Eleven years ago, a league commissioner stepped to the podium at Madison Square Garden in New York City and changed my sports life forever. Thursday night, another league commissioner stepped to the podium at Madison Square Garden in New York City and changed my sports life forever, again. Oddly enough both changes have landed me in the same place. Eleven years ago, it was Paul Tagliabue when he announced that the Indianapolis Colts had selected Peyton Williams Manning with the 1st pick in the 1998 NFL draft. Thursday night, it was David Stern when he announced that the Indiana Pacers had selected Andrew Tyler Hansbrough with the 13th pick in the 2009 NBA draft. The NFL draft has since moved to Radio City Music Hall, but Madison Square Garden seems to be the place where people change my life. Either that or the state of Indiana, and specifically the city of Indianapolis, is targeting its census growth towards me via professional league drafts.
Many years ago, I was a big NBA fan…a Chicago Bulls fan like nearly everyone else in the free world. But it wasn’t just Michael Jordan. Oh no…I had a Scottie Pippen jersey, and I knew every single player’s name. I watched the parade rallies after every single one of their championships. But sadly after the team was broken into pieces, it wasn’t the same and I cast the NBA to the side. I stuck around in May and June every year to see the playoffs and who won the championship, and I paid attention to where former Tar Heels were playing, but other than that, I was just a casual observer. Thursday night, I knocked on the door and asked if I could return to the party right around the time Tyler Hansbrough took the finals steps of his college career, which you see in the above picture.
For four years, all I ever heard was that Tyler would be a mid to late 20s pick. That he’d be a player a team would find valuable in practice but not really helpful in a game situation. That his game wouldn’t translate to the NBA. That all remains to be seen even though (God help me) I share the opinion of Jay Bilas who has been one of Tyler’s biggest cheerleaders against the naysayers. Until then, that player who can’t possibly be successful in the NBA was a lottery pick at lucky number 13.
Leading up to Thursday night, I had read a few reports during the pre-draft combine and the individual workouts with various teams. It was comical to me as I read comments from league scouts, coaches, and executives who were just beside themselves with shock over his combine measurements and his agility tests and his workouts. He was so much more than they thought he was. Like Coach Williams, I keep shaking my head and laughing. Most mock drafts had put him in the 12-20 range. Some even had him going into the second round, which really made me laugh. But by the time the actual draft rolled around, it had narrowed down to a lot of buzz about the Utah Jazz, two workouts with the New Jersey Nets, a long forgotten interest by the Chicago Bulls, and a solid workout with the Indiana Pacers. In the end, I just wanted him to go to a team that would appreciate him, would help him become an even better player than he already is, and would be the best fit for him. I think he has found just that in the Pacers.
His new teammates, his new coach, and his new front office staff (which includes former Tar Heel National Champion Sam Perkins) seem to think the world of him despite some very hateful comments by so called Pacer fans. Larry Bird (president of the Pacers) especially appears to think he’s going to surprise a lot of people and prove a lot a people wrong even though Larry doesn’t really think he has anything to prove. You see Larry Bird experienced some of the same criticism when he was drafted, and well, his career wasn’t too shabby.
Really no matter what you might think about Tyler’s game, he has worked his entire life to get to this point, and he deserves this moment and the benefit of his doubters. Four years ago a scrappy teenager enrolled at North Carolina. He didn’t look like much and the critics didn’t think much would ever come of him. Four years later, that same scrappy teenager has become a muscular power forward bruiser with an incredible control over his body and is the leading free throw shooter in NCAA history, the leading scorer in ACC history, leading rebounder in the 100 year history of Carolina Basketball, a former consensus National Player of the Year, and a National Champion. And now, he’s a lottery winner. Watch his Introductory Press Conference.
Other Tar Heels drafted on Thursday night:
Tywon Lawson was drafted #18 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but was traded to the Denver Nuggets where he will back up and learn from one of the best point guards in the league, Chauncey Billups and be coached by former Tar Heel George Karl.
Wayne Ellington was drafted #28 by the Minnesota Timberwolves where he will apparently wear #19. The Timberwolves have a crush on National Champion winning Tar Heel shooting guards as they chose Rashad McCants in the 2005 NBA draft.
Danny Green was drafted #46 by the Cleveland Cavaliers where he will join what is sure to be the most entertaining team next season as they had finalized a trade to get Shaquille O’Neal the morning of draft day. Former Tar Heel Jawad Williams from the 2005 National Championship team also plays for the Cavs.