It was getting late. Well after 11 p.m. Wednesday night. The assembled members of the media thought Brendan Haywood
's second press conference of NBA Draft 2001 was over and were starting to leave the room. "Not yet," said pick No. 20, smiling. "The guy in the crazy red suit still has a few questions."
The press turned to see a bespectacled, wild-haired reporter in a garish red-and-white striped blazer scurrying frantically to the podium to ask Haywood a few questions. The writer looked like an accountant in a clown suit moments before the filing deadline. He was practically knocking over chairs to get to the seven-footer. The scene was comical, and met with laughter throughout the room.
Haywood started his night as a Cavalier. Ray Amati/NBAE Photos
Most importantly, however, Haywood himself was grinning from ear-to-ear, beaming even. This was a far cry from his mood a few hours earlier, when the 7-0 center's future had yet to be determined. But such is the Draft experience, where a player can go from uncertainty to unchecked glee in less time than it takes to drive a city block on the island of Manhattan.
Haywood started NBA Draft 2001 at Madison Square Garden in the Green Room, assembled in the area with this year's other top prospects. All were waiting for their moment on stage when they would find out which franchise had selected them, shake hands with commissioner David Stern, and embark upon their NBA careers.
TV cameras captured the joy on each newbie's face as his name was called and posted on the billboard-sized draft board high above the stage. A new beginning was heralded with each announcement. Optimism reigned supreme.
At the same time, the cameras also panned to the faces of players who hadn't been chosen yet. On these players' faces was a mixture of apprehension and uncertainty. Haywood was one of these players.
He waited for what seemed like an eternity as every other player assembled in the Green Room made the trip to the stage before him. He watched high-schoolers who had never set foot on a college campus go before him. He watched players that had played at programs with far less esteem than his own go before him. He watched players that he had outplayed on the court go before him.
He sat and continued to wait. As the end of the first round approached, the disappointment was apparent on Haywood's face. He was the last player left in the Green Room. This wasn't supposed to happen to a college senior who played on one of the top college programs in the country. This wasn't why he made the trip to New York.
Finally, with the 20th pick of the night, Haywood's name was called. The Cleveland Cavaliers had drafted him. This surprised Haywood. He hadn't worked out for the Cavaliers, and they hadn't expressed any interest in him. The Cavaliers had also used the eighth pick of the night to take DeSagana Diop
, a 7-0 center who essentially plied the same trade as the former Heel. But Haywood had been drafted. Finally. At last, he made his way onto the stage and out of the Green Room.
"Some of the guys that went before me, I was surprised, but it's not where you start, it's where you finish," a game Haywood said from his first press conference of the night. "I'll remember this for the rest of my life."
But Haywood was caught off guard at this point. His face showed it as he addressed the media. Things had not gone as he had planned, and he was jolted. More than anything, however, he was relieved just to be picked and to have a team to call his own.
And Haywood finished a whirlwind 24 hours being introduced as the latest member of the Magic. AP Photo
Haywood had an inkling that a trade might be in the works. The rumored swap had him going to the Orlando Magic, a team that he had worked out for. A team that he felt needed a player with his skills. A situation that made more sense.
Haywood went through the first rounds of TV interviews as a Cleveland Cavalier. He spoke of his future in Cleveland, and his future in the NBA. A future that didn't necessarily make sense, but a future as a professional basketball player nonetheless.
During his interviews, the contradictory mix of relief and incertitude was palpable on his face. He did his best to put a positive spin on the situation, but he was still wondering why things developed as they had. Why did Cleveland pick him without working him out? Why hadn't they even called him after picking him? Why did he still feel slightly unwanted?
The answer came moments later. A trade was announced. The Cavaliers have traded the draft rights to the 20th pick of this year's Draft, Brendan Haywood, to the Orlando Magic for center Michael Doleac.
Suddenly Haywood's night started making sense.
Cleveland has a young nucleus and a new, enthusiastic coach in John Lucas. Orlando is a playoff team with two of the league's top players in Tracy McGrady
and Grant Hill
. Haywood made it clear that he would've been happy with either club.
"I was happy to be picked by Cleveland, I was glad they picked me," said Haywood. "But being traded to Orlando is great ... Orlando was my favorite team coming into the draft. I was ecstatic when I heard."
Why was Haywood so ecstatic? Because he understood his role with the Magic. He'd worked out with them, and discussed their need for a big man. He knew what they had planned for him. With Cleveland, his future was uncertain. Where would he have fit in on a team with three seven-footers (Diop, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
and Chris Mihm
"Right now I'm probably the happiest player in the Draft," said Haywood during his second press conference of the night. "I'm playing with great players on a team (Orlando) that needs four-five help. I couldn't ask for a better situation."
Maybe there were other factors as well. Maybe Haywood, who is from North Carolina, was excited to stay in the South ("Once I found out, I called some friends and told them, 'Don't get ready for the cold weather just yet, we might be headed down South.'"
). Maybe he knew a little more about his future teammates in Orlando ("Darrell Armstrong is a very good friend of one of my former teammates, Jason Capel."
). Maybe it was all of this put together.
But at this point, Haywood didn't care. He had run the gamut of emotions in the span of a few hours. He was just relieved to have some closure to his night. His Draft had been a wild trip to say the least.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride," said Haywood in retrospect. "I'm in the green room, I'm about to be drafted, then I'm sitting around, I'm a little disappointed, then I'm finally taken, so I'm happy again with this new opportunity. Then I find out again that I'm traded to Orlando, and I can't be any happier because that's where I wanted to go the whole time."
The happiness showed on his face as he spoke to the media. Haywood smiled and nodded, fielding questions with the ease of a veteran, not a rookie-to-be.
And this was when the frantic reporter in the red-and-white sport coat entered the room. This was when a playful Haywood turned the attention away from him. This was Haywood saying that he didn't want his night to end after he couldn't wait for it to be over. So he told everyone to hold on while this guy got his turn.
Later, after the second press conference had wrapped, and the Magic's newest big man made his way down a back hallway to his second round of TV interviews, the playful seven-footer joked with reporters and league employees in the wings. On his head were two baseball caps. One, an Orlando Magic cap, was pointed forward. The other, a Cleveland Cavaliers cap, was facing backwards.
Haywood was forced to wear two hats Wednesday night, naturally a signifier of a muddled situation. Two teams, two conflicting moods, two press conferences. But in the end, Haywood ran with it, made the best of it. And he even had a little fun along the way.