The Barclays Center, built on the elephant graveyard of a formerly vibrant neighborhood in northern Park Slope, is a huge edifice to modern ingenuity and change. The exterior of the arena is made of distressed iron. There’s a functional green roof. All around — on each adjoining side street — fledgling skyscrapers crawl upwards, orange construction wrap billowing. It's not that the neighborhood isn't vibrant now. It's just that the whole area is undergoing a forced rebirth. Or, at the very least, a corporate rebranding.
I remember playing a show in the area, years ago, at a small dive bar called "Freddy’s Back Room." There were small signs all over the bar — in the bathroom, on the front door — that said, "SAVE OUR BAR! SAY NO TO RATNER!" This was maybe ten years ago. Change was already on the way. Thousands of residents were paid to relocate. Or were forced out.
Either way, it’s strange for me every time I go down there. And yet, when those changes were first taking hold, most of the players in last night’s draft were 9? 10? Things change. Life moves on.
The NBA Draft is a unique collection of moving parts. In the Green Room, you have your players, of course, but then you have the agents, and you have the reporters patrolling the area wearing ear pieces, hunting for leads. You have the players’ families, dressed to the teeth for the cameras. You have the camera men, scurrying around trying to find the perfect shot, the perfect angle. Beyond the Green Room, you’ll find the rest of the assembled media, mostly seated at four long rows of tables. And then behind them, you find the TV setups.
And then there were the fans.
Whoa now. The fans.
It felt like legitimately half the people in attendance were cheering for the Sixers. Fans in Iverson jerseys, fans in jerseys with "HINKIE" stenciled on the back, little kids with their fathers wearing matching Sixers T shirts. They were loud from the outset. At one point, before the draft began, the in-house giant monitor hanging above our heads showed a brief highlight reel of Allen Iverson. The crowd LOST IT. I mean, I couldn’t hear myself think.
And then there was this guy.
Trust the process, indeed.
But Sixers fans weren’t the only ones who had showed up en masse, ready for f’ing mayhem
The first thing I saw when I walked into the arena was a dude in a full body, green leprechaun (I guess??) get up, with giant shamrock hat, holding a "KD TO BOSTON!!" sign. So, right off the bat I knew shit was gonna get weird.
Later, when the Celtics made their seemingly fifth or sixth inexplicable pick of the night, ESPN’s cameras caught him in the act. Too bad you can’t see his sign.
when your magic: the gathering meetup is cancelled https://t.co/HemRJyg9tf— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) June 24, 2016
The crowd got more and more nervous as we inched towards the Sixers’ pick, even though every single person in the audience knew that they were going to take Ben Simmons.
View from the floor as tension builds. pic.twitter.com/g80hsRNBhv— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) June 23, 2016
It was a palpable feeling. When Silver finally approached the podium, bald head shining in the bright lights, the fans were so loud I couldn’t even make out what he’d said. Luckily Adrian Wojnarowski had confirmed the Simmons to Philly thing a long, long time before.
Brandon Ingrams went second, as expected, and then that’s where things got weird.
Okay, now that those first two picks are out of the way... LET'S SET THIS THING ON FIRE! (not literally). c'MON bOSTON!— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) June 23, 2016
The rumor mill was churning out nonsense at an unprecedented rate. Boston was talking to Philly about trading the pick. Boston was messing around with Chicago, looking for a star. Boston was doing this, Boston was doing that...
And then Boston just said, "F IT, WE ARE TAKING JAYLEN BROWN. WE KNOW WE PROBABLY COULD HAVE TRADED BACK AND GOT HIM AT LIKE, SEVEN, BUT SCREW IT. BUUUUUURN BABY BUUUUUUUUUUUUURN!"
[[Thought: Maybe Danny Ainge just wants to see people in a perpetual state of confusion. Like, he doesn’t feel comfortable unless every single human around him is just like, "what. the. fuuuuuu--?"]]
From there, things quickly spiraled out of control. A bunch of international prospects were drafted, A bunch of players who were sitting in the Green Room area were not drafted. Each time an unexpected player was drafted, Adam Silver would have to wait for them to climb out of their seat in the stands, to the far right of the stage, and make their way down through a throng of supporters.
Sacramento decided to draft every single center in the world, including Greek product Georgios Papagiannis, which led to two specific outcomes. 1.) Dude jumped out of his seat, hugged like a hundred people while someone nearby thrashed a Greek flag through the air, and, 2.) DeMarcus Cousins lost his mind for the thousandth time because that organization is just... Man... What are they doing?
