Re-Examining the 1997 NBA Draft – If I Had Been Selected…
(Originally published @Nerdist Sports 2017)
At the end of my senior year in college – despite having not played organized basketball since high school and maintaining a 1.8 blood alcohol level for four years straight, my friends dared me to declare for the NBA draft. I wrote an official letter the NBA commissioner David Stern and presented my accolades: Six-foot-two. 3.8 G.P.A. Fraternity scoring leader and dunk contest winner on the 8-foot hoop in the parking lot.
I wasn’t selected.
Looking back now, I have to argue that I might have been a better pick than 75% of the players in the 1997 NBA draft. Sure, the draft produced perennial all-stars Tim Duncan (#1), Chauncey Billups (#3) and Tracy McGrady (#9), but for every one of those guys, there are three Ed Elisma’s (#40), Bubba Wells’ (#34) and Ben Pepper’s (#55). Who’s to say that if I was chosen in the late second round I wouldn’t have made a better impact than a guy like 44th pick Cedric Henderson?
I was too short to be a forward, my high school position. My handle wasn’t strong enough to compete for a point guard slot, so basically, my only shot was to be drafted as a shooting guard – and my guess is I would have been picked somewhere around 46 – where Orlando took Alabama marksman Eric Washington. (Whose best year came with the Idaho Stampede in the NBA D-League in 2010).
Due to some late garbage time minutes, I estimate I would have averaged roughly 1.2 points a game… Which is more than draft picks C.J. Bruton (#52), Roberto Duenas (#57) and Nate Erdmann (#55) ever averaged in their careers.
The 11th pick of the draft was a guy named Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Nobody past the top 10 picks truly ever made a big statement in the NBA. Sure, Stephen Jackson (#42) was a key piece to the 2003 Spurs, Bobby Jackson (#23) was a sixth man sparkplug and Mark Blount (#54) was a dependable center for a few teams – but overall, 1997 was pretty mediocre… Even though I once bought into the ESPN theory that Jacque Vaughn (#27) would be the next Allen Iverson.
My own personal draft journey began after a two-game playoff run in the annual 1997 fraternity basketball challenge.
It was in a game against Pi Kappa Alpha. Their starting point guard tried to take me off the dribble to the left. I stuck my arm just above his bounce and poked the ball free into the open court. I ran after it, scooped it up and laid it in for the victory. My fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi had won our first play-off game in 10 years. In our next contest, we gave the brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon a good run, and I poured in 21 points. Ultimately, we lost on a late technical foul call when I got kicked out for calling the referee a “dickbag.”
It was after that game, while consuming a lot of Natural Light beer, that I decided to declare for the draft.
On draft day 1997, I sat on my mother’s couch with baited anticipation as the others had their moments. I ordered some pizza for my family. My mother thought I had lost my mind.
As the evening progressed, I had seen enough of the long, tailored mustard and pinstriped suits making their way to the podium to shake David Stern’s hand. I watched as guys like Tony Battie (#5), Danny Fortson (#10) and Antonio Daniels (#4) put on those crisp new NBA caps. I accepted the inevitable as the first round telecast came to an end.
The second round was only on the radio, so I sat in my Civic, listening in.
“And with the 48th pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, the Washington Bullets select Predrag Drobnjak from KK Partizan, Serbia.”
Really? A guy named Predrag was taken? Nobody could even pronounce his name. So what if he was a six-foot-eleven three time Euro League National Champion? I played on the frat tournament second runner-up team!
Most of the players from the ’97 draft ended up overseas, injured or, in Ron Mercer’s (#6) case, involved in a strip club assault or two. I was no different – except for the fact that I never played one minute in the NBA.
Then again, neither did Serge Zwikker (#29), Mark Sanford (#30) or Gordon Malone (#44).
I still think I would have had a shot.
Ed. Note: Zach Selwyn currently averages 15.2 points per game in his over 40-YMCA league.
