"Lotta folks comin' out, lotta kids coming out. Childhood a not-too-distant memory for some of these guys. What kind of risk do you take if you draft one?" Ernie Johnson kicks off the 1996 NBA Draft with this question for Rick Pitino, TNT's celebrity analyst for the night.
Because you know what the best part of the NBA Draft is? NBA TV, re-running old drafts in the week leading up to draft night. Every year the draft is a treasure trove for unintentional comedy, but what makes it really special is how the draft ages over time. Jalen Rose's suit, Steve Francis' draft day interview, Bropez' "Wired" segement, and when Raef LaFrentz went No. 3 overall, and one of the annoucers said, "He reminds me of Adam Keefe."
Note: If your No. 3 pick reminds anyone of Adam Keefe, he's already a bust. The rest of his career's merely a formality. But stuff like that is what makes the draft so great. I could re-watch NBA Drafts all summer long, and since I DVR'd about 20 hours worth of re-runs over the past week, I think that's the plan. But with the 2011 NBA Draft coming up, we may as well relive a classic.
Which brings us back to 1996, the draft that featured Allen Iverson, "Ko-bay" Bryant, a sobbing Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen in a zoot suit, Antoine Walker, Peja Stojakovic, a 12-year-old-looking Steve Nash, and Jermaine O'Neal, who was actually 12 years old at the time of the draft.
Let's get started.
Rick's answer to the question above, about all the underclassmen? "Well, it's certainly a risk," he tells Ernie. "BUT. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas all came out early. And certainly we may have players at that level right now coming out." Certainly, Rick?
I guess Rick's setting the bar high for tonight's draft. A few minutes later, the TNT guys kick to Jim Durham in Dallas, who looks like he should be reporting on the electoral college.
"Here in Dallas the Mavericks have had controversy all week surrounding the three J's." They put that behind them, they look ahead to the ninth pick in the draft, and what have they got? Maybe three W's. Lorenzen Wright, Samaki Walker, and John Wallace."
Another advantage of reliving old drafts are reminders like this one ... Remember when the "three J's"--Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn, and Jimmy Jackson--got caught up in a love triangle involving Toni Braxton? It's something that could only happen in the NBA, and changed the face of the Mavericks for a solid five years until the Nash and Nowitzki era got going. All because of Toni Braxton. I LOVE THIS GAME.
Also, R.I.P. "the three W's." If things had been different ... Well, no, there was no way Lorenzen Wright, Samaki Walker, and John Wallace ever could have panned out. Time for the first pick!
David Stern announces the number one pick with a smile: "From the University of Georgetown ..." and TNT cuts to Allen Iverson in the green room with ... Wouldn't you know it? A pretty average-sized entourage. Was sorta hoping for a hundred-person green room gathering on this one, but I guess his entourage didn't blossom till later in his career.
Let the record state that Rick Pitino had been lobbying for the 76ers to take Marcus Camby, because Derrick Coleman wouldn't work with Iverson's style. This proves what we already know: Beneath the shiny suits and hair gel, Rick Pitino's really kind of an idiot.
"Erratic" and "shoots first" are always encouraging signs for a point guard. Even so, Iverson sort of seems like an angel during his interview. His suit's at least a size too big for him, he's all smiles, and when Craig Sager asks if anyone in the NBA can stop him one-on-one, he says, "I don't know, I hope not. I don't think so." It's like he's a completely different person.
TNT cuts to an interview with the new 76ers head coach Johnny Davis, and asks whether the Sixers had any character concerns with Iverson. "We certainly discussed it," Davis says. He sounds like he's on valium. "We, uh, evaluated, discussed, Allen Iverson as a person." If only NBA TV could show us re-runs of discussions like that...
"Well there was that thing at the bowling alley ..."
"But how bad was that really?"
"Well, he broke a chair over someone's back."
"Let me rephrase that: How much worse could he be than Derrick Coleman?"
"You know what? F--k it."
Fast-forward to Marcus Camby, who goes No. 2 overall to Isiah Thomas' Toronto Raptors. Marcus Camby tells Craig Sager, "A lot of people didn't want to see Marcus Camby succeed," but "I had great support from the cartel back there in the back."
See what he did there? He managed to say hi to the haters while talking in the third person, and then shoutout his entourage, The Cartel, back there in the back.
Awesome way to get us ready for Stephon Marbury.
But first, there's Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Apparently, he announced he was returning to school before changing his mind. "We could rename him 'Shareef Abdur-I'm-not-so-sure,'" Ernie Johnson says.
Shareef goes to Vancouver, and TNT cuts to an interview with Todd Bozeman, his coach in college. Bozeman says, "I can't say I really expected him to be here for four years. ... The thing is, you would look at a kid like that as being a Mercedes. And if someone said, 'Hey, you can drive this Volkswagen for five years, or this Mercedes for one year ...' you gon' say 'Hey, I know I'm gonna have to give it up after a year, but lemme drive this Mercedes.'"
Doesn't that make everyone feel great about the world of college recruiting?
Now seems like a good time to mention that three months after that interview aired, Todd Bozeman was forced to resign, and Cal was forced to forfeit the final two seasons of Bozeman's tenure, including the year where he had that Mercedes. But hey, lemme drive that Mercedes.
On that note ... Stephon Marbury, come on down!
This was definitely the highlight of this particular draft. The Marburys are there with a solid 15 people in the Green Room, Stephon Marbury is sobbing, his overweight, beaming mom takes center stage, and the whole thing is just perfect. Please fast-forward to the 2:50-mark in the video above to see Mabel Marbury dancing, which might just be the greatest moment in the history of the NBA Draft.
