By J. Travis Smith
on 6.30.14
Photo by JTS

Climb out of the Atlantic Avenue subway station in Brooklyn and you’ll run smack dab into the Barclays Center. It’s a multi-event arena known for hosting a range of concerts and, more notably, the Brooklyn Nets and, soon, the New York Islanders. But last Thursday, June 26, saw a different kind of sporting spectacle: the timeless process of picking teams.

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Inside, a massive black curtain bisected the arena, one half prepped and dolled for the occasion. Announcers sat scattered at three lit stations dotted throughout the dark arena, pointing at charts and discussing the draft with retired players sporting multi-colored ties; the stands teemed with fans and erupted into camera flashes as the future stars were called onto the stage; whenever the camera panned their way, Nets cheerleaders jumped up and down to blaring pump-up music for the endless jumbotron feed; every five minutes, newly appointed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took to the podium to announce another in a series of 60 draft picks; nineteen year old superstar athletes donned hats from whichever of the 30 NBA teams selected them, crying and hugging their mothers, brothers or coaches. It was one of the few times each year that the players are in suits, the fans are in jerseys, and no team walks away certain that they won or lost.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, defying odds yet again, received the first selection of the draft. It was their second consecutive first round pick, their third in four years, and the second largest upset in NBA history; the Cavs had just a 1.7 percent chance of receiving the number one spot, which is selected by a lottery where teams with worse records have a better chance of getting the top pick. This means that the Cavs are either extremely lucky or terrible at turning first-round talent into playoff team. (Most likely, both.) The team selected Andrew Wiggins from Kansas, immediately after which the Milwaukee Bucks selected Duke grad Jabari Parker. The ninth pick was Noah Vonleh, notable as the first selection by the Charlotte Hornets, who returned to their original name after being renamed the Bobcats in 2004. In between the 15th and 16th picks, Commissioner Silver announced an honorary drafting of Baylor’s Isaiah Austin, who had become ineligible to play basketball after recently being diagnosed with Marfan’s Syndrome.

But most importantly, every announcer, shouting over the crowd into their headset, provided unending comparisons to the legendary 1984, 1996 and 2003 draft classes, from which came the likes of Jordan, Kobe and Lebron. A promising comparison, but one that is at least four years away from carrying any legitimacy. For now — for the basketball fanatics, the fathers controlling fleets of middle school boys, and the industry types schmoozing clients over hors d’oeuvres — the spectacle was just being there.

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