By Zach Selwyn
Special to Nerdist Sports
Following my epic journey to New York City last September to cover the launch of NBA 2K18 – the most highly anticipated game of any sport title in recent years, my son dove head strong into the game with a fervor and passion like I’ve never seen before. He had become a beast at 2K17, but perhaps it was the 2K18 backpack and hat I was given at the event had made him want to earn virtual currency to upgrade his player and to finally “run the neighborhood.” As an out of touch dad, I had just become familiar with the controls for 2K17, so when I found out how much different the shooting controls were in the new game, my son’s LA Clippers quickly disposed of my beloved Phoenix Suns in a 120-65 drubbing. (Granted, playing as the Suns in 2K18 pretty much guaranteed an L, but he didn’t need to take me by 55 points…)
I vowed to get my game up and running, and I eventually did and our Win/Loss board, which started out with him and 11 straight W’s to kick-off the season slowly started tipping in my favor… I had become a beast, taking him off the dribble, throwing alley-oops and setting perfect screens for my man Devin Booker to pull up and yell, “water…” A father-son battle royal was officially born.
BUT, suddenly, a new game arrived and our father-son bonding was brought to a halt. All rise and welcome Fortnite. Suddenly, the screams of “Montrezl” Was replaced by my son yelling “Rez me” (resuscitate me) to his friends over a headset. Dad was suddenly no longer welcome in the TV room where the gaming console was set up. Llamas had taken the place of Lonzo’s. Skins took the place of Scalabrine and “Legendary Weapons” referred to something other than Larry Bird or Magic Johnson.
I was angry, at first, annoyed that seemingly an entire generation of boys had abandoned sport games for the Fortnite phenomenon. Suddenly, I was making him earn $25.00 to buy V-Bucks just to get a new battle outfit, or “rare skin.” Before, I was happy to have him build teams by opening packs on 2K, because as a lifelong sports nut, I loved building up my teams with him… Now, I was disappointed that this weird game about storms shrinking, Slurp Juice and Rockets… but not “James Harden” rockets… Just, well… rockets blowing people up.
I hated Fortnite.
The only thing that kept my son’s NBA addiction in the picture was the fact that non-stop videos of Gordon Hayward, Josh Hart and Karl Anthony Towns playing the game kept him aware of the game. We also went to an E3 Fortnite event where Paul George and Terrence Ross took some selfies with them after a 3 hour group battle with professional gamers who have made more money with a joystick than I have in my entire adult life.
“Llamas had taken the place of Lonzo’s. Skins took the place of Scalabrine and “Legendary Weapons” referred to something other than Larry Bird or Magic Johnson.”
But September 7th is right around the corner… and NBA 2K19 may just be the game that finally kills my son’s Fortnite addiction. Not only that, the number one draft pick is my man on the Suns, DeAndre Ayton… Might this be the year they make the play-offs for the first time since 2003?
“The Suns suck, dad,” my son said before loading up another game of Fortnite.
So, it is with great pleasure that I got invited to the NBA 2K19 launch event this year in Brooklyn. At a recent event in Los Angeles, I was able to preview the game and interview game designer Mike Wang who explained the small changes in the upcoming version… like a little red line that detects the defensive presence during an offensive player’s shot (letting you know it was a good shot). Wang also explained the overhaul of the one-on-one on-ball defender against a ball handler matchup which he said will make this “more of a game of skill from here on out.”
“People do appreciate that we are moving towards a skill-based game,” Wang explained. “You can now brag to your friends that you beat them with your moves, and that it wasn’t “the game” that beat them.”
The lay-ups have shot meters, the lucky shot factors are down and the days of pressing buttons and hoping for an easy three are over. Of course, it goes both ways and after enough game play, a 2K player can improve his skills the better he gets to know the game.
“There are a lot of big changes that I can’t really talk about today, but I think you guys are going to be really happy with it,” Wang teased.
My son is extremely happy. Since 2K19 was announced, he has been back to watching his heroes, Jesser and Cash Nasty preview the games and yell obscenities at air balls and bad pack openings… He’s back on the real court as well, and he constantly talks about how he is counting the hours for when he can pick up his pre-ordered $100.00 LeBron James edition of the game and start dominating me once again.
Then, as I chose to play with the other 2K cover athlete, Giannis Antetokounmpo, my son told me to expect Giannis to change teams the following year.
“It happened with Paul George on the Pacers, Kyrie on the Cavs, then LeBron… it’s the curse of 2K… every cover athlete changes teams the next season,” he said.
“Damn, man, maybe the Suns will sign him in 2020,” I said.
“Dad, the Suns suck,” he said.
“Not this year,” I said.
