When the NBA Draft Combine rolled through Chicago this week, you could have mistaken the Second City for Beverly Hills. Strolling through Michigan Avenue's Westin Hotel where the draft combine's media activities were held, we encountered some of basketball's heaviest hitters, including the entire Chicago Bulls front office, Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars, NBA coaches Mike D'Antoni and Mike Dunleavy, legendary talk show host Larry King (twice) and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. And that was just the first hour.
During the actual interview sessions, a draft combine reporter gets up close and personal with every former college basketball star soon to be drafted in a couple weeks. Each player gets his own table in the conference room and journalists rotate like speed daters to obtain quality face time with everyone. Conversation is much more in-depth than post-game press conferences. It's about the big picture here -- no time to waste on the boringly banal queries from newspaper beat writers.
On top of the media grilling, NBA prospects face tougher inquisitions from the teams themselves. Arizona's Chase Budinger (projected 23rd) said he faced a psychological aptitude type test from the Bulls. He had to arrange blocks to match a picture they presented. NBA teams want to know if players are single, married, have kids. Multiple players had to reveal if they had a "friend with benefits." It's like a conversation with your prom date's father.
The NBA collects feedback from the league's scouts and personnel, and decides which 50-60 prospects gauge the most interest. The elite prospects are then invited to run work out, which includes drills and three-man weaves (this part is closed to the media). They also take more measurements than a Playboy Playmate, such as wingspan, vertical reach, height and weight (with and without shoes). This male version of a beauty pageant can be stressful, but also fun for the players.
"It's been real intense. It's been like a circus since I got down here, but it's also been real fun so far. To be around such a great group of players and unbelievable talent, to be fortunate enough to be in this situation, you can't help but feel excited and glad about what's coming in the future," said former Marquette guard Jerel McNeal, projected 42nd overall in an NBA Mock Draft.
There's only one thing certain about this draft -- Oklahoma's Blake Griffin is going to the L.A. Clippers at No. 1.
Griffin seemed to be enjoying his Windy City stay.
"Some of the restaurants have been pretty good. That's a big part of my life. But getting to meet people, different players and taking perspective and getting advice from them has been great," Griffin said.
Griffin said he's a big fan of Mike Ditka's restaurant, prompting another reporter nearby to endorse the steaks. Griffin then said he's not eating much red meat right now, but endorsed the eatery's seafood.
I guess you could say this is life in transition to the next level, where everything's meatier. and portions of everything are much bigger. So is the number of people watching you.