As many of you know, I was recently provided the opportunity to attend the NBA Draft on behalf of Celticsblog and SBN. I promised to write about it, but unfortunately, life has gotten in the way a bit since last Wednesday. However, at the risk of writing about something that nobody cares about any longer, I'll at least try to give you guys some insight on what my night was like.
Without going into all of the details, it wasn't completely clear until approximately 24 hours before the draft that I'd be attending, as there was at least some doubt on whether SBN would obtain press credentials. Thanks to the tireless efforts of those running SBN, we got the final confirmation at about 6:00pm Wednesday night. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic.
Now, as many as you know, I'm not a journalist by trade, and have no plans on becoming one. Instead, I'm a basketball fan who happens to love to write, and enjoys communicating and discussing subjects with fans. I got started on Celticsblog as a fan in the forums, and to the extent that Jeff has seen fit to give me more responsibilities on the site, I've been greatly flattered. All of this, of course, is my long-winded way of saying that what follows is going to be a fan's perspective, rather than a journalist's.
In a nutshell, most of the draft from my perspective can be summarized into two categories: the crowd and the rumors. Generally speaking, once the picks started, you all pretty much saw what I saw. What you might not have seen? The crowd is *loud*. Knicks fans *loved* the picks of James Harden and Tyreke Evans? Why? Because they were speculating that it would push one of Rubio or Curry to them. So, when Harden and Evans were picked, there were loud cheers. When Curry was picked, there was gasping and murmers of disappointment. For Jordan Hill, smattered boos. An "over-rated" chant for Hansborough. The crowd takes its role there very seriously, and it's definitely entertaining. (The best part, of course, was when Stern mentioned the Lakers, and the crowd booed loudly. I thought I was at a Celtics game for a minute. It's great to see that the hate for Kobe and the Lakers extends beyond just New England). The only person that Knicks fans may hate worse than they hate the Lakers? Larry Brown. Wow, there's no love for that man in New York at all.
Other than the crowd, the other significant thing I noticed is that, really, there isn't a ton of significant information flowing at the draft. The GMs all seem to be back at their home sites, and the reporters who were breaking stories / following leads seemed to be doing it from somewhere other than at the draft site. There were quite a few rumors, and a lot of speculation, but it wasn't necessarily being shared among reporters (and definitely wasn't reaching the crowd). Being at the draft is great, and you get a lot of insight from the media celebrities you speak with, but overall there's not a ton you're going to learn "being on the floor" that you wouldn't being at home. (Of course, this probably changes as one develops more contacts, etc.) That being said, it's still an amazing experience, and I think Jeff and the powers that be at SBN for making it happen.
More specific details after the jump (and fair warning: it's more like a running diary rather than an edited story):
First things first, if you're ever going to Madison Square Garden -- or anywhere in NYC for that matter -- I strongly recommend taking the train. One of my clients is NJ Transit, and I left their headquarters in Newark, NJ around 4:50 and was at MSG by 5:30. As I approached the arena, there were all kinds of media trucks and dozens of security guards. I figured that's where I was supposed to be, so I headed inside to pick up my press credential. They confirmed my identity, had me pose for a picture, and printed out my press credential (an edited version of which you see above). At that point, I "was in" (but not before checking my bag for explosive devices.)
My first reaction after entering the main theater area was "wow". The place was pretty empty, but there were still a bunch of media types scurrying about. I'll tell you, from a fan's perspective, it's kind of a surreal experience, walking around and having every face you see be somebody recognizable from sports television. After getting over the initial awe of the theater, though, I realized "I don't know what I've doing". You see, nobody gives instructions, and there's no map of the facility. So, I decide to act like I've been there before, and try to figure things out on my own. No dice. I'm supposed to be meeting up with another poster -- Seth Rosenthal from Posting and Toasting -- in the media room, but I don't have a clue where that is. So, I decide to ask somebody. The next question is "who?"
While I'm deciding how to answer that question, David Stern comes out on stage to practice his lines. Sweet! He stumbles a little bit, mostly due to the cheesy speel he's supposed to be given to introduce the draft. I had a momentary thought of throwing some rotten tomatoes at him for his lack of attention to the refereeing problem (mostly because I forgot to bring tomatoes to the arena, and if I had, the security team probably would have taken them away.)
So, I eventually start asking people where the media room is, and nobody seems to no. Ushers, security guards, food vendors -- nope. At this point, I'm running out of options, Seth wasn't great at communicating the location over the phone, and Steve Weinman (our trusty former-Celticsblogger-now-in-high-places) was in a meeting. I have two options: I can wander aimlessly around MSG for the next hour, or... I can ask Craig Sager, who seems to be chilling by himself (but with some TNT staffers within a couple yards of him). So, Sager it is. I introduce myself, and am slightly taken aback, because he's not wearing one of his trademark suits. That's such an odd sight to see that I've got to ask, and he points to it, draped behind him. With that crisis averted -- and it being clear that he's not much interested in small talk -- he points me in the direction of the back of the theater for the media room. Sager has a reputation for being a bit prickly -- and he was -- but it was gracious of him to point me to where I should be.