On September 7th, we can finally settle this…
*Zach Selwyn is currently hosting the TV show “Postcards From History” for the History Channel premiering in late 2018
Browsing the silent auction table at my kid’s Little League baseball charity day, I was prepared to put my money down on all the usual stuff. The $60 restaurant gift certificate that was available for half the price… The one-on-one baseball training sessions with an ex- Major Leaguer for my son… Even the autographed script of the cast of Stranger Things was appealing. But instead, I was drawn to the one seemingly out-of-place item in the auction… An autographed Lamar Odom NBA basketball.
I have never really been a Lamar Odom fan. I thought he was a gifted ballplayer in college and had some incredible years in the NBA – even winning two titles with the Lakers in 09-10 and taking home Sixth man of the Year in 2011… But he never really lived up to his potential. (A few marijuana busts, suspensions and even a weird incident where he disappeared before his final exams at the University of Rhode Island always made him a high-risk player…) However, due to some horrific family tragedies and the fact that he had to play with Andrew Bynum, I was always willing to give Lamar Odom a pass. Yet, I was just never really a fan.
Still, something about a Lamar Odom-autographed basketball was appealing.
Obviously, these days, Lamar Odom is more known for his Kardashian marriage and his drug-fueled exploits at a Las Vegas sex ranch than he is for his fairly respectable basketball career. His now legendary two-week hooker bender, drug coma and relapse made the covers of every tabloid magazine and for a minute, Lamar Odom entered that Charlie Sheen level of debauchery that most celebrities never seem to come back from…
That’s when I figured out exactly why I wanted that basketball.
I love celebrities and especially athletes who PARTY. I loved Sheen’s Two and a Half Men meltdown. I rooted for Josh Hamilton, worshipped the entire 1986 New York Mets cocaine-fueled roster and I may be the only person who truly respects Johnny Depp’s savagely impressive admission that he spends 30,000 dollars a month on wine. When Lamar Odom was found in that brothel in Vegas, I was immediately a bigger fan. Not because he had divorced a Kardashian, but that he bounced back from it with a massive orgiastic adventure that average men living average lives can only dream of… Somewhere, deep down inside, every man in America looked at Lamar Odom’s drug-and-sex-capades and thought to themselves, “Oooh, that sounds fucking fun.”
My winning bid was for $75.00. Online, Lamar Odom autographs range from $8.00 basketball cards to $399.99 official game used basketballs in designer glass cases, so I basically paid market price. This ball is not game used, but it is in a case that probably runs for about $50.00 retail. It looks great even though the only certificate of authentication is in the form of a handwritten Post-it Note sadly just reading, “Lamar Odom.”
One question remained… Who donated the ball to the Little League charity in the first place? Was there a Little League dad who worked with the NBA? Or was a sober companion? When I inquired deeper, nobody came forward with the admission, and I was left to assume that the ball was donated from a private collection by a dad whose wife was furious that her husband had collected such a womanizing drug-addled autograph… Meanwhile, my wife looked at it as it entered our house and commented, “You didn’t bid on the restaurant gift certificate?”
So now, in my very modest collection of NBA memorabilia, I have a Lamar Odom-signed basketball. Amazingly. More people comment on this souvenir than anything else I have collected since I was a kid. My Shaquille O’Neal signature? YAWN. The autographed Gronk jersey? Snooze. Even the Charles Barkley signed ball gets a fervent ho-hum from my friends when we have a few beers and look through the pathetic corner of my house that I refer to as my “Man Cave.”
But the Lamar Odom ball sparks conversation…
“Woah! Did it come with a hooker and blow?” is a common response. “Dude, hilarious – remember when he went on that bender in Vegas? I’d KILL for one night of that!” is another.
So as men, we drive the Little League carpools, do our best to support our families and every once in awhile we get together to drink beers and live vicariously through Lamar Odom’s signature… He may not be remembered for his Michael Jordan-like career or his Hall of Fame potential, but he will forever be respected by the members of the “live life by the rules” folks who will never have the balls to head to the Bunny Ranch with a bag of blow and a suitcase full of Viagra.
Here’s to you Lamar. I know you’re a survivor. As long as you’re out there living it up, men like me will toast your praises. Even if my wife is still bummed that I didn’t get the restaurant gift certificate…
Zach is happy to announce that he will be contributing humorous stories to Nerdist Sports – Here is his first one!