Even without the glitz and glam of a big arena's stage, the emotions were still running high for future basketball stars during the NBA draft.
Anthony Edwards of the University of Georgia was the No.1 draft pick, made by the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Atlanta native is nicknamed “Ant Man,” a childhood moniker that has stuck with him throughout the years.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” a teary-eyed Edwards said on ESPN. He told reporters: "This is a dream come true, a blessing."
James Wiseman of the University of Memphis was the No.2 pick by the Golden State Warriors, while LaMelo Ball, younger brother of NBA star Lonzo Ball, was third, chosen by the Charlotte Hornets.
Patrick Williams was selected by the Chicago Bulls at No.4, while Isaac Okoro rounded out the top 5 with a pick by the Cleveland Caveliers.
“With opening night fast approaching, this class of rookies will be challenged like never before,” said Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner. “Tonight we welcome the best of the best.
The draft comes just a month after the Los Angeles Lakers emerged victorious to win their record-tying 17th NBA championship in an unprecedented season, held in part in a strict bubble due to COVID-19 restrictions. Two-time Olympic gold medallist LeBron James led the Lakers, capturing his fourth NBA title.
Other top 10 picks included: No.6 Onyeka Okongwu by the Atlanta Hawks; No.8 by Obi Toppin by the Knicks; and No.10 Jalen Smith by the Phoenix Suns.
Eyes on the international stars
France’s Killian Hayes led the international picks, chosen No.7 by the Detroit Pistons. A lefty, Hayes also leads a French national team that has a bright future, the squad having already qualified for Tokyo 2020. His father, DeRon, played collegiate basketball at Penn State.
Deni Avdija of Israel went No.9 to the Washington Wizards, saying on TV: "It means a lot for me... Israel is a small country, we haven't produced that many NBA players. I want to get my game to the next level."
He added, addressing his home support in Israel: "I'm going to make you proud... I'm going to work 100 percent."
Outside of the top 10, international players were a hot commodity, with Serbian power forward Aleksej Pokusevski leading a flurry of picks at No.17, selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Nigeria's Precious Achiuwa went as No.20 to the Miami Heat, the 6-foot-9 (205cm) collegiate player from Memphis. Two picks prior, Josh Green, of Australia, went as No.18 to the Dallas Mavericks.
Leandro Bolmaro, a highly-touted pick from Argentina, went at No.23 to the New York Knicks, only to be traded to Minnesota. He said of being drafted: "This is like a dream… I can’t believe this. I want to enjoy this and be happy."
Moments of the night
Emotions were indeed running high throughout the evening, starting with Edwards, who lost both his mother and his grandmother when he was in the eighth grade, the two dying of cancer. He was flanked on either side of his couch by portraits of the women, whom he paid homage to in interviews.
Tears flowed for many, but especially Toppin, the Knicks pick, as the 22-year-old who played college basketball at Dayton was confirmed to be headed back to his home city, having grown up in Brooklyn. Toppin, who wasn’t recruited by top-level colleges as a high school player, helped Dayton (where he transferred) to a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament this past year.
Best dressed of the evening goes to No.12 pick Tyrese Haliburton, who was chosen by the Sacramento Kings. The Iowa State standout donned a light blue floral suit with a burgundy bowtie, and, inside the lapel of his jacket, an inscription with his hometown – Oshkosh, Wisc., – area code, 920, as well as “Black Lives Matter” on the other side.
The season to come
The NBA’s 75th regular season begins on 22 December with a 72-game slate versus the traditional 81 games. The season will be split into two halves, with the All-Star Break set for 5-10 March, 2021.
The playoffs will begin on 18 May, with the NBA Finals concluding on 22 July at the latest, on the eve of Tokyo, the Summer Games set to start on 23 July.
The schedule for the second half of the season will not be unveiled until the first half is underway, and both the Eastern and Western Conferences will feature play-in games for the playoffs, with teams finishing 7th-10th in each conference with the opportunity to make the traditional eight-team line-up.
More to come as the draft develops.