- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2003

The tongue-twisting element of the NBA Draft commenced following the exhausting selection of LeBron James last night.

Darko Milicic, the 7-foot Serbian billed as the best European since Dirk Nowitzki, made the march to David Stern’s podium after James.

Milicic, taken by the Pistons, was the first of the international unknowns to be plucked in the first round of the draft.

It is a good thing they don’t pay these guys by the vowel.

Who’s Milicic? Who’s Mickael Pietrus?

It beats everyone but the frequent-flyer nomads who evaluate those with hyperactive pituitary glands.

The rest of the basketball world is catching up to America.

It is destined to eclipse the game’s longtime standard-bearers, undoubtedly sooner than later. The global numbers are too pronounced to ignore. There are1.4 billion Chinese, after all, the next Yao Ming among them.

The foreign encroachment barely resonated in the James-inspired din. This was his coming out party. He drives a Hummer H2. He exudes excitement. He sells shoes. He heals the infirm and touches the nonbelievers in his midst.

The ESPN talking heads, in particular, felt faint by the mention of James, who was dressed in saintly white.

“James has an NBA body,” said Jay Bilas, appearing to need a hit of smelling salts. “An absolute man.”

James, who has a $90million contract with Nike, is expected to pursue a roster spot with the Cavaliers, however nominal the pay.

“It was great,” James said of his first formal handshake with Stern. “This is a long time coming.”

He is 18 years old, such a long time.

James could lead the Cavaliers to 25 mind-altering victories next season, possibly 30 if Paul Silas is able to expedite the development of the most overblown athlete ever. This was the impolite reality of the event. There was no franchise player in the Green Room at Madison Square Garden, if next season is the object of the process.

T.J. Ford was the lottery pick of the Bucks, although he is too short and can’t shoot the ball. A lottery pick is not what it used to be.

“I just know I’ve always believed in myself,” Ford said.

They talk about upside on this night. That is about all they can talk about. That is partly because of the increasing irrelevance of the college game favored by Dick Vitale and Billy Packer, the two talking dinosaurs entrusted with conferring sainthood on coaches, corrupt or otherwise.

The NBA has come to be a viable alternative to the NCAA-sponsored scam, mostly because the NBA has learned to be patient around the not-ready-for-prime-time performers, excluding the disposed regime that guided the Wizards.

To be fair, none of the latest 58 projects to hit the ranks of the NBA is the fault of Kwame Brown. Old habits are sometimes hard to break, not unlike the Fun Street obsession with Jordan, Michael or Eddie.

The Wizards were spared the homegrown lure of Mike Sweetney, an undersized power forward who landed with the Knicks, one slot ahead of the Wizards.

Sweetney’s lack of oomph in the weight room was said to have unnerved several teams.

This kernel of information is what it is, possibly hot air.

Lying is part of the process, especially among those teams hoping that a particular player slips to their tenuous slot.

A high number of hopefuls become the incredible shrinking sorts. Elton Brand lost about a foot off his 6-foot-8 frame going into the 1999 draft. He regained it all back after the Bulls held firm and took him with the No.1 pick overall.

Believe what you want. The Wizards believe they found a player in Jarvis Hayes, which is the obligatory response.

“He is what we consider one of the two or three best shooters in the draft,” general manager Wes Unseld said. “I think he is going to help us. I think he is going to be a great player.”

There might be a handful of potential All-Stars in this draft. Check back in three or four seasons.

Going back to Brand’s draft class, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs demonstrated the most cost-efficient foresight, nabbing Manu Ginobili with the 57th pick.

The players follow the script, just after grabbing the hat of the sucker.

“I’m just happy to be here,” Dwyane Wade said.

That was easy for him to say. He is at least receiving a guaranteed contract out of it. The masses are usually limited to a series of broken promises and more trips to the lottery.

Chris Kaman has been solicited to rescue the terminal Clippers.

Can he do that? Yes, yes, yes. He is determined to change the course of the Clippers.

Please.

You can get away with saying almost anything in late June, but not that.

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