Is That Your Final Answer? The NBA draft raised a lot of questions but offered new players very few lifelines

July 09, 2000

Went to the NBA draft in Minneapolis last week and an episode of
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire broke out. Contestants eager to win
a fortune first had to qualify by answering a battery of
questions, each one easier than Carmen Electra. Among the
brainteasers put to high school star Darius Miles--by the Chicago
Bulls in a predraft evaluation three weeks ago--was this: "If you
have $4 and I give you $5, how much will you have?" An
incredulous Miles, whose anemic ACT score received widespread
publicity, replied, "Do you ask that question to everybody?"
(That was his final answer.)

Contestants could always phone a friend. So agent Arn Tellem,
self-confessed inspiration for the HBO series Arli$$, stood in
the bowels of the Target Center with cell phones affixed to his
cauliflowered ears and a bandolier of batteries on his suit. Told
that his cell phone of choice was rated the model most likely to
give its user brain cancer, Tellem cupped a hand over the lethal
weapon and said, "I know." Then, as if you had missed the point,
he added brightly, "I had seven guys taken in the first round!"

Finally, as on Millionaire, the Reege reigned supreme. Not Regis
Philbin, mind you, but "the Reege"--Philbin's monochromatic
preference in suit-shirt-tie combinations. Courtney Alexander, a
first-round pick of the Orlando Magic, was turned out in a white
suit-white shirt-white tie-white pocket hanky number that led to
the Oscar-night question, "Who are you wearing?"

"Willie Scott," replied Alexander. "He made one for my son, too."
Tugging at Alexander's pristine linen pant leg was three-year-old
Courtney Jr.--in an identical suit, as if father and son were Mr.
Roarke and Tattoo welcoming visitors to Fantasy Island. Which, in
a way, they were.

Difficult to keep a suit like that clean? "Yeah," sighed Courtney
Sr. "I got some lipstick on it earlier. It's hard to get out."
This reporter--wearing Tie Rack, a designer out of Terminal C at
Pittsburgh International Airport--gave a sympathetic chortle that
said, "You're tellin' me?"

Cell phones aside, lipstick stains were the most dangerous
occupational hazard at the NBA draft, which at times resembled
Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire. Two young ladies--hemlines
higher than J.R. Rider--begged a ticket taker to let them into the
sold-out arena. "Pleeease?" one of them singsonged. "We drove all
the way up from Chicago. Eight hours. Pleeease?" With that, the
usher gave them entry.

Still, the most compelling show-within-the-show is the league's
version of Survivor, in which 16 castaways are marooned in a
greenroom, each one wanting to be voted off the program by a
general manager, until only one miserable wallflower remains. So,
two hours after Kenyon Martin became the first to escape the
greenroom, 7'2" center Iakovos Tsakalidis remained in that
hellhole of hospitality. When he was finally reprieved--by the
Phoenix Suns, with the 25th pick--Tsakalidis forlornly made the
Stations of the Cross required of all draftees in attendance:
Shake hands with commissioner David Stern, submit to an interview
with TNT, chat on ESPN Radio, visit NBA.com TV, speak to print
reporters and to local television, and finally pose for a
portrait by the NBA's photographer. It's on this yellow-brick
journey that the draftee forever leaves behind the real world and
enters The Real World--a fishbowl existence of big houses,
beautiful people and unavoidable self-absorption.

One minute after his handshake from Stern, Tsakalidis was asked
about the Greek team trying to bar him from playing in the NBA.
Which is how--60 seconds into his new life as an American
athlete--Tsakalidis came to say the words that will serve him so
well. He said, slumped in a chair, in halting English, "Better
speak to my agent."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

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