Yesterday on June 26, 2014 Examiner.com had the opportunity to attend The 2014 NBA Draft Experience as a guest of American Express. As the Official Credit Card Partner of the NBA, American Express provides Card Members with exclusive experiences, behind-the-scenes access, tickets to regular-season and playoff games, and access to premier NBA events such as NBA All-Star, the NBA Draft and more.
Our evening began with a tour of the Barclay’s Center. As a first time visitor, it was simply astounding. Seeing the sheer size of the arena, while also getting to enter and walk through the player’s side court, owner’s lounge, and then afterwards proceeding to the Draft Stage was amazing. Being able to stand on that stage, an honor usually only reserved for newly drafted NBA players, was breathtaking, and that was without the roar of the crowds and cheer of the fans. After taking a generous amount of photos, I was directed to a dining area in which food was served buffet style. While we ate, Tobias Harris of the Orlando Magic and Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers both came to hang out with us.
The whole crowd burst into excitement as young kids, and myself, rushed forward to get basketballs signed and selfies taken, with the players. Our excitement was enhanced, when they announced an open Q&A session with the players. Many questions were asked from the assorted crowd, varying from asking about their college to NBA transition, the current draft, and memorable events from the last basketball season. One kid asked what he could do to be in the NBA, while another aggressively questioned who they would pick if their team had first pick, noting the top two projected picks' strengths and weaknesses.
Soon it was time to take our seat! I couldn't believe how fast the Barclay’s Center filled up. The most fervent basketball fans in New York were all packed in one stadium. Every time a different fan was shown on the large monitors, the stadium would roar with a loud series of boos. There was a rather large crowd of 76ers fans who were able to partially drown out the booing with their own loud cheers. Celtics and Lakers fans however received little love in the stadium. There was also an interesting group of Australians, supporting Dante Exum, who would later become the fifth overall pick. They were all dressed up in kangaroo onesies coupled with a large balloon kangaroo.
Also extremely noticeable at the Draft was the tear-inducing recognition of Isaiah Austin who had to quit his basketball career when he was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome. Marfan syndrome is a rare genetic disorder affecting connective tissue and tends to appear in tall people with long limbs and thin fingers. Austin received a Ceremonial Pick by the NBA and announced that he is starting a campaign to promote awareness for Marfan syndrome and also start training to be an NBA coach.
Another notable event at the draft was Joel Embiid becoming the third overall pick, rather than his projected forth. Embiid who could not attend the draft due to his foot injury will now be playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. During the draft there were also a number of trades. Notably, the Nuggets traded Doug McDermott (pick eleven) and Anthony Randolph to the Bulls for Jusuf Nurkic (pick sixteen) and Gary Harris (pick nineteen). However amidst the hard to please fans and roaring crowds, the 2014 Draft was a huge success on the NBA’s part. While not all the people were satisfied with their teams, they all had a great time. Attending as an Amex VIP was an extra special experience.
Before yesterday's draft, we had the opportunity to attend the NBA Draft Roundtable for Amex's "Off The Court" series. In November of last year, American Express and The National Basketball Association (NBA) announced a first-of-its-kind digital destination on NBA.com, entitled “Off the Court,” which brings the game and some of its best players to life for fans by exploring shared personal passions, pursuits and interests. Read our exclusive interviews with Rick Fox and Gary Harris from the event.
You were an NBA player and now you’re hosting, how does that feel?
It feels great. This is the twelfth opportunity to get to know the players, not only their passion on the court as basketball players, but what they’re doing off the court. In this case, rookies, this may be their first talk show, and I get to ask them that, just to see where they are at right now, emotionally.
As a host and as a former player, do you think you could pass on some advice to them?
Definitely in the media capacity, I can share with them what the off the court expectations are going to be in terms of how they conduct themselves when they are not playing. We are going to ask that a few questions and give them some advice.
Is there anything you would like to say about that?
I think that when they get preparing for their career on the court, but just as professionals and focus on dealing with things on the court, they want to remember that when they step off the practice and out of the arena, they are still recognizing the applause and they are recognizing, the organizations and the fans and in this day and age of social media, there is a constant watching, a constant reporting on their activities. The lights are never really out. When I played, the lights and the cameras would get turned off.
So what would you say would be your biggest weakness right now?
GH: I need to improve my all-around game and just continue to get better in the NBA.
Is there any team you would like to get drafted by in the NBA?
GH: I couldn’t tell you. I’m just happy to be here.
So does the draft matter to you that much?
GH: Oh it definitely does. I’m just looking forward to being able to be apart of this.
So you aren’t concerned with your ranking?
GH: I mean at this point, whatever happens happens. You don’t know what’s going to happen, unless you’re like one of the top 5 guys, but I mean at this point you just hope for the best.
Is there anyone you would like to play with?
GH: Anybody you know. If I get paired up with any of these guys on the draft, it’s a really good group of guys and we all are pretty close.
Alright what would you expect to be a difference going from college basketball to the NBA?
GH: The physicality and the level of play definitely. There’s a huge jump and you know its definitely going to be a difference really.
Steven Stettner contributed reporting.