How successful was the first televised NBA All-Star Draft? The YouTube video and Twitter views and interactions say a lot about the league's power to generate storylines.

By Jacob Feldman
February 08, 2019

On Thursday night, the league that always tweets delivered a 30-minute crash course in how many storylines it has produced—and how quickly it can create new ones. In the second year of this format, the NBA televised the All-Star draft for the first time, with TNT’s Inside the NBA crew moderating. The league put the entire draft on YouTube soon after, where it attracted 500,000 views overnight.

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo took turns picking first from the eight starters before turning to the reserves, and nearly every pick came with an unspoken footnote for those in the know. If you’ve been following the league, you would recognize that two of James’ first three picks—Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard—are potential Lakers-to-be. Meanwhile, you don’t have to be a blog boy to understand the significance of LeBron selecting former teammate Kyrie Irving in between.

On the other side, Antetokounmpo delivered on his promise to pair up Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid. On Valentine’s Day weekend, those stars will either de-escalate their feud or somehow take it to a new level. Either way, it will be a story. James Harden might generate a few headlines too, whenever he comments on being passed over for Paul George.

James’s team seems far superior on paper. But that’s not what anyone’s talking about today.

Winners and Losers From NBA All-Star Draft: LeBron's Team Tamper

“Oh wow,” Antetokounmpo said, smiling, after James selected Anthony Davis. “Isn’t that tampering?”

“Tampering rules does not apply on All-Star Weekend,” James responded with a laugh before taking a sip of water. Studio host Ernie Johnson chuckled along with them. Tampering, you see, is the joke.

The moment has earned 527,000 views on Twitter, nearly twice as many as Rajon Rondo’s game-winner from later Thursday night. Clearly, the NBA runs on the daily thrum of 30 reality shows. But you already knew that. What fans saw Thursday was that the conflict might be equally artificial.

It’s worth remembering that this live draft was the players’ idea. James told Johnson last year that he thought the selection process should be televised. Chris Paul lobbied Adam Silver to make it happen. They knew that nothing could go wrong. No one would actually be offended by where they got drafted. No teammate pairing would be too volatile. A league-wide memo warning teams to respect their counterparts would be a topic of jest. The jabs would be feints, the bad blood merely ketchup packets and camera angles.

Thursday’s draft gave viewers a peek into the relationships that drive the league, the ones we obsess over, talking for days about a phone call, a cupcake, or an IG like. Turns out, they’re almost always for show. These are multimillionaires having fun with each other.

Increasingly, the NBA’s stars grew up in the age of the Internet, where irony is in the eye of the beholder. A good gif opportunity can’t be passed up, even if it’s not coming from the heart. Eventually, it’ll all be laughed about.

Hopefully the league and its players will take things to the next level in 2020. If they want to recreate the playground feel, why not have the draft right before the game? That way, we can see every All-Star react to the picks and the jokes in real time. It’d be fun, even if it’s not reality.

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