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Austin Rivers and Perry Jones III
With the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft winding down to a close, Perry Jones III's father noticed that the cameras were closing in on his family. After 27 players had been selected, many who were much less hyped and skilled than Jones, the Jones family wondered if this was their moment.
With the 28th pick, the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Perry Jones III, those aforementioned cameras there to pick up the family's celebration. It had been a long time coming for Jones. As his uncle hugged his mother, both with tears staining their cheeks, he reminded her that the struggling was over, telling her again and again, "it's all over now."
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The NBA Draft is a string of moments celebrating each individual draftee, their narratives highlighted as much by their parallel form as their startling difference. Just an hour earlier, phones started to buzz at the table Austin Rivers was sharing with his family. As soon as the Toronto Raptors selected Terrence Ross with the eighth pick, Hornets GM Dell Demps and head coach Monty Williams were texting Rivers and his father, Celtics coach Doc Rivers, to tell them they were bringing Austin to New Orleans. Rivers, a combo guard whose stock has steadily climbed over the last month leading up to the draft, had remained steady and calm throughout the process. He said repeatedly that he wasn't worried about where he'd be selected in the draft, only that he wanted to go to the right situation.
This mindset is a luxury that Rivers had because it's never needed to be about anything more than basketball for him. This doesn't make his accomplishment any less significant nor does it lessen the impact of the moment, though. If anything, Rivers has had to play through people already knowing his name, rise above expectations that were placed upon him because of who he was born to rather than what he was bringing to the table as a basketball player.
Not surprisingly, he has handled it all with class. That "right situation" that Rivers spoke about turned out to be pairing with Anthony Davis in New Orleans at 10th overall and it culminated in a very different journey with its own moment of singular bliss.The reality of Rivers' story is that it is different than the other 59 players who were drafted last night. He was the only player who had a baby photo shown on the telecast--an adorable shot of an infant Austin asleep on his napping father's chest.
During a commercial break, Stern walked over to the side of the stage to shake Doc's hand and congratulate him on his son's accomplishment. He didn't do this for the other 14 green-room invitees.
Despite this obvious differentiation, Doc's response to hearing his son's name being called was as emotional as every other parent in the arena. Standing up to embrace his son, whispering something to him, the tears started to fall. In that second, the stories of Jones and Rivers could have been interchangeable.
It served as a reminder that before and after everything that unfolded in Newark, New Jersey on June 28th, 2012, each and every one of these players has a story and as different as the individual journey might have been, each of those stories begins with being someone's son.
Jesse D. Garrabrant
Doc Rivers giving son Austin a hug upon his draft announcement.
He says the moment wasn't real until he actually heard his son's name called despite assurances from the Hornets coming in right there at their green room table.
"It's amazing," he says. "It's nerve-racking really. We felt that was where he was going, but you don't know it. Monty and Dell texted once Toronto didn't pick him, and they were like, 'We've got him.' Until they called the name...I've been in this league too long. It was really a cool moment. I've always gotten a rise from watching the others, just as a coach when you win it you watch how your players celebrate. For me the most emotional part was my wife and his brothers and sister."
One thing that is unique to only Rivers and his father is the draft night conversation that took place in the green room. Instead of the elder Rivers having to try to calm down his son, the younger Rivers threw daggers at his father, joking with him about facing off against his Celtics during this upcoming season.
"We talked about it at the table the whole draft," says Doc. "That's basically what we were talking about. A lot of trash going back and forth. Friendly fire. That will be strange, honestly. I haven't thought about that much until today. That will be different."
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Things will also be different for Terri Jones and her family. The Jones family will experience a much more substantial kind of different, though. Earlier this season, in an ESPN feature written by Jason King, we learned some of the struggles that Jones and his family had survived. His mother's health issues, bouncing around from one $70-a-week hotel to another, and trying to be strong for his family while continuing to pursue his hoop dream despite the distractions, Jones has had a path more rocky than most.
Helping to smooth it out is a mother who has only ever asked her son to seek out his own happiness.