In the media room, I meet up with Seth (great guy), and wait for him to complete a column for NBA.com. After talking about the big rumors of the day -- the Shaq trade, what NY will do at #8, why on Earth the Celtics would trade Rondo -- we head downstairs to grab a seat. We glance around to see if we have an assigned media seat... and apparently we don't. Oops. There are a bunch of reserved seats for players' families, so we can't sit there. We can't sit in the center aisle, because that's reserved for NBA staff and interns. Once again, we play the "let's ask ____" game. One female official says "Um, you're the media. Shouldn't you know where you're sitting?" Um, nope. Security says, "I don't know, I'm just security, but you can't stand in the aisle". I'm starting to feel like a stranger in a strange land, but screw it, we say. We'll figure out seating arrangments later.
Wandering down front, there's a sea of potential draftees, staff, security, and reporters. The players are well-dressed -- pink and purple were the colors of choice this year, apparently -- and well-fed (looking at the plates in the green room, it seems like America's newest millionaires are partial to chicken fingers and sliders. And really, who can blame them?) While I'm pondering the culinary choices of Blake Griffin, I'm bumped into from behind. It's crowded, so I can't be too upset, but I still have to see who just threw me a body block. Whoa -- it's Michael Wilbon, hustling to give a hug to Roy Williams. The two seemed to legitimately be warm with one another, so rather than yelling out "Yo, Wilbon, watch where you're going!", I simply texted the story back to my staff brethren.
I'm going to warn you right now: getting bumped into by Wilbon was one of the highlights of my night (the other being meeting Steve Weinman in person for the first time), so you can probably stop reading now if mundane details don't excite you. A short time later we found some seats intermingled with some Knicks fans (and one little kid who loved Lebron and had an unhealthy fascination with Tyler Hansborough), and waited for the show to begin.
And what a show it was. Just before the Commissioner walks out, a series of strobe lights went off that had me on the verge of convulsive shock. Intense. We were sitting about 50 feet or so away from the main ESPN screw, and they got things kicked off for the audience at home. First observation: Jay Bilas, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Jackson legimately like each other. They did a fist bump with each other, and at various times in the evening could be seen talking / joking with one another. Stu Scott? Completely another story. For whatever reason, none of his cast members talked with him at all during the evening. Was that because the other three are basketball guys, and Stu is pure media? Is it because Stu was the head of the crew, and was getting directions from backstage? Was it because he's intense and doesn't like distractions? It's hard to say, but it was pretty noticeable.
As noted above, once things got started, the crowd was crazy. New York fans are *very* vocal regarding how they feel about picks. People talk about how the Celticsblog forums run "hot and cold" between negativity and over-exhuberant koolaid drinking. Well, the crowd at MSG is all of that, and then some. They either love a pick (i.e., Sacramento taking Tyreke Evans) or they hate it (i.e., the Knicks taking Hill). Also, the crowd *loves* Jeff Van Gundy. Seriously, he was by far the most popular guy in the arena. There were numerous "Jeff Van Gundy clap clap clap-clap-clap" chants, and each time he'd be gracious and wave to the crowd. Once, he bowed. It was hilarious. There were similar hijinks with Bilas and Jackson. Funny stuff (and for anybody who was wondering, Mark Jackson appears to be partial to Fritos, while JVG likes candy, at least based upon what they ate when ESPN came around with the grab back.)
Others sites and sounds? First, there were very few Celtics fans on-site. I saw a total of three people wearing Celtics gear, and none of them were members of Celticsblog (blasphemy!) Also, apparently nobody cares about the second round; the arena was less than half-full by the start of the second round, and people started to clear out after pick 17 or 18 (which seemed strange, since the Knicks had two first rounders). There were quite a few players in attendance other than those in the green room, the last of whom was Patrick Mills, taken at pick #55 (or, three before us). I was desperately hoping he'd fall, not only because I think he was good value, but also because I would have loved to interview him. Alas, the Trailblazers added another player to their international stable. Lastly, of course, I'm sure people are desperate to know about the crowd's reaction to Lester Hudson. Believe it or not, the fans stood up and gave the Celtics a standing ovation, due to the sheer brilliance of the pick. (Okay, that was a blatant lie. There was pretty much no reaction, as nobody knew who the kid was. Bilas seemed to like him, though.)
The best part of the night, though, as alluded to above was meeting up with Steve. For any of our Celticsbloggers who live around NYC -- especially Long Island -- I'd recommend you get in touch with him. He's just a solid, down to earth, humble, good guy who is now getting a chance to live one of his dreams. We went out after the draft -- along with another Celticsblogger named Lee (another great guy) to process some of the night's events, and most importantly to eat some NY pizza. I'll tell you, there are very few things as good in life as a hot piece of great pizza at 1:00am shared among Celtics fans.
I feel as though I've done a poor job at encapsulating the coolness of the night, but really, I encourage everyone who has an interest in this sort of thing to get involved on the site. Jeff was pimping the FanPosts this morning, and I think that's a good route for people who want to get some some exposure. As I said to Seth, I really think that in 15 years, it will be the bloggers sitting front-row in the draft with the mainstream media taking a back seat (and I will say, Henry Abbot was right down front -- he seems like a great guy). Celticsblog has turned into a special site, and I'm glad to be a part of it as CB and SBN both continue to grow. Covering the draft was a great way to end the league year, and I can only hope that more opportunities are provided for myself and others on the site in the coming year.