Brooklyn, NY-- I walked into the Barclay's Center around 5:45 for the NBA Draft, and with plenty of time to spare, I began to circle the main-level concourse. The Barclay's Center is a modern arena with a chic but simple style (think Nets-logo minimalist). As I circled the overpriced concession stands and apparel shops, I realized that I still hadn't seen a media area. I did however see commissioner Adam Silver preparing for an interview. By 6:05, my aimless wandering ran its course and I realized I needed to ask somebody where I was supposed to go. I followed a man who had eagerly used his $20 media coupon for the concessions down the elevator to the press area.
Thinking I was finally in the right place I breathed a sigh of relief. I followed the man down the hall only to be stopped by a stern security guard. "You can't come this way" insisted the man. Confused, I turned to go back up the elevator and begin Round 2 of my search. Suddenly, the man with food, clearly frustrated that he was not biting into his pulled pork sandwich, yelled, "This is ridiculous." I quickly turned around as it became clear that this man was going to yell his away past the security post.
We then entered a maze of closed offices, hallways, cameras, people wearing credentials, and no guidance. This was my first Draft, but I didn't want to give that away by asking random people where to go or what to do. After another 15 minutes of circling the perimeter, which included a Lisa Salters sighting, I lucked my way into the media work room. There were dozens of reporters with multiple technology devices typing away and drinking the watered down coffee provided by the Barclays Center. This didn't interest me and I rejoined the maze.
I got to the floor where the Draft was taking place and walked out pretending I knew what I was doing. I saw a similar contingent of reporters on computers at tables, only this time it was on the ground floor facing the stage. This interested me a lot more. But with only two SB Nation chairs for 5 reporters, I chose to stand.
This is when my game of "evade the security guards" began. Amidst sightings of Mike Wilbon, Tom Izzo, P.J. Carlesimo, and Ed Cooley, media members without chairs avoided security guards as they attempted to usher people away from the camera crews and clear the floor to begin the draft. The thought of watching from a media work room when I was at the freaking draft just wasn't going to fly. I continued to scan for unmonitored standing room. That became difficult, as I was distracted by Karl Anthony-Towns and John Calipari walking through.
I finally convinced an usher to let me sit in the front row of the stands. This was a good enough view and allowed me to take in the experience. I was content. This decision quickly backfired though as several kids came running down trying to get autographs and pictures with Towns. After finishing my teaching career this past week, I couldn't bear the idea of hearing little children scream in my ear as each draftee passed. I abandoned ship.
I settled in on some terrain behind a camera crew. This move exceeded expectations. After the expected picks of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, things got interesting with Jaylen Brown, Dragan Bender, and Kris Dunn going 3,4, and 5. As everyone obsessively checked twitter, news of Dunn and Zach LaVine to Chicago for Jimmy Butler was coming out. I got into some great banter with a bored cameraman. That trade hype lasted through the Damantas Sabonis pick by Orlando. Talk of Butler to Minnesota ceased as news of Oklahoma City fleecing the Magic in acquiring Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, and Ersan Ilyasova for Serge Ibaka emerged. I knew it was going to be a good night.
When the Bulls drafted Denzel Valentine 14th, I decided to go check out the interview room where the picks go after they are drafted. The NBA was emailing out the interview transcripts within minutes, so there was no real need to go unless you had a question. But it was telling to hear directly from the prospects. Most of the players spoke in similar cliched, media-trained monotones about how thrilled and excited they were to be there.
This is where we get to the Spurs. When the night started, there weren't promising odds of the Spurs draftee being at the Barclays Center as only the top prospects are invited. The only hope was to trade up. But somehow, in Spursian fashion, they snagged Dejounte Murray who fell from the 10-20 range all the way to 29. As an aside, there was a lot of talent left at 29 with Damian Jones, Cheick Diallo, Deyonta Davis, Ivica Zubic, and even Patrick McCaw. But Murray was the right selection as a player with a ceiling higher than a rotation player.
In my piece a week ago, I suggested the Spurs three priorities were (1) a defensive center (2) a stretch four and (3) a point guard. With news of Bertans coming over to fill the stretch four role, that left a defensive center and a point guard as the most likely picks. I argued that a point guard was the right move for the draft so the player could be mentored by Tony Parker. A center is an immediate need that can be addressed in free agency. Alas, Murray was selected.
Unlike many of the other draftees, Murray had more energy and passion is his presser. Rocking a Hugh Hefner-esque purple suit, Murray spilled out his love for defense and commitment to work on all aspects of his game. He was enthusiastic and seemed genuinely happy to be in Brooklyn talking to reporters. I asked him what he could add to a 67-win Spurs team as a rookie and he replied:
"You know, high motor, like Kawhi Leonard; a dude that's willing to work, and I'll never settle for less, never get comfortable. I love working on my game, and I feel I can help them out in anything. I feel like my potential of doing everything and my faith and the heart I have for the game and the love I have for the game, I feel like I'll help them out really well."
While a bit all over the place, his answer stood out as honest and emotional, and certainly not rehearsed. Satisfied with both the Spurs and Murray's performance, I was ready to call it a night. I headed back to the floor to find two-thirds of the crowd gone. I knew people didn't really care about the second round, but I found the scene sad regardless. I quietly made my way from the media floor, to the stairs, out the Barclays Center, and to the subway. The Spurs found a way to win the first-round picking second-to-last. It was a great night.