Feeding The Van Gundy: A Night at the NBA Draft

The unique thrills and overpriced beers of the in-person NBA Draft experience.
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They love their Not-Stern, these guys.

Illustration by Scott Henkle. Photos by Robert Attenweiler and Scott Henkle.

Scott: So, I know this isn’t supposed to be about the Cavs. And it won't really be about the Cavs. But it would be a betrayal of our respective Cleveland-ass brands if I didn't talk to you about Dion Waiters, briefly. I'm wavering between "He's like Dwyane Wade!" and "He's a non-shooting slasher who needs the ball in his hands paired with our gorgeously capable passing point guard who would like nothing more than drive and kick to anyone who'd like to stand outside and shoot."

Robert: Brian Windhorst did what Brian Windhorst just does, which is make me feel better about the world and my place (and Dion Waiters') in it. This doesn't make him a home-run pick, but sensing that the coach and GM's reasoning for the pick is sound is helpful—if there’s one thing I like in a draft prospect more than wingspan it’s sound reasoning (which, come to think of it, is not supposed to be Waiter’s strong suit). Zeller, I’ve liked for two years now. Mainly for his ability to score consistently around the basket… and for the fact that he could be cast as a Vulcan using the least amount of face putty in Star Trek franchise history.

Scott: I think the Tyler Zeller move was fine. But I have to say I am very afraid that Perry Jones III pick will reveal that the OKC front office has officially achieved Bellichikian genius. Given that the Browns are about to watch Robert Griffin III win 24 Superbowls after failing to turn a #4 pick into a #2 pick, it might all just be too much.

Robert: Zeller makes perfect sense for the Cavs, who currently have no post offense behind Samardo Samuels' enormous ass. I am worried that Zeller has "Chris Bosh shoulders," though. And, as we've discussed, "Chris Bosh shoulders" can be a compliment to a lady, but when used to describe a professional athlete not so much. He is about half a person too narrow.

Scott: Samardo did have that one really good game. I totally remember that. But I think it's a safe enough pick. Zeller can play this year, and Kyrie will make him better. The Cavs should probably win the title this year, or next.

Robert: Agreed. So, you and I now have our second NBA draft attendance under our belts. That's two summer nights spent in the gorgeous confines of the Prudential Center in the great state of New Jersey. Which seems weird now, since there is no longer an NBA team in New Jersey. Why do we like attending the draft so much?

Scott: I like this, and the rarish jerseys, and I like that it's effectively a blend between a television show and a comic book convention. Plus the beer is really expensive, which I assume means it's really valuable.

Robert: I like how we knew we were on the right PATH train because there was a guy in an Arenas jersey talking himself into the Ariza trade next to a guy in a Malone Jazz t-shirt. You’re right. We were basically going to Comic-Con NBA.

Scott: The Malone jersey guy had a very Comic Book Guy thing about him, which is safe to say because only everyone we saw at the draft reads The Classical. Except probably Ron Harper.

Robert: But it's one of the rare events that brings out basketball geeks (we'll just settle on that descriptor right now) from every team. We're so used to going to games where it's Team X's fans against a spattering of Team Y's.

Scott: That’s related to the other thing I thought last night when you were asking me. There's no stress. You might make a bad pick or move (and we might have) but that's years away from fruition.

Robert: You didn't feel stressed when we picked Waiters? Or when we traded the rest of our draft for Zeller?

Scott: This might have made more sense for me to say before the actual draft.

Robert: But, you're right, it's a different type of pressure. It's more "How am I going to think about my team going into the offseason" pressure. Which, for Cavs fans, is pressure. For, say, Spurs fans... less pressure. More like baseball when you can say, "Nice pick. See ya in six years when you're ready to be really good."

Scott: After the stress of being a contender during the LeBron years, which is stress I'd totally like to have back but which was not a negligible part of my emotional landscape, it's nice to kind of hang back and say “Hey, let's just see what happens.” The draft epitomizes that.

Robert: There's also the convention aspect. And after that, the thing the draft is most palpably about is being a party for the draftees' extended families. Or, at least, those who live in New Jersey.

Scott: The extended Kidd-Gilchrists reaction to his pick was wonderful. And let's not ignore the very tall soon-to-be-millionaire teenagers crying.

Robert: I guess this would be where we make the "you'd be crying too if you had to play next to DeMarcus Cousins " joke.

Scott: Sure, I guess. But there’s an element to being in the arena that shows how much the draft is for the players and their families (and obviously ESPN) and we get to sit and watch them all interact and stuff, and then do our own little ritualistic things, all of which is fun but sounds voyeuristic and creepy but maybe also what being a fan fundamentally is.

