Remember the old days when there were some things that just couldn't be watched - and nobody much wanted to anyway? Remember when women gave birth without the presence of men? Remember when police chased murder suspects without network television coverage and play-by-play announcers? Remember when soccer was played in America in front of empty seats?
Remember when - and this probably sounds crazy - the National Basketball Association Draft wasn't a spectator sport? Honestly. Back around the time of, oh, the Civil War, nobody watched the NBA Draft. Nowadays of course the NBA Draft has become an annual rite of summer in which basketball junkies, having gone cold turkey for an entire week, get a small fix of hoops to get them through the off season.The modern NBA Draft is a major production wherein the following takes place: People gather in large groups around the nation to watch college students get employment. Probably you experienced the same thing when you graduated from college and large crowds gathered at, say, the college of business auditorium to watch prospective employers stake their claim to you and offer you boat loads of money to work for them, after which you referred them to your agent.
Well, the draft is the same type of arrangement. This year's draft was held in Indianapolis in front of 20,000 fans. If William Shatner had been there he probably would have given them some advice, such as "Get a life," but William Shatner wasn't there, and nobody said that.
"20,000 people came here to watch me put on a cap?" marveled one draft prospect.
Such is the hold of the NBA these days. Indianapolis wasn't the only site for such a gathering. Similar gatherings were held in NBA cities around the country, all of them tuned to Indianapolis via cable TV, with the proceedings shown on large scoreboard screens and explained to us by guys named Hubie and Ernie.
One of the smallest gatherings was the one in Salt Lake's Delta Center. That's because this was the year of The Great Wait. The hometown Utah Jazz didn't have a pick in the first round, having traded it away to Philadelphia last season for Jeff Hornacek. Thus, the Jazz didn't get a turn until late in the second round, the 47th pick overall.
If they had been choosing sides on the playground, the Jazz would have been forced to choose between the kid behind the Coke-bottle glasses and someone's little sister.
Given the talent of Hornacek and the Jazz's recent draft misadventures, the trade was definitely the way to go, but it did take the fun out of draft day. Only 1,500 fans showed up at the Delta Center, down from 10,000 during the years of the Stockton and Malone drafts and down from last year's 7,500.
The draft began at 5:30 and finished about four hours later. In other words, in the time it took to watch two rounds of the draft, they could have run a marathon or written a sequel to War and Peace or played an NBA game (the fourth quarter anyway).
But the Jazz did their best to make the show entertaining. They showed Jazz highlight clips and passed out free pizza. Scott Layden, the team's scouting guru, previewed the draft for the fans. During commercial breaks in the cable coverage, the Jazz interviewed coaches and other team officials on the big screen and Frank Layden turned his able wit loose as M.C. All it lacked was a girl to hold up cards between rounds, a la boxing.
But it was nevertheless a long, tough wait, even for the Jazz themselves. If someone had bumped the elbow that was supporting the chin of assistant coach Phil Johnson, he would have been knocked unconscious. Head Coach Jerry Sloan, who along with the rest of his staff had been studying the draft and watching film from 9 a.m. right up until the draft began, stared blankly at the TV screen.
"It's a long wait when you don't have a pick in the first round," he said.
The wait for pick No. 47 went on and on and on, while other teams grabbed the nation's best college players and Jazz fans dutifully penciled in the picks on scorecards and newspapers.
"Are you awake out there?" Layden asked the crowd at one point. He was just getting warmed up. "If you want to straighten up your shorts now, it's OK. We're family."
Only about half of the fans were there when the Jazz's big moment finally arrived at about 9:15. Scott Layden stepped to the podium and made the announcement: With the 47th pick of the draft, the Jazz were choosing Jamie Watson of South Carolina.
Jazz fans, who once booed the selection of John Stockton, applauded politely, if uncertainly. Watson might never wear a Jazz uniform, but after four hours probably no one much cared. The Great Wait was finished.