USA Today sent a fashion reporter to the June 30 NBA draft to
ask players, "Who are you wearing?" UCLA's Baron Davis was
wearing Troy McSwain, Duke's Elton Brand was wearing Rochester
Big & Tall, and the whole lot of these nitwits were, within
minutes, wearing me out.
Wally Szczerbiak was wearing Tommy Hilfiger, with whom the Miami
of Ohio star had huddled before the draft to "talk about
Talk about pinheads. Szczerbiak and at least six of the top 10
draftees told TNT, which telecast the draft, that they looked
forward to playing at "the next level," where they hoped to take
their new teams to "the next level." When Minnesota's Quincy
Lewis, picked 19th by the Utah Jazz, said all of the above to a
Minneapolis TV station, I turned to a basketball coach friend of
mine and asked him what, exactly, was this utopian Next Level?
"The Concierge Level at Marriott," he said. "And the only thing
he'll be taking there is Karl Malone's suitcase."
By the way: Did I say "Wally ZER-bee-ak"? I meant to say "Wally
SIR-bee-ak," the new pronunciation used by everyone on TNT,
which arbitrarily introduced this coinage in much the way that
network anchorpeople one day decided that Nicaragua would
henceforth be called "Nee-kah-RRRAH-wah" and that your foyer was
from this day forward a "foy-AY."
But then, pomposity, self-importance and inappropriate solemnity
are the hallmarks of all televised sports, to say nothing of
televised sports drafts. This applies to the imperious
enunciations of commissioner David Stern ("With the twenty-sixth
pick in the Nineteen Ninety-Nine NBA Draft, the Indiana Pacers
select Vonteego Cummings....") as well as to the preposterous
reverence of the TV "analysts" deployed to various "war rooms."
When TNT correspondent Scott Hastings said he had recently
spoken to Randy Wittman, anchor Ernie Johnson wondered what
Wittman had to say about the Cleveland Cavaliers' coaching job,
for which the Minnesota Timberwolves' assistant was said to be
the leading candidate. "Aw, man, I didn't go there," Hastings
huffed. "He's a friend of mine."
TNT did manage, almost apologetically, to ask Rhode Island star
Lamar Odom why, with a fortune at stake, he disappeared for the
most important week of his life rather than show up for
scheduled workouts with NBA teams. Odom replied that he needed
to chill that week and "get my head straight." I don't know who
he was kidding--I don't even know who he was wearing--but no
elaboration was deemed necessary. TNT didn't want to go there.
But so what? The NBA, after all, is all about appearances, about
pinstripes and pat answers. Arizona's Jason Terry knows the
drill: When he was selected 10th by the Atlanta Hawks, Terry
strode to the podium in a suit evidently sewn together from the
reflective Mylar blankets given to runners at the finish line of
a marathon. The draftee then paused for the traditional
grip-and-grimace photo op with Stern, who always seems to be
mumbling something as the flashbulbs pop, presumably, "Listen,
this is my league, and if you cross me in any way, I'll have
your head in a vice faster than you can say 'lockout'! Capisce?"
All the while Stern keeps pumping the player's hand as if it
were the arm of a slot machine. Which, in essence, it is.
On draft night The Tonight Show reran a recent program with an
appearance by the inadvertent role model for these newly minted
professionals. The show was a post-basketball coming-out party
for Michael Jordan, a chance for MJ to define his next role--to
take it to the next level, as it were. So Jay Leno formally
introduced Bijan spokesman Michael Jordan. And I thought, Didn't
he once have something to do with...basketball? Come to think of
it, didn't all of these guys?
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO