Long a favorite, NBA Draft now just a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, June 24, 2023

I could feel my fandom continue to age on Thursday as I looked at my phone to see that the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft was far from over and I was long past ready for sleep.

Growing up, the annual amateur draft was one of my favorite nights on the sports calendar every year.

I had multiple subscriptions to sports magazines when I was a kid. Our family got a People magazine and a Sport Illustrated every two-weeks as I imagine your family might have too.

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It wasn’t something we sought out to do, but came free with a purchase at some long forgotten store.

Also appearing in the mailbox each month would be a copy of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter. It had no pictures and was a folded pamphlet ranking the best wrestlers, reporting on matches from all over the country and making sure that I knew the latest rumors concerning Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting and The Ultimate Warrior.

One of my favorite magazines as a teen was called SLAM Magazine. It was all things 90s basketball and I’d read it cover to cover each month.

You could read about Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen when they were high school seniors as SLAM covered everything from the shoe company summer circuit to who the best up and comers were overseas.

I played NBA basketball games on first my Sega Genesis and then my original PlayStation. I watched NBA Inside Stuff on Saturday morning. I collected and traded cards with my buddies. I got cussed out by my Momma for getting my first pair of Jordans muddy.

I’ve always loved the game.

Yet on Thursday, I looked up and down the list of draftees and thought, who the heck are some of these dudes.

I knew about the no. 1 pick, Victor Wembanyama, a player hailing from France that we’ve been told is a generational talent and who was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs.

You don’t have to be an NBA scout to see the dude is unlike any player we’ve ever seen before. He’s 7-foot-5 but moves like a man a foot shorter.

Let me stop here and say, you’ll never find me writing that a talented prospect is overrated.

When I was writing for the student paper at Co-Lin, I would watch Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon on “Pardon The Interruption” and work up the hot takes I wanted to put in a column.

I once wrote a column about how we shouldn’t all “believe the hype” when it comes to this talented high school senior named Lebron that was perpetually playing on ESPN.

Not my best.

In one of his most viral clips, Wembanyama shoots a 3-pointer and then takes two long steps to catch the rebound high above the rim and stuff it back in. He looks like what you come up with on NBA 2K create-a-player when you’re bored and say to yourself, I wonder if I can score 300 points in a game.

The way he can block a shot in the paint and then reach out to block a shot on the perimeter is stuff that maybe even Ralph Sampson couldn’t have pulled off.

So yeah, I for sure knew about him.

And the second pick was a guy that I knew about too, but for more about things that happened off the court.

With the second pick, the Charolotte Hornets selected Brandon Miller, a freshman that played last year for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

On Jan. 15, a 23-year-old woman was killed in an area popular with Alabama students called “The Strip” in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were arrested and indicted for the crime.

It was weeks after Miles was arrested and kicked off the team when it became publicly known that Miller, the best player of the Crimson Tide, was driving the vehicle that night that Miles retrieved a firearm from before then giving it to Michael Lynn Davis, the alleged shooter.

Miller was not charged with a crime, but Alabama and coach Nate Oats were criticized for their handling of the situation.

A 6-foot-9 forward, Miller has a skill set that suits the NBA today and was the SEC Freshman and Player of the Year. As far as what he’s capable of on the court, taking him feels like a low risk for the Hornets.

The third pick, Scoot Henderson, formed a trio of what was considered the top tier talent in the draft along with Wembanyama and Miller.

Henderson was picked by the Portland Trailblazers with the third selection. Up until Adam Silver read his name, I was hoping that the New Orleans Pelicans would ship Zion Williamson to Portland for Scoot.

As the youths might say, Scoot got that dog in him.

Watch his game and you’ll see some Chris Paul and some Jimmy Butler and lots of explosiveness.

Have you seen Zion play for the Pelicans in person during his career?

Count yourself extremely lucky as he’s following the career arc of Anthony “Street Clothes” Davis in New Orleans.

I’m not going to write about what Zion has been dealing with on social media for the last couple weeks as it’s for adults only and we like to keep things kid friendly in these pages.

I was ready to go all in on Scoot, but alas it wasn’t to be as Portland stood pat, picked the product of G-League Ignite and appears now ready to possibly move on from franchise cornerstone Damien Lillard to trigger a full rebuild.

They didn’t write about G-League Ignite back in my SLAM Magazine days as the paths to NBA basketball were different back then.

In the olden days of the 90s, one could be drafted straight from high school ala Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal and Kevin Garnett. There was no official NBA owned minor league like the NBA G-League, but players could find their way to the league through some different routes like the old Continental Basketball Association (CBA) or by playing overseas.

Henderson was tabbed a future NBA star from a young age. Instead of going to college, he chose to get paid as a professional and play for Ignite, a showcase team for young talent that plays a schedule of games against G-League teams and international competition.

There is a similar pathway to the NBA that young talent looking to skip out on college can follow via Overtime Elite.

Does anyone other than NBA personnel watch Overtime Elite games? I haven’t met one.

None the less, the no. 4 and no. 5 picks in the draft were the Thompson twins, a pair of Overtime Elite alums.

Amen Thompson went no. 4 to the Houston Rockets and Ausar Thompson went no. 5 to the Detroit Pistons.

The 6-foot-7 twins share the same middle name, XLNC, which is pronounced excellence.

For the Rockets and Pistons, I guess excellence means perpetually picking in the draft’s top five.

The no. 6 pick was when I found myself starting to fade in interest as my attention moved to LSU baseball on another screen.

With that pick, the Orlando Magic selected Arkansas guard Anthony Black. Many of us watch lots of SEC basketball because it feels like it’s always on ESPN for a three-month period.

Black is a 6-foot-5 guard with cool hair and a great frame who might “wow” you on one possession and then disappear for 12 straight trips.

Black averaged 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game for the Razorbacks.

Your dad’s favorite player, Larry Bird, was the no. 6 pick in the 1978 draft.

Maybe Black will surpass Bird one day, but it’s not likely.

I’ll say this though, go back and watch some NBA highlights from the 90s and you’ll cringe at how bad some of the outside shooting is then compared to what we’re used to in today’s game.

The physicality of the eras and what tough defense looks like today versus then — I’ll leave those issues for Stephen A. Smtih to debate.

One good thing to come out of my love of basketball is that my son appreciates the game in a similar manner.

I just presented the things I liked to him as a child. Here’s wrestling. Here’s college football. Here’s basketball. Here’s “The Goonies.”

You don’t have to like these things, but you’d be a lot better hang if you did, I told him as a toddler.

He made the right choice, is now a cool hang and we can talk for hours about the things we mutually enjoy.

And it’s fine that my fandom starts to fade as his grows. I think that’s how it’s supposed to work right?

Many of you moms and dads out there are raising kids that love hunting or fishing or showing cows or gardening or riding horses or playing soccer or riding on the river or playing golf.

You’re imparting the things you love on them and creating memories by being able to say, “remember when we went and did that thing when you were younger that we both loved.”

Graham will surpass me in his NBA knowledge one day. He might have already done so as I found myself in the finals asking him who players were that I was unfamiliar with.

And that’s fine. I find myself as I get older not really wanting to know everything possible about everything interesting anymore.

If he does challenge my expertise though, I’ll just do what dads do best — pretend to know exactly what I’m talking about.

Cliff Furr is the Sports Editor at The Daily Leader. He can be reached via email at sports@dailyleader.com.