Robert: But we still treat this thing like a sporting event, which is not to deny its creepy, voyeuristic qualities. We put on our (outdated) team apparel, we drink a ton of beer, eat some nachos, we cheer and boo... and yet it's really just a bunch of people in a room doing stuff. There is a way in which this could all happen just as easily without us there as with us, but I was buying our tickets at 10am sharp, right when they went on sale. You said it earlier: we're watching a TV show being filmed. This is essentially watching a taping of "Cheers," but being able to raid the bar between commercial breaks.

Scott: Absolutely. I took at least seven pictures of that camera on the wires moving over our heads. I said to myself it was for my kids, but I also spent a lot of my time watching the steadycam operators and the ESPN guys when they're not on the air.

Robert: Fracshilla (who was right in front of us) just sat there and stared straight ahead between segments. Expressionless and not speaking for 20-minutes at a time. It was like there was a sniper trained on him.

Scott: Well, his name is Fran. It probably hasn't been easy for him.

Robert: On the other side of the room, Broussard and Van Gundy just can't wait to get to the pizza break. I heard one of them say in an interview how they cannot take bathroom breaks during the taping. I, myself, a journalist on assignment, took about 7. But what they do get is arena pizza handed up to them during commercial breaks starting at, like, the 20th pick. Delicious arena pizza!

Robert: I spent way too much time wondering whose job it was to make sure that there’s no sauce on their faces when they return from commercial. And do they get a warning so they have plenty of time to chew completely and swallow before the cameras roll again? Safety, people!

Scott: The Van Gundy-being-taunted-by-the-crowd thing is a wonderful ritual, and it’s best during the commercial breaks, when the fans chant his name until he puts down his pizza and points to them and everyone cheers. (For reference, here’s an on-air example from a previous year)

Robert: We get to make Van Gundy crack a smile or influence the flow of conversation in a way that we don't otherwise get to in televised sport-ishness. We get to see the league go about its business. Just like the polar bears in the Arctic exhibit. The difference? You can feed the Van Gundy.

Scott: You can feed it horrible pizza. I suppose it's clear already but the ritual of the draft is one of my favorite things about it. I go for the booing, the Van Gundy thing, and the over dramatic rending of garments whenever the Knicks pick. We didn’t get that this year because the Knicks picked late enough in the second round that we’d left (and, for the record, their fans still dramatically tore out their hair over this guy), but there’s always this contest to get on the camera by screaming “What are you doing!” and flaying yourself, without usually knowing anything about the pick. Everyone somehow knows all these rules of behavior.

Robert: One thing that seems worthy of emphasis, although it’s probably clear from the broadcast: the fans boo David Stern so deafeningly that in the arena you can’t hear his entire opening comments. Literally can’t hear them.And then I thought they'd fade, but the boos were there for every pick. And then at the end of the first round, when he announces Adam Silver will be taking over for the second round, there’s 45 seconds of riotous applause. And then Silver gets the ridiculous cheer every time HE comes out. I actually saw people bowing to him, arms out. Genuflecting towards the deputy commish. In Newark. We saw this.

Scott: Last night there was this beautiful moment when Stern came out and announced the Heat’s pick. The Heat logo came up and the booing started and was as loud as the beginning. You couldn’t hear him. And then it faded a little, and Stern acted like he was disappointed, and he paused and looked up and held the card out a little and raised his eyebrows to get it to start again. Which it did. And THEN he said “WORLD CHAMPION Miami Heat…” and the noise went to an astronomical level. It was a masterpiece of crowd-fucking-with.

Robert: And I'm proud to be part of it. Maybe that sums up going to the draft. Ridiculous and routinized though it is, it's also not simple, really. There's this television-show/friends-and-family thing going on in one area, and this “fan bonding” thing going on in another. The broadcast is about the basketball players, but going to the draft is about something else entirely, something odd but somehow ecstatic. In the most basic sense, it's a terrible event, as events go—15 seconds of happening followed by five minutes of not-happening/waiting. So, the fans have figured out rituals to fill in the gaps. And Stern totally gets this. And Van Gundy gets this. The players don’t. They’re there for a different reason.

Robert: If 14,000 hecklers—is that how many people you think were there? It seems right—showed up at your college graduation and got drunk and booed the school president and scooped nacho cheese from a giant corn tortilla hat and only reacted to you if you were the valedictorian or if they were just genuinely shocked that you’d graduated (or really wanted Political Science to take you, not English Lit…Not English Lit!), you probably wouldn’t care about their experience much. That day is supposed to be about you and they’re there making jackasses out of themselves. It’s fine, you’d probably think, but let me get this over with so I can sign my multi-million dollar contract, which, I should point out, we all sign after being selected in the first round by English Lit. But the draft is a forum for acting out our perceived connection to and importance in the grand scheme of something that we follow very closely and, as such, is both real—we paid money to spend time thinking about the futures of sports franchises while drinking expensive beer—and a construction, at least insofar as Dion Waiters and the Cavaliers do not care what I think, yell, hope or expect.

Robert: I guess all of which is to say see you next year, NBA Draft. I hear it’ll suck.

Scott: I'm in. /Starts booing


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