The ride to Brooklyn was quick, just an hour drive from New Jersey. Barely any traffic. An easy ride past the Freedom Tower and over the Brooklyn Bridge. By that time, the jitters had begun.
Like the players about to be drafted, I was a rookie. I was about to enter a sporting event as media for the first time ever, and it was a big deal.
Iarrived at the Barclays Center and immediately walked towards the Dean Street Entrance which was where the passes were handed out. As I waited on line, some men in suits, who had obviously gone through this routine for longer than I have been living, gave me a somewhat dirty look that absolutely read, What is this kid doing here?
I guess a 16 year old teenager in line for media credentials was no everyday sight. After walking through the loose security checks, I made my way towards the table where two intimidating men sat on laptops ready to hand out the passes. I walked up to them, gave my name, and hoped that they did not ask for identification.
"Some identification, sir?"
I replied with a shaky voice, "I have none... sorry."
With an obvious look of anger and a quick eye roll, the man logged onto Facebook and checked that I was really me. Once he approved, I grabbed my press pass, admired it for a second and followed two NBA.com photographers down an elevator and through the lower level.
Walking into the main floor area was like a dream come true. I scanned the area, seeing Jalen Rose on his phone first. Then I saw all 6'8'' of Jay Bilas, and to his right was none other than Bill Simmons – my idol. I kept walking and saw Chris Broussard doing a report on Nerlens Noel. Ten seconds later, Bill Self breezed past me. Then Wesley Edens.
As I searched for my seats, still in shock from my surroundings, I noticed my fellow SB Nation writers, Jake Pavorsky of Liberty Ballers and All That Amar of SLC Dunk. Both were very welcoming and awesome guys to talk to. I looked around some more and saw, standing 10 feet away from me, Isiah Thomas, who was full of smiles and extremely friendly to everyone. I thought he was a Bad Boy.
Once I got over the fact that one of my favorite point guards ever was within two steps of me, I looked ahead and saw a man typing away on his laptop. He turned around for a brief second... WOJ. I nearly fainted at the sight of him. Adrian Wojnarowski's presence was too much for the people around to handle. I had to take a few steps back.
After talking to Jake and Amar a bit, I walked around for a few minutes shaking hands and admiring my idols. Since I had planned on interviewing, I decided to take a walk to the interview room. As I made my way out, Bill Simmons swiftly passed me. I knew this was my chance to talk to a member of the Basketball Gods.
"Hey Bill. I am a huge fan. I read your book, it was amazing."
"Well, I am glad to hear you enjoyed it."
His handshake was perfectly firm and his voice was even squeakier than I had imagined. Simmons was making his way to the bathroom so I decided not to be too weird and I headed off for the interview room. I camped out there until the start of the draft to catch a few words from Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker before making my way into the main event. While waiting, I ran into Tom Lorenzo of Nets Daily, who was equally as welcoming and awesome as both Jake and Amar.
I waited and waited and waited for the first pick to be announced. When I found out it was Wiggins, I thought, Well, they didn't screw this one up.
Twenty minutes later, Andrew Wiggins walked into the room with his breathtaking suit. Some reporters asked more than one question about how he was the second first overall pick from Canada and what that meant for the country. I finally got excited when someone asked.
"If you had to pitch to LeBron why he should come back to Cleveland, what would you tell him?"
I awaited a response that could potentially lead to a future story, but of course, Wiggins replied with a simple "If he wants to win like I do, then we will work well together."
After watching a Wiggins clearly eager to leave the interviews, Jabari Parker entered, teary eyed and all. Parker was much more humbling with his responses. Before Aaron Gordon could enter, I rushed out of the room to claim my spot in the main draft room. I took a seat next to Jake and two DraftExpress guys who were working on their mock drafts.
When Adam Silver honored Isaiah Austin, the arena went nuts. It was a great time in draft history, very touching, and I am glad I was there to experience it.
I sat through nearly fifteen draft picks listening to Woj consult the DX guys about who would be drafted. No player was a surprise with the wizard reporting right in front of me. As the Thunder's pick at 21 approached, I was ready to begin my post on who would be selected. I was waiting on Woj to turn around or tweet out who OKC would select so I could get a head start, but he had no idea. That was the only time I thought he was mortal.
Millions of things ran through my head as the final minute ticked down. I prayed on P.J. Hairston, as did all the other guys from WTLC. Adam Silver took the podium and I chanted P.J. Hairston ten times in my head until Silver announced... Mitch McGary.
Oh... okay. Not a bad pick. I love his tenacity, and at the time, I wasn't too disappointed. I typed up a quick post on McGary and sat through the next seven picks. I was upset about P.J. Hairston coming off the board at 26, and as the 29th pick approached, I decided I wanted Kyle Anderson. I'm a huge fan of his ability to move the ball as a big man.
Woj tweeted that the Thunder were considering Glenn Robinson III with four minutes left on the clock. I got a head start on a post about Robinson. After I was halfway done, I saw:
OKC will pass on Robinson, league source tells Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 27, 2014
I quickly deleted the post in time to hear who the Thunder selected. Silver announced Josh Huestis and my palm went immediately on my face. Amar laughed and the DX guys looked at each other a bit confused. Josh Huestis? It seemed like everyone at Barclays was confused because the crowd barely cheered.
Once I finished my post on Huestis, the Spurs were up to pick... and guess who they picked? Kyle Anderson. I immediately tweeted out:
Kyle Anderson: Future Hall of Famer since Pop is involved— Justin Danziger (@justin_danziger) June 27, 2014
I knew this was a mistake. Since the Thunder's picks were finished, I walked over to the interview room which was practically empty. After waiting around, I realized that the night was over for me.
Despite the disappointing outcome, the night was an incredible experience. I shook hands with the people I thought I would never see in person. And I got to cover the greatest sport in the world at one of the best events in the world. Thanks to Sherman and Zebulun for setting me up at the draft and letting me cover it for WTLC. Thanks to Jake, Amar, Tom and Seth Rosenthal for helping me out and giving me some veteran advice. I'll be going to the Orlando Summer League to check out our rookies and see if we hit the jackpot on one of these guys.