Having said that, it's pretty much impossible to watch Stephon Marbury's joyful sobbing during his interview with Craig Sager and not think of the whole sobbing-while-eating-Vaseline-thing. It's a reminder that before Stephon Marbury became the personification of a midlife NBA crisis, he was the subject of one of the more endearing interviews in NBA Draft history.
"It's been 20 years. Twenty long years, waiting for this day. ... It's here. It's here now."
Or maybe it's a reminder that while you may be sane now, in 10 or 15 years, there's at least a chance you'll go crazy and suddenly find yourself eating Vaseline on UStream.
Speaking of going crazy ... Here's Craig Sager circa 1996.
He looks so... normal. What the hell? Since when is Craig Sager allowed to wear suits that don't hurt my eyes? Doesn't that defeat the entire purpose of Craig Sager? And more importantly, if Craig Sager dressed normally at one point, does this mean that there was one particular day when Craig Sager just said, 'F**k it" and started dressing like Jim Carey in The Mask? So many questions.
But hey, it's Ray Allen! Whatever swagger Sager lacked, Ray Allen had in spades.
He goes to Minnesota, even though the T'Wolves A) Never worked him out, B) Don't need a shooting guard and C) Have been actively trying to trade for point guards. Rick Pitino says, "Could be a trade here." Could be, Rick. (Note: I realize it helps to have 15 years of hindsight here).
Ray Allen gamely pretends to be happy about Minnesota, though. "It's very interesting," he tells Craig. "I never thought I would make it in Minnesota, but Minnesota's a great city, and they have a great organization, and I'll be ready to play next year." Yes, Minnesota's a GREAT city.
Let's fast forward. Next, we have Antoine Walker to the Celtics (shimmy!), Lorenzen Wright to the Clippers (Clippers!) Kerry Kittles to the Nets (facemask!), and then Samaki Walker to Dallas and Erick Dampier to Indiana, battling it out for "Best Dressed Honors." Here's Samaki.
And next to Karl Malone and Jalen Rose, we're talking about a Hall of Fame draft day disaster right there. But for my money, Erick Dampier's look is even more ridiculous.
At first glance, he looks like a waiter at Chinese restaurant. But then you factor in his gigantic frame, and the more apt comparison has gotta be the side of giant barn. HEL-LLLLO INDIANA.
And we haven't even gotten to Kobe. "With the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select, Ko-bay Bryant, from Lower Merion High School." Gotta love Stern mispronouncing Kobe's name on Draft night. Back then, he was just another anonymous high school kid. "In every place he worked out," Hubie explains, "Nothing but raves."
So how, exactly, did he fall to No. 13? Erick Dampier too good to pass up?
"Jerry West told me today," Rick Pitino says. "Greatness lies ahead for this young man." Oooh a little foreshadowing there, huh? You have to give Jerry West and the Lakers credit. They were the only team that had any idea what type of player they were dealing with in Kobe. "He's a winning-style guy," Hubie adds, while TNT rolls highlights of Kobe destroying white kids all over suburban Philadelphia.
Cut to Sager and Kobe, who sounds insane even at 18. Why the NBA, Sager asks. He had the grades for college, after all. "It's the ultimate challenge," Kobe says. "If I was 40 years old, and I'm sittin' back, and I'm lookin back on my career. I played in college, played in the NBA, maybe had a great career, maybe not, I'm still havin that doubt in my mind. Could I have answered that challenge? ... That's something I didn't want to have on my shoulders."
Note: No sane person would go to college, play in the NBA, and then look back with regret, wondering whether he could have gone straight to the NBA. But Kobe would've, because he's f***ing insane.
Finally, before we move on to Nash at no. 15, there's the 14th pick...
That's right, it's Peja! Or as David Stern calls him, "Pre-drag Stojakovic." His interview with Sager is spectacular for all you broken English entusiasts out there, but really, what's most amazing is how perfectly Peja fits the Euro-to-the-NBA stereotype. Young, terrified, barely speaks Englsih, perfectly coiffed, heavily greased butt haircut. If you were making a bad movie about the NBA and needed a cliched European rookie, Peja Stojakovic from the '96 Draft would be that character.
Finally, Steve Nash was awesome even back in 1996.
You're not gonna believe this, but Steve Nash was compared to John Stockton coming out of college. Personally, he reminded me of a Bob Cousy-type guard, with a little Pete Maravich thrown in.
A rich man's Bob Sura, perhaps. Anyway, Steve Nash keeps it all class, exactly as you'd expect. He thanks his school (Santa Clara), his coaches, his family and friends. And then Craig Sager says of Nash's new GM, Cotton Fitzsimmons, "Cotton picked his man!"
Of Nash's hometown in Victoria, Canada, Ernie Johnson says, "Victoria's secret no more!" Seriously... How can anyone not love the Draft? And don't you wish TNT still had broadcast rights?
Anyway, it'll be impossible for 2011 to top 1996--unless Marshon Brooks somehow turns into Kobe over the next 15 years--but if nothing else, some of the classics from 15 years ago are a good reminder of why we love this stuff so much. So here's to another successful night of unintentional comedy. Remember when Golden State drafted Todd Fuller instead of Kobe?
The draft always delivers. Bad outfits, bad puns, ridiculous comparisons, awkward interviews, and most of all, stars and storylines that will be absolutely absurd a decade from now. Can't wait!