"Your enthusiasm is dwindling."
With a wry smile that couldn't even begin to convey how much he was enjoying himself, David Stern baited an exhausted New York audience who had already witnessed more excitement in a NBA Draft than the 30 the Commissioner presided over before it. Year after year, a sterotypical New York crowd had booed Stern vociferously with every single pick, pointing more attention towards Stern than the selections he was announcing. And why not? Year after year, the picks were largely settled in the weeks and months beforehand. NBA drafts follow a formula more times than not, replicating mock drafts that have become more a science than good clean fun.
The 2013 NBA Draft couldn't have been any less formulaic than if Walter White disassembled it himself. At 7:20pm, just 10 minutes before the event started, I turned to my friend Kevin and asked, "How do we still not know who the number one pick is going to be?" I scrolled through my phone, gloriously hooked up with the Barclays Center free premium wi-fi (thanks Mikhail!), trying to get an indication through Twitter one way or another. Nerlens Noel. Victor Oladipo. Alex Len. Ben McLemore. No one seemed to stand out more than another. Kevin, clad in his black Orlando Magic shirt and perhaps the last bastion of central Florida fandom in NYC, giddily looked at me and announced, "If we get Oladipo, I'm going to LOSE it!"
Looking around, everyone in a surprisingly packed crowd was rolling through their phones, hoping to find the latest #Wojbomb before everyone else. No such luck. My search was interrupted by a surround sound booming chorus of "BOOOOS" hailing down on an entering Commissioner, who made a few opening remarks that I can't begin to recap--because I couldn't hear them. The crowd was booing that loudly.
Compared to last year, there seemed to be a difference. Fresh off the lockout, The Veto and LeBron James and the Miami Heat winning their first title, there was a distinct taste of actual hatred in the air. The crowd at the Prudential Center in 2012 voiced their displeasure with the Commish, booing him with as much vigor for the 1st pick as the 30th. People were mad at a season nearly cancelled and for some of us, the sense that Stern had acted like Vince McMahon in squashing a league-changing trade.
Last night, the anger from last June had dissipated, with the jeers taking on a tone clearly reverential in nature. There was almost a sense of nostalgia knowing that this was the last time we were going to be able to boo him, and we owed it to the man to show him as much disrespectful respect as humanly possible.
Well, that was the mission. Until the Draft went bonzo gonzo.
I don't remember Anthony Bennett walking up towards the stage. I don't remember him shaking the Commissioner's hand. I don't remember much of it because everyone in the cheap seats stood up in uproar, a mix of confusion and clapping, cheering and looking around for an explanation. One of the most unexpected Draft picks of all time had been made, and the chubby undersized forward had shocked the arena into submission. The crowd busily tweeted, mostly shock and awe, but also Nerlens Noel being shown on the big screen, looking like some big kid had stolen his candy. Bennett, it seems, had been the big kid to steal Nerlens' Snickers bar. Maybe literally. I don't know. I wasn't there.
For the next 7 picks, it felt every selection was like another hit in a heavyweight fight. Going second was swingman Victor Oladipo, a mild shock considering Noel was still on the board (to the dismay of anyone surrounding my buddy Kevin, they were serenaded randomly throughout with the evening with "OLADIPOOOOOO!!!!" chants). Third went Otto Porter, the first mildly expected pick of the evening, as Washington had been publicly targeting him for weeks.
Looking at the board, we all figured MJ and his Charlotte Bobcats had to be salivating at the prospect of taking a number 1-caliber player with the number 4 pick. Instead, the Cats shocked us all by taking Cody Zeller about 8 spots higher than most mocks expected, which gave me harsh All-Americdan flashbacks of Adam Morrison and Sean May. I threw my head back in pure shock and shouted at the top of my lungs "What the hell is happening???"
People around me shouted "What about Nerlens??", as if Reverend Lovejoy's wife needed an NBA junkie fix in late June. The Phoenix Suns, hard up for talent at any area, passed over Noel for fellow big man Alex Len, who reportedly had to take off his walking boot to shake Commissioner Stern's hand. I didn't see it. I was too busy trying to figure out why this Draft seemed like a gigantic practical joke.
After what felt like an eternity, Noel was finally picked by the New Orleans Pelicans at number 6. Nerlens flashed us his inlaid Kentucky Wildcats jersey from the inside of his jacket, which went as perfectly as I assume he practiced in the mirror 20 times before it. Ben McLemore finally went next, being selected by a Sacramento team full of professionals and mature veterans who I'm sure will help him become the same.
From there, the picks began to become a little more predictable, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke, CJ McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams and Steven Adams going in order. None of this penetrated my section's skulls, as the entire lot of people around me were abuzz at the latest #Wojbomb detailing a massive trade featuring Philadelphia trading Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens. Needless to say, in a loud arena, there was much confusion. Minutes later, a very pro-Brooklyn crowd was thrown into a tizzy when word came down through our cellular telephone devices that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry would head to that very arena in just a few months time.
By the 12th pick, the crowd was exhausted. Stern began to motion for boos, and we summoned up as much as we could out of respect for the heel of all heels. But the NBA Draft had destroyed us with its awesomeness. We were battered hoarse from yelling in disbelief, trying to compose witty tweets that equally displayed our shock and humor and generally standing up and down with our hands outstretched. Even with reporters spoiling picks just seconds before Stern entered the stage (I was watching the Draft in person and it felt like I was on tape delay), the night's events felt more and more like even Ken Berger and Adrian Wojnarowski could not be trusted.
The crowd remained healthily full until after the 24th pick, when the Knicks contingent happily cheered Tim Hardaway Jr.'s draft selection as if he were a conquering hero from 1973. They deserted en masse afterwards, leaving the truly nerd NBA 1%er club to observe a truly degenerate pack of hoophead's paradise.
As we approached the 30th pick, we all rose to our feet, knowing full well that it would be Stern's last moment running the podium. We stood up and gave him a three minute applause, drowning out most of his surely articulate speech and even a few of the words from surprise guest Hakeem Olajuwan. The crowd gave all of the love it usually reserves for Deputy Comissioner Adam Silver at the beginning of the second round to Stern, and then in a moment that served as a true passing of the guard...showered the incoming Silver with a hail storm of boos that did David proud.
I stayed until the Lakers pick at number 48, giving a golf clap for Ryan Kelly, but I was spent. One of the most formulaic nights of the NBA calendar had turned into a volatile mixture of unpredictable greatness, setting off explosions left and right and devastating a Brooklyn crowd into gleeful confused silence. As much as we wanted to give the Commissioner the most vocal sendoff humanly possible, we couldn't do it because this glorious league he's helped bring to the forefront of the worldwide cultural stage drained us.
It couldn't have been a more perfect send-off.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino