Thursday, June 25, 2009

Images from the NBA Draft

March showers (of tournament hoops) have brought June flowers (blooming bank accounts) for generations of talented young basketball players. For the NBA's member clubs, upside springs eternal in the annual NBA Draft. It is the special day of the year when the Los Angeles Clippers and the various expansion franchises usually take center stage and the prime-time clubs like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are barely heard from. Fans convince themselves that titles can be won in June. Oh, wait. They are. But not today. Reams of fabric are used to produce unlikely and unforgettable seven-foot tall suits. Experimental team logo hats are unveiled to the horror of merchandise buying fans across the nation. Teenagers and twenty-somethings have their dreams come true before our eyes. Tears trickle down the plump cheeks of proud mothers in the green room. Beer trickles down the chin of drunk and disapointed fans at Madison Square Garden. Fortunes are made. Busts are born. And, most importantly, longtime NBA commissioner David Stern presides over each affair like a father over a son's bar mitzvah, greeting each top selection with a "mazel tov." Or something like that.

No. 1 pick Akeen Olajuwon greets a mustachioed David Stern at the 1984 draft

The Chicago Bulls tapped UNC scorer (and second-fiddle to James Worthy) with the No. 3 pick in '84.

Years later, Jordan, as GM of the Washington Wizards, would select high school center Kwame Brown with the top pick in the draft. Even Brown thought it was hilarious.

Sir Charles, another member of the heralded 1984 draft class, looked splendid on draft night.

The modern draft lottery had to be instituted in 1985 to keep teams from tanking in order to select Georgetown center Patrick Ewing.

Never known for his humility, a teenaged Kobe Bryant triumphantly takes the stage after being selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick of the 1996 draft.

Lottery picks in 2006 and their clubs met in the 2009 Finals, but it's not what you think.

Jalen Rose in 1994. This fashion-forward forward has been credited with pioneering the long shorts trend.

Draft night can be an overwhelming but lonely occassion for foreign-born players like Yi Jianlian.

Or not.

After starring at UNLV, Larry Johnson was ready for prime time in 1991.

Be careful what you wish for.

This gentleman was drafted ahead of Loy Vaught, Dee Brown, Jayson Williams, Elden Campbell, Toni Kukoc, Antonio Davis and Cedric Ceballos in 1990.

From shaking hands with David Stern to trading cliches with Stewart Scott. It's sort of like going from a top college program to being selected by the Clippers. Booyah!

Less than 48 hours after being selected with the second pick in the 1986 draft by the Celtics, Len Bias died. Cocaine is a hell of a drug.

This suit is the most memorable aspect of Samaki Walker's NBA career.

And, the hits keep on coming...

In other white suit news, Lebron James went tops in 2003 and has not let anyone down.

The Kandi Man, on the other hand, let down many, many people after being the No. 1 selection in 1998.

Thumbs down

Kenny "Sky" Walker (left) and the top picks in the 1986 draft.

Members of the Class of 2008

The 15th pick in the 1996 draft, Steve Nash would go on to win two MVP awards.

This jacket was Penny Hardaway's size.

Although this mop-topped Serbian was selected 14th in the 1996 draft (just ahead of Steve Nash), he played in Europe for two more years.

Shaq, the star of the 1992 NBA Draft, has managed to become the center of attention on draft day in 2009 when a trade sent him to the Lebronaliers.

Coming out of Louisiana Tech in 1985, Karl Malone was not projected to be a superstar. Or deliver mail. But he sure looked nice.

No. 2 pick Kevin Durant brought his great-uncle Cyrus to New York for the Draft in 2007.

Craziest. National Handshake Day. Ever.

Aside from the fact that my sixth favorite June observance (after Bloomsday, National Sauntering Day, National Old-Time Fiddler's Week, 6/22 and the NBA Draft) is ruined by my fears of swine and pirate flu, today is the most topsy-turvy NHS Day in recent memory, to be sure. Like right up there with that unforgetabble NHS Day in 1876 when Georgie Custer and his boys were upset by Sitting Bull at Little Big Horn.

How, you ask, is this the craziest National Handshake Day (which is not to be confused with World Handshake Day observed separately)?

First of all, we all awoke in a world where the US Men's National Soccer Team had toppled top-ranked Spain, 2-0, in the semifinals of the Confederation Cup in South Africa. And they did it by outplaying a full-strength Spanish side. I followed the minute-by-minutes reports on and while at work but I was still surprised by quality of the US side when I watched a replay of the game late last night. From the opening whistle, Uncle Sam's boys were getting after the Spaniards. They closed down in all three thirds of the field and weren't giving an inch without a fight. And whenever Torres or Villa or Fabregras or Xavi (or any of the bold-type names in the Spanish lineup) managed to find an inch, the US came through in waves to keep them from taking a mile. The tenacity and optimism of the outfield players was backed by superb goaltending from Tim Howard and the US won convincingly. And by "convincingly" I mean that the held of an opponent that clearly was going all out for the win in the second half. Spain didn't roll over. The upset win ends Spain's record-setting 15-match winning streak and record-tying 35-match unbeaten run. Spain had not lost since 2006. The same year that the US finished last in it's group at the World Cup. This win isn't the Miracle on Ice. I know. But it's something.

Secondly, Shaq has reportedly been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Thirdly, Jamal Crawford has reportedly been traded to the Atlanta Hawks.

Fourthly, the Knicks may close the day having traded for Darko Milic.

Fifthly, the NBA Draft takes place tonight at Madison Square Garden.

Sixthly, Johan Santana and Chris Carpenter square off in a matinee at Citi Field.

Seventhly, Farrah Fawcett died.