Draft Day, featuring the American Dream

Sam Joynt
July 9, 2009

Basketball, like life, is all about those few poignant moments that are miraculously able to overshadow all of the hard work, the sweat and the disappointment otherwise known as our everyday existence.

It is the anticipation of such moments that motivates us to get up each morning and to keep trying; keep striving for some end goal, some final solution or reward that makes life worth all of the work, the sweat and the disappointment.

More often than not however, the realization of such a dream fails to come to fruition and all that we are left with are memories of the work that went into the pursuit of a goal that we ultimately failed to obtain.

The draft is an unrivalled metaphor for the trials and tribulations that life throws our way, and provides society with a motivation that the likes of Hallmark will never be able to tap into. It provides us with a concrete example that all of that sweat can pay off, and that we can achieve the lofty goals that we have devoted tireless days and sleepless nights into obtaining.

The draft, as seen on TV, equates to the American Dream. It provides us with a concrete and visual reinforcement of the tireless adage “hard work pays off”, and thus acts to motivate us as spectators to work hard in our lives and strive for personal greatness in whichever endeavours that we so choose to pursue.

What we oft forget in making such an analogy is that we are merely watching the fulfillment of the dreams set forth by only 30 individuals; forgetting to even consider the squashed hopes and unfruitful anticipation of an inconceivable number of individuals who shared the very same dream. In all but a few cases, they are left with only the memories of the hard work and sweat they devoted to a dream almost instantaneously rendered a nightmare.

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That being said, those 30 first-round selections are but a representation of the opinions of a select few general managers and the needs of their teams. Every year players who go on to have solid, and even great, professional careers fall out of the lottery, into the second round and even go undrafted all together. All-star talents like Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas provide us with examples that the draft day selections of GMs league wide do not necessarily reflect the true talent order.

We don’t know, until we know. Ultimately, all of the speculation and projection just amounts to a systematic reduction of risk.

When Rod Thorn drafted Michael Jordan third overall in 1984 he didn’t know that he was going to end up being the Michael Jordan that we all know today. The statement that he was headed towards ultimate greatness on that day would have earned Thorn nothing but laughter from his accredited peers. How could this one player exceed the accomplishments of the likes of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, or even their great predecessors Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Oscar Robertson? The likelihood of such an outcome seemed astronomically bleak, yet still it happened.

While talents like Jordan and those listed above are once in a lifetime finds for their respective franchise, every year we witness projected first-round choices fall into the second round where every team has both had the opportunity to, and declined to select them.

These players are the true gems in the draft process. Their contracts are non-guaranteed and they are offered at substantially reduced rates to the teams which ultimately secure their rights. As projected first-round talents, they have shed the same blood, sweat and tears as those selected before them into their preparation process; usually falling short not because of lack of talent, but rather due to team needs.

With 11 of the 30 first round selections in this year’s draft being point guards, it became clear that many teams had identified their backcourts as in need of both a talent and youth infusion. While this resulted in second-round talents like Rodrigue Beaubois and Toney Douglas catapulting themselves into guaranteed contracts, it also rendered first round talents like Sam Young, Dejuan Blair, Chase Budinger, Derrick Brown, Patrick Mills, A.J. Price and Danny Green without the secure opportunity (and money) that they not only anticipated, but were advised by numerous sources they would receive.

While those selected in the first round may well go on to enjoy success in their own right, it is in no way ludicrous to assume that some of these players will excel greater than their higher paid counterparts.

Blake Griffin’s achievements may not be outshone by any of this year’s second round selections, but that’s not to say that DeJuan Blair won’t have a better career that Tyler Hansbrough, or even that Danny Green won’t have a better rookie campaign than Wayne Ellington. Once again, we don’t know until we know.

The hype often outshines the final product. The dream is bigger than reality, and the frailty of dreams are immeasurable and always uncertain. Aforementioned second round studs like Arenas and Lewis are prime examples that the dream should not end on draft night. These players, like those who fell out of the first round this year, had their dreams seemingly shattered too, but instead of giving up they put in more sweat, more blood and more hard work.

Ultimately, they are max contract all-stars despite their draft day status, and so too can be those who slid this year.

As the metaphorical link between the draft and life continues to make more and more sense, we are able to relate far greater to the underdog than the prodigal messiah. Freak talents like Blake Griffin are not the norm, nor do their paths to greatness equate closely to those taken by the majority of us on our journey towards our own personal dreams.

The best that the rest of us can hope for is the second round. It’s the American Dream meets the real world. Nothing comes easy, but that does not mean that it is unattainable.

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The Author:

Sam Joynt