By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
But what you don't know is that it takes a lot of food--and several full platters of boredom--to bring rookies to Dallas to play basketball.
This is the part of the NBA draft you'll never see. This is where Norm Sonju's sweaty Kleenex meets the road--to the NBA.
At 5 p.m. on draft day, the media parking lot is full. Two years ago, this team couldn't have lured such a crowd to a hacks-drink-free night at the Million Dollar Saloon.
Deep within Reunion, Mavs owner Donald Carter has laid down a mandate: there shall be no fancy food in the War Room this year--hot dogs and kraut only.
In the "sponsors room," the dark and fancy place for people from the companies helping bankroll various facets of the Mavs' activities, they are eating, too. Sponsors, of course, are eating real food.
But in the war room--this year--it's all business. "Mr. C just decided he wanted hot dogs this year," explains media relations director Kevin Sullivan. "Usually it's the good stuff in the War Room--beef Wellington."
The War Room, of course, is the inner sanctum, protected by two bouncers, where the Mavs execute their NBA draft battle plan.
A few thousand fans also have turned out to watch the feed from Toronto on the big screen. Most are season ticketholders eating from a buffet on the floor of the arena. But admission is free, and the crowd wanders between the seats and the snack stands.
Downstairs, the reporters are pigging on spicy fajitas. Heads look up from plastic plates at 6:30 p.m. to see a guy on TV in a Raptors suit--for the new expansion Toronto Raptors--sliding down a wire.
Yes, the NBA draft has begun.
"Live, from the shores of Ontario," goes the TV voice from a green room somewhere--the holding pen for the expected top draft choices, who will be brought out after their selection.
At Reunion Arena on this day, there is no green room--just a guy in a green suit in the blue locker room. Last year's draftee of choice, Jason Kidd, is sitting alone on a trainers' table in the Mavs locker room, dangling dress-shoed feet like a little kid and wishing he didn't have to do anything but sit until 8:30 p.m., when the Mavs will make their pick.
The original plan was to drag Jason out onto the floor of Reunion to address the common folk. But with so many fans on the floor level, says Sullivan, the team worried the crowd might push in and Who-concert to death the future of the franchise.
It's just as well with the NBA co-rookie of the year. As Jason could tell the future Mavs' choice, it takes way the hell too much energy to be an NBA star. A visitor asks him if he played golf today. He says he was too tired. "I feel like I just woke up," Kidd moans.
Tony, a media relations herdsman, tells Jason that they need him to schmooze with the sponsors in the big room full of the good hors d'oeuvres. He mutters something under his breath--an exhausted "shit."
Marla walks in, asking him to sign some stuff for fans. "I can't watch the draaaaaft," he whines, sounding more like a weary high school kid during dead week.
Jason, Marla declares, you haven't signed stuff for me since April.
He begs to just sit there just long enough to see who Minnesota picks.
At 7 p.m., Jason rises to turn up the TV as the Timberwolves select Kevin Garnett, the high school kid. It is suggested that Jason will finally have someone his age to play with.
The weary NBA star laughs. The inevitable can be avoided no longer; Jason has to go meet the sponsors. He's just so tired. Tony assures him he won't have to "walk through people."
In the press room, there are now enough empty plastic cups to recycle into a swimming pool. But no media boozing here: since "Mr. C" doesn't allow drinking in the press room, they are empty Diet Coke cups. Everyone is here to watch the draft--which has so very little action to watch. "We started having this last year," says Sullivan, "because of Jason Kidd and all. But this year there were more requests from smaller markets like Sherman and Denison."
Portland picks Shawn Respert at number eight. His momma and sister are bawlin' on the TV. In Dallas, the big pick is just four away.
Downstairs, as New Jersey picks Ed O'Bannon at number nine, Jason Kidd gets a plate of these little bitty corn dogs and taquito things and slips into a seat at the least-threatening table in the dark sponsors' room. Three women make small talk as he nods politely and gnaws on the food.