”
Draft day suiting disasters are well-documented and while I don’t root for guys to embarrass themselves on live TV, you just know every year some kid is going to show up in something bright, with too many buttons and three sizes too big. The draft is the first time we get to see how these kids are going to handle having millions of dollars, and though in the past fews years guys have stepped up their game, the show is always a reminder that “find a tailor” should be a major part of the NBA’s rookie camp.
8. Seeing genuine moments of happiness
I can joke about suits, but the draft itself peaks with the display of real joy as young men achieve their lifelong goals. Their mothers are in the crowds, always crying, while some broadcaster goes on and on about the obstacles they overcame to get here. In an industry where athletes are bought and sold like cattle and sneaker companies attach themselves to middle schoolers, the rare glimpses of kids reaching the pinnacle of their sport after working their entire lives is refreshing.
9. Waiting for the late round picks nobody knows anything about
Only diehards stick around to the very end of the draft, but those who do are rewarded by seeing Jay Bilas search through his notes, looking for anything to say about the unknown Euro who just went at No. 47. I especially enjoy the grainy highlight footage that always seems to look like it was shot on VHS in 1995. That was a nasty slam! Was it? It was just a blur of pixels but I liked it. The second round was built for prop betting, too.10 of 11
10. Friday morning perspective
The draft offers endless opportunities to armchair GM. How many teams passed on Kawhi Leonard? Comb through the draft archives and be amazed at how many times a name registers “He’s not in the league anymore?” and “He’s still in the league?”
The Darius Miles Clippers and Sebastian Telfair Blazers jerseys hanging in my closet tell you I’ve attached myself to a few dudes who didn’t pan out. But that’s what makes the draft fun—developing an extreme conviction about a player whose name you didn’t even know a year ago. The draft, its mistakes, triumphs and happy accidents are set in stone. That’s why I’ve watched every draft for 15 years and why I’ll watch the next 50, apocalypse permitting.