By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
They make him get up and draw a number for a free hat. Kidd puts down an egg roll and does as he is told. With that, last year's draft darling walks alone from the room, stopping just long enough to shake the hand of the bartender, who says he is a big fan. Kidd then walks past a pair of couples flirting by the petit-fours, down a corridor of vending machines, past the big instructional board issued by the concession company on how to pour the perfect snack-stand beer, and is finally spotted by two guys from Channel 11 who want him to do something at 9:20.
He politely informs them that he plans to be in bed at 9:20.
Upstairs, everyone passing the guards blocking the door of the War Room whispers--as though Donald Carter's got a ward full of high-risk preemies stowed in there, along with the hot dogs and kraut. As the number 11 pick is passed--miracle of miracles!--I gain brief admission to the inner sanctum.
Inside, Dick Motta, Sonju, and the rest of the coaching staff and top brass are all sitting down on one side of a huge table, like Bill Clinton and his cabinet. They are all side-by-side on one side--the Stepford staff. No one really smiles or frowns. It's almost like they aren't even breathing, just talking.
The feed from Toronto is at one end of the room. The TV, of course, is on.
Norm Sonju wears a headset. The receiving end is in Toronto.
For a while, Motta and Sonju, director of player personnel Keith Grant, and a bunch of coaches had been kicking Cherokee Parks' name around really hard. Sonju has gone through a pile of tissues. They did not believe Parks would make it to Dallas. They had charted him as the seventh pick--and were drafting 12th. So Arkansas' Corliss Williamson entered the discussion.
Now, as the Mavs prepare to state their intentions, I find Norm Sonju and Keith Grant folding their hands. Sonju talks into the headset connected to Toronto. For the first time, he says the Mavs take Cherokee Parks.
The rest of the world will know in about two minutes.
The NBA commissioner goes to the podium in Toronto, and begins saying, "The Dallas Mavericks take..."
Sonju pats Grant on the back. A few guys smile. But there is no sense of relief. There is still a lot of air to be exhaled in this room. "...Cherokee Parks," the commish says to the rest of the world.
The Reunion Arena crowd boos like Dallas has just drafted the Antichrist. Or at least the anti-Jason.
Maybe with good reason. Chemistry alone is enough to make you wonder how a surfer guy named Cherokee who lives in Greenwich Village will fit in with this regular-guy, pool-shooting, Nintendo-playing group known as the closest-knit in the game. Parks once dyed his hair burgundy, fergodsakes.
This is not to say Cherokee is without merit. His vital statistics--6-foot-11, 31 three-pointers last year, an average of 19 points and 9.3 rebounds on a crummy Duke team--are respectable.
But in the cynical room where the fajitas were long gone, and out on the floor of Reunion where the honeymoon is already over, the consensus is: "Oh God, not one more big white guy."
The second first-round choice is so-called "project player" Loren Meyer, whose mug shot bears an unfortunate resemblance to that of Timothy McVeigh. Meyer is a nice guy who has overcome some tough times in life. It is unclear how much he's good for in the NBA.
When it is over, they make Kidd talk to the press before letting him go to bed. "I got up at 6:30 this morning," he says, standing alone in the hall, echoing his theme for the day.
Motta and company come down to discuss the evening's events with the media. Cherokee Parks is on a speaker phone and no one will ask him a question. Finally a Mavs person asks him to sum up his feelings. He says how great he feels--just like he's supposed to say.
Finally someone asks if he is aware the Reunion Arena crowd booed him like the Antichrist. He says he'd rather be booed than ignored--a choice comment, nicely pulled from the book of sports cliches.
"This completely shocked us," says Parks, who was expecting to go seventh to Toronto.
Join the club, Cherokee. We're all still feeling a little like we've been hit by a bus--or at least by another big man. (But then again, Cherokee was still in elementary school when the Mavs took Uwe Blabb and Bill Wennington, so he remains unjaded by this memory.)
A guy passes out popcorn as Motta talks up this year's draft.
Last year's top pick is driving toward the bed. Cherokee Parks' long day has just begun.