But the glee was short-lived.
The rules of the draft dictate that the respective winners of All-Star balloting in each conference, as captains, divvy up the other eight players selected as All-Star starters by votes from fans, players and media members. Once the starting lineups are in place, they’ll choose the 14 All-Star reserves, as selected by the coaches, one by one.
Yet it became clear in December that none of the potential draft drama anticipated by the basketball public would come to fruition, because none of us will be able to see the anguished looks on the faces of James and Curry when, say, they have to choose between a teammate and someone they’ve always wanted to play with from the other conference — o r the even more anguished faces of those waiting their turn to be chosen.
Imagine James faced with the prospect of deciding whether to draft or pass on Kyrie Irving after all that has transpired between the former Cleveland Cavaliers teammates over the past six months — and then having to field questions about how and why he made the decision.
Imagine James being forced to choose between Kevin Love — who has been so unfairly painted as a scapegoat for so many of the Cavaliers’ problems during their recent 4-11 funk — and his Warriors rival Draymond Green instead.
Imagine the size of the chip that would have formed on both of Russell Westbrook’s shoulders had James or Curry dared to pick another All-Star reserve ahead of him, with the world watching.
Imagine the tension, most of all, had the draft been packaged as a separate televised special — as the National Hockey League did three times between 2011 and 2015 — and how it would feel for the last two players waiting to be chosen.
Scrumptious is the word you’re looking for to describe any of those scenarios.
Even if the precise details of Thursday’s draft eventually leak out, as so much business in the N.B.A. does, it won’t be the same. Not being able to witness the real-time reactions of every player involved snuffs out any hope of a memorable spectacle.
There are three main reasons this draft, which initially inspired so much hope among hoop romantics that it could pump some much-needed life into the league’s midseason showcase, will be conducted behind closed doors:
1) The league does not want to risk embarrassing the last player chosen — or anyone else.
2) The league does not want to put the captains in a position where they might upset teammates by passing over them.
3) The players’ union objected. The union, presumably with considerable input from player agents, is the faction that actually put up the most resistance to letting all this play out in public. Some All-Stars want the draft televised, but some don’t. So the league acquiesced.
N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver has been left to do most of the explaining in recent weeks, saying in an NBA TV interview: “The goal was to improve the All-Star Game, not put a cherry on top of the cake.”
Michele A. Roberts, the executive director of the N.B.A. Players Association, declined interview requests this week through a union spokesperson.
The rampant tiptoeing around this whole thing is silly. It’s the All-Star Game. It’s a game, in other words, that doesn’t even count. Let’s hope Curry was right when he said last week that the new format still has its “training wheels on.” He predicted that the television element would eventually come to fruition.
Uncomfortable as it might be at the moment for an All-Star to be snubbed by a fellow All-Star on a public stage, for whatever reason, let’s not forget the wise words of Curry’s coach in Golden State. As Steve Kerr told us during the 2015 N.B.A. Finals, and has been fond of repeating ever since, he and the players get paid “a lot of money” thanks to “the intense interest worldwide in the sport.”
“With that,” Kerr often reminds us, “comes scrutiny and criticism.”
Kerr gets it. There’s a trade-off here. The N.B.A. is enjoying maybe the greatest period of broad relevance in its history, which has taken compensation to dizzying new levels, largely because the audience finds the league’s various personal interactions and back stories so intoxicating.
No sports league on Earth lays bare its innermost feelings — its feuds, grudges and animus — better than the National Basketball Association. When so much of the league, as well as its television partners, is profiting so handsomely from life under the microscope, why pretend otherwise?
Thursday’s draft simply isn’t the new format to implement if you don’t go all the way. The various relevant parties dishing up this frustrating tease would be wise to drop the charade and embrace the sport’s true identity here — pettiness and all.
Or try something else.