Lord give me the strength— DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) June 24, 2016
For what it’s worth, the Kings weren’t even done drafting centers, as they went on ahead and also took Kentucky big man Skal Labissiere (once considered a potential number one pick who had faaaaaallen as of late) with the 28th pick.
Another very strange element at play: All of the writers in media row knew the pick ahead of time, sometimes by as much as a few minutes. We would turn to each other, mouth the player’s name, shake our heads if it didn’t make sense. But I got the feeling that a majority of the players and their families were trying to live in the moment, and didn’t necessarily have Woj’s tweets getting mainlined into their brains. Their phones weren’t buzzing off the chain like ours were.
But this led to a strange moment. With the third pick, when the Celtics shocked everyone and took Brown, I was watching Kris Dunn’s table.
Well, here, just follow along as it happened.
Cameras close in on Kris Dunn's table after his agent got off the phone. Could get very interesting here.— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) June 23, 2016
Wow, Jaylen Brown is the pick at #3! Crazy.— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) June 23, 2016
Jaylen's table just went NUTS when the pick was announced. And Dunn's camp was filming the pick, thinking it might be his turn.— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) June 23, 2016
A strange dynamic.
Another strange dynamic: Throughout the night, trades came hot and heavy. But for whatever reason, probably because the trades cannot be finalized until July 1st when free agency begins, the TV crews (especially NBA TV, which was blaring across the in-arena speakers between picks) were forced to talk about how Player X would fit on Team Y, knowing full well that said player would never, ever suit up for said organization. This has to change. I mean, why waste everyone’s time?
It's always ridiculous being in the arena for the draft and hearing the television broadcasts pretend guys are going to teams they are not.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) June 24, 2016
Dragan Bender went to Phoenix, who decided to stockpile talented, insanely tall stretch fours (they also drafted Marquese Chriss), and then Kris Dunn finally went to Minnesota.
Full disclosure: That Timberwolves team is going to be TERRIFYING. Good God! Dunn, LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns? YIKES (Sorry Rubio fans, it’s just never going to work).
Karl Anthony Towns was actually standing right behind me the whole first round as he made frequent appearances on NBA TV and one spot on ESPN. Right after Dunn was drafted, and after the draft hats had been passed out to Kris and his family, Karl leaned over, right by my ear, and yelled, "Yo! Them hats are ugly! My draft hat was definitely better!" and then cackled and skipped away.
The draft is strange.
The first round wound onwards. Eventually the Warriors selected Vanderbilt center Damian Jones with the 30th pick, and then bought into the second round and drafted UNLV’s Pat McCaw with the 38th pick.
But this night was not defined by the Warriors.
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When I was touring, it was always slightly jarring and a little surreal to play the larger music festivals. Not because they overwhelmed you with their sheer size and scale. No, they were jarring because you’d walk into the artist area and see your favorite band hunkered around a shitty fold out plastic table at 10am eating oatmeal and grumpily drinking hot coffee after driving all night from wherever the hell they’d played the night before. And you'd think, "huh, those dudes are just like me, but with more money."
The NBA Draft is exactly the same thing. It’s easy to get blinded by the lights, the pageantry, and the loud noises. But, really, we all just sat in a cavernous arena and watched a bunch of teenagers get hired by 30 different corporations vying for their services. Sure, the kids were wearing nice suits and fancy shoes and there were TV cameras and lots of lights and a couple thousand people in the stands drinking beer. But at its core, we just went to a big job fair.
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Deep in the second round, many of the fans had left. The concessions stands had long since shuttered their gates. The bars had all shut down. We were pretty far along in the draft at that point, perhaps at pick 50 or so. I was wandering around the bowels of the Barclay Center, just taking in the sights. I came back out onto the floor as they announced a pick no one had ever heard of. A group of drunken Knicks fans booed heartily, for no reason other than that they were bored and the bars had closed and they couldn’t get more beer. Fran Fraschilla was standing right beneath them, checking his phone after being on camera for the better part of the past three hours.
"Fran!" yelled one of the dudes. His friend was still booing, the remnants of a beer clutched in his hand. "Fran! That pick sucks!"
Fran looked up from his phone, smiled/winced, and then calmly said, "Well, actually, he has a great motor and his upside is pretty amazing. I think it’s a great pick, considering the position."
The drunk kid blinked, once, and then just yelled, "Thanks!"
I left right before the final pick. It was almost one in the morning. The cleaning crew was disassembling all of the promotional elements out on the street. A warm wind blew through a neighborhood that I used to know, many years ago.
Man, the draft is strange.