#360USA: NBA draft – From ridiculous outfits to sublimely skilled

Steve Brenner 13:47 29/06/2015
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A kaleidoscope for Christmas: The incoming Cleveland Cavaliers Rakeem.

The basketball season is over, but the drama never goes out of style.

Anyone tuning in late to Thursday night’s NBA draft would have been forgiven for thinking a host of college rookies have suddenly switched gears and become singer-songwriters vying for a Grammy Award. Or, perhaps it was a highly anticipated contest for the “worst suit of all time.”

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You can take a slice of both and get close to describing the visual spectacle. Of course, there was some serious business being done by the also-rans who failed to reach the postseason.

For the record, the Lakers struck gold with D’Angelo Russell, the 76ers ensured the highly-rated and coveted Jahlil Okafor has joined one of the worst teams in the league, while the Knicks made their ever-irascible fanbase even more tetchy by signing a gigantic Latvian most have never heard of.

It was hard to wipe the smile off Kristaps Porzingis’ face. After all, he clearly got the memo about wearing a red tuxedo with black leather lapels, and can look forward to two year, $8 million (Dh29.3m deal in the Big Apple).

Yet, the real winners – or losers, depending on your penchant for fashion – were the designers.

When the draft was introduced in the 1950’s, the garments on show were more conservative. Yes, it was a night to shine, but everything was sensible. There wasn’t a spiked shoe in sight. No sparkling medallions either.

How times have changed. It was a competition to look the most garish. The wonderfully named Rakeem Christmas wore a multicolored jacket no one would want in December – or any time of year – while Frank ‘The Tank’ Kaminsky (below), now of the Charlotte Hornets, threw open his blazer to show – you guessed it – two embroidered green military tanks stitched inside.

It’s about making a statement but classy becomes gaudy in the blink of a stitch.

Away from the fashion faux pas, the event at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center epitomised everything that makes American sport so compelling and often bewildering.

Where else in the world would fans turn up in droves to watch their teams aim to sign players who have just finished university? The college system here ensures the likes of Russell,  No1 pick Karl Anthony Towns, and Okafor are already names in places other than their own households.

There is a production line which delivers rough diamonds who will soon be polished NBA wonders.

Imagine a Premier League draft: Leicester City are competing with Norwich for the best student players in the UK. No, neither can I.

The prospect of being drafted by one of the big guns is such a brilliant incentive for these players and one of the most heartwarming sights is to see them hugged by teary-eyed parents when their lottery tickets come rolling in.

It really is the stuff of dreams.

That’s why the pigheaded boos which greeted the Knicks’ selection of Porzingis stuck in the throat.

On the face of it and considering just how badly New York’s supposed finest stunk out the NBA last season, it’s a serious leap of faith by GM Phil Jackson who has already admitted the rakish 19-year-old may take two years to develop.

Jackson clearly sees the forward as a Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki-type figure. A host of scouts say the same. Considering Jackson could well be gone by the time he starts to make waves also ensured the tabloids here wasted no time slaughtering the decision.

Yet none of this is Porzingis’ fault. Unlike many others, this is a player who was desperate to join the Knicks. This is his dream ticket. Something he fantasised about from the first time he got those huge hands on a basketball.

And forget about the so-called fury of Carmelo Anthony. A man who insists there is indeed an ‘I’ in team. Melo’s decisions, which often involved millions of dollars, have always revolved around himself, so the moral high-ground he’s living on right now could soon give way.

“Carmelo is always on my mind. He’s our favourite son. At this point in his life, that’s the way it should be. But the second-most important thing is what we do for this franchise,” Jackson said. “And I let Melo know that.”

It’s highly likely that playing anywhere else other than in front of the impossibly hard-to-please New York public would have been a better fit. Yet, just like some of the suits on show, it was a night when not much made sense.

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