Traditions have been tested in this year of social distancing. There is absolutely no denying it — our society looks different today than we could have imagined a year ago. Remember groups? Remember parties? Remember crowds of crazed fans expressing their simultaneous hope and disgust at the way their favorite team was conducting business? It feels like another time. The “before time.”
In the before time, Adam Silver strolled across the stage to the podium to a cheeky jingle, serenaded by a chorus of cheers and boos, the room lifting to a fever pitch with anticipation and hope.
“With the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans select… Zion Williamson, from Duke University.”
The camera cut to Zion, sitting at a table with loved ones, dressed in an ivory suit. His head bowed for a moment before he stood and embraced his mother. Family members smiled, laughed, and cried. He put the Pelicans hat on his head and, dawning a bright smile, climbed the stairs to the stage, accompanied by the bright lights that will follow him for the rest of his career. He and Adam Silver leaned in for a bro hug before posing for the cameras. A few moments later, now off the stage, reporters interviewed him.
Those were the before times. This year, it looked a little different.
Adam Silver still strolled to his podium to a cheeky jingle, but there was no audience to greet him. In a more subdued manner, he presented his draft picks with the same verbiage. It felt familiar; it felt consistent. What it lacked, however, was the raw excitement that only a crowd can provide.
Don’t get me wrong, for the fan bases at home, all the feelings were still present. From our couches, we still watched, eager to hear the names of the future pieces to our favorite franchises, wondering which of these young men full of youthful exuberance and promise will develop into the future superstars of the league.
What this NBA Draft did have in spades, however, was the raw emotion exhibited by these players. I can’t help but wonder if, from the comfort of their own homes or location of their choosing, these now professional athletes felt more comfortable, more relaxed, and more vulnerable. Without the brightness of spotlights tracking their movements, without a buzzing crowd, without a stage and a handshake, there were powerful moments of humility and gratitude, of dreams being realized to the highest order.
The NBA Draft is a compilation of personal stories. Payton Pritchard, a 6-foot-2 guard from University of Oregon, was selected 26th overall by the Boston Celtics. Pritchard is a hometown kid … literally from my hometown of West Linn, Oregon. I’ve watched him play since he was a freshman in high school. I went to church with him and his family. I watched him go to University of Oregon just two hours down the road and develop into a knockdown scorer and facilitator at the guard position that will transition nicely to the NBA. I watched his effort, his work ethic, and his ascension into being a first-round draft pick.
In an interview with NBCSN, Pritchard said, “It was a very emotional moment for me. It took a lot of hard work. Definitely went through a lot of ups and downs in high school and college. Just to finally get to this moment is unreal and it was definitely filled with a lot of emotion.”
Damian Lillard sure was proud.
In my opinion, the draft night experience was a success. ESPN did the best with what they could to make the viewing experience fun and exciting, from reporters interviewing the draftees via video, to a panel of college basketball experts who were able to deliver great information and insight into not just the stats, but the personal stories of the young men about to make the jump to the NBA. Every single player taken in the draft has a personal story that we as viewers can connect to, and ESPN allowed us to hear some of those stories.
It was different, but it was familiar. Familiar is good. We could all use some familiarity right now.