Terri knows that her family no longer has to worry about financial burdens. She also firmly believes that even if this moment hadn't have come, she and her family would have found a way to be okay. As an announcer's voice boomed across the arena, telling everyone that Terri Jones' son had "lost a lot of money by deciding to return to Baylor for a second year," Terri couldn't help herself. Shaking her head vehemently, the only time there would be anything other than the overwhelming tone of gratitude in her voice she loudly declared over and over that, "it's not about the money."
This is something that the parents of a lot of professional athletes say. One conversation with Jones and it's clear that this isn't just something that is being said.
"Family is very, very important to him," Terri says of her son's devotion to his loved ones. "It's awesome for him to see him realize his dream. You know everybody was saying, 'Well, for him to come back the second year he missed a lot of money.' It's not about the money. It's not about money. If it was about money, he would have left. God has been taking care of us this long and he is going to continue to take care of us. We never depended on [that] money anyway."
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
Jones shaking hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern immediately after the Thunder officially picked him with the 28th pick in the first round.
More than the financial strain that's been lifted, she wore a smile of relief that comes from knowing her son survived their dark times and now has an opportunity to shine in the NBA. While Jones and Rivers were together in a back room getting fitted with team hats and and new uniforms for a whirlwind circuit of photos, television and radio appearances, Terri spoke candidly and honestly about her family. Introducing her brother Adrian she attempted to describe the joy she was feeling before letting the tears flow again.
Pausing, she embraced her brother and the two shared an extended moment of relief, breaking apart only when a family friend bombards them, crawling over the cramped arena seats to give a hug and extend her congratulations. When Terri is ready to speak again, she takes a breath and quickly exhales.
"Without my brother…" she trailed off, tears choking her words and making her have to pause again. "My brother's been my backbone. This is my best friend. He knows it. I have Brandy's song on my phone. My ringtone, when he calls it's "Best Friend" by Brandy."
Despite their struggles, the Jones family is an extremely tight-knit unit. This is something Terri made her priority early on.
"I grew up with both of my parents," she says. "My mom and my dad. All of my friends didn't have both parents and it was really hard to see that struggle for them. I didn't ever want our family to be apart. We've been great as a family. It's been hard and we've had our disappointments and agreements, but as a family we stay together."
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When Rivers spoke about his role in his son's success, he wasn't a coach talking about a basketball player, he was speaking as a father talking about his son. A job he made sure he succeeded in.
"I just think you've got to be a parent," explains Rivers. "I don't think you should coach and be a parent. I've always said that...I've always thought my job was to support him, pep him up when he's down and really try to enjoy it more than coach. The tough part, it is tough to watch. When I'm watching the game, I'm as nervous, I'm so much more calm in my games or when I was a player than watching your son."
While he acknowledges that it will be strange to coach against his son this season, he knows that their bond will always be the tie that binds.
"That'll never change," he says. "He'll call when he needs it and that's the way I want it."
While Jones and his family have had things changed for the better for the rest of their lives, Rivers and his family will now have two NBA franchise schedules to plan family events around. Despite the differences, these two stories are filled with hope and hard work, humility and grace. They are examples of parents loving their children and doing whatever they can to help them succeed.
This is what the draft is about.
It's not about the suits or the speculation or really even the situation that the player finds himself in. It's about the moment where everything changes for every person in attendance with that draftee.
It's prom night mixed with graduation day mixed with every other milestone in between.
Hidden behind the stage that each draftee strolled across to shake David Stern's hand is the unofficial celebration location. The stark, cold, concrete floors, and makeshift tents where photos are being taken to be immediately uploaded to each team's official sites, this is where the action is. It's anything but glamourous and yet, it's a beautiful blend of clusters of family members identifiable to each player only by the team hats perched haphazardly upon their heads.
There are mothers and fathers, siblings, friends, college and high school coaches mixing with grandmothers and girlfriends. Six-inch stilettos are being slipped off of sore feet, suit jackets unbuttoned and tossed to the side, shoulders finally at ease, laughter--no longer of the nervous variety--rippling through the air.
Tucked away behind the stage and bright lights, flashy graphics and television people in pretty suits and made up faces is the real beauty of the NBA Draft: The people who loved, nurtured and supported each of the 60 players who had dreams come true on draft night.