Since they held the number one overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the Washington Wizards have selected five players in the lottery: John Wall (2010), Jan Vesely (2011), Bradley Beal (2012), Otto Porter (2013) and Rui Hachimura (2019).
Four straight years of high lottery picks, 1st, 6th, 3rd and 3rd, respectively since 2010, paints a picture of a team stockpiling what they hoped would be franchise cornerstones and building blocks. Four years of rebuilding lead to some memorable playoff pushes — namely coming within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017 —but the fall back into the lottery last year put Wizards fans back in a familiar spot.
When the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery was held on August 20, the Wizards received the ninth overall pick for the second consecutive year. One year prior, newly promoted General Manager Tommy Sheppard selected junior forward Rui Hachimura out of Gonzaga University.
During his post-draft interview, Hachimura described the emotions of being the first-ever Japanese-born player drafted to the NBA. “It’s crazy. It’s unreal. It means a lot for me, my family and the whole of my country. I’m so thankful.” He then was given a moment to speak to everyone back home. With a wide smile on his face, he said, in Japanese, “I’m the first guy in the NBA to get drafted.”
Hachimura’s story of resiliency, one of speaking no English when he came to the United States, is a story shared by so many young players whose dreams are realized on draft night. For fans, the draft is a source of hope. It is an optimism that one’s team has just drafted a future All-Star or All-NBA candidate.
The night is scripted: commissioner Adam Silver, and the late David Stern before him and so forth, emerges to the metallic overture indicating that the pick is in. The commissioner walks to the podium to begin the famous, “With the (insert pick) in the (insert year) NBA Draft, the (insert team) select (insert prodigious player).
Fans wait with bated breath, hoping for player X or Y. Regardless of the outcome, when the pick is announced, exhilaration, disappointment or confusion are all perfectly acceptable reactions. The cameras pan to the draftee to witness hugs, kisses and handshakes. The player walks to the podium, grabs his new team’s hat and embraces the man who just called his name.
The draft ritual is all too familiar — a highlight montage is followed by the outlandish and often wildly inaccurate player comparisons — yet entirely unpredictable. Fans know how the process will work, but the outcome of which player will be the next member of their team is always a mystery.
When the cameras start to follow a player, just imagine what must be going through their minds as they walk across the stage, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver beckoning, lights flashing and people cheering. Walking to the podium with a newfound swagger, the draftees officially start their journey of becoming a member of an NBA franchise.
The accolades that have followed players since they first started dribbling a ball and that got them to the NBA are now meaningless as they work into the most competitive basketball league in the world. Once they walk across that stage, the real work begins.
For as giddy as fans become anticipating the draft, it’s important to remember that this night means a great deal more to the players and their families. When a player’s name booms over the speakers, throughout that year’s venue, what always is memorable are the emotions exhibited by the newest member of the NBA and their loved ones.
Hearing one’s name called is the culmination of endless hours in the gym and on the court that have led to the actualization of a lifelong dream. In 2012, after the Wizards drafted him with the 3rd overall pick, Bradley Beal, who also was celebrating a birthday, reflected on what the moment meant to him.
“To actually achieve my dream and my goal is a blessing and an honor,” he said. “I’m grateful right now, but I can’t stop here. I’ve got to get to work.”
After walking off the stage, fans get an opportunity to “meet” the player and are introduced to their personality. For the Wizards’ 1st overall pick back in 2010, John Wall, he was a player who exuded confidence and had a palpable drive to succeed.
“I feel like I had pressure since I became No. 1 in high school and was one of the top players,” he said. “I always got there hungry wanting to fight hard and compete in every game, so when I step on the court I’m going to take on any challenge there.”
While the endless media maelstrom eventually, maybe even inevitably, frustrates even the most professional of players, the novelty is still very much enjoyable as a newly drafted player.
“Honestly, I enjoy [the questions],” Beal said on draft night. “It’s a once in a lifetime type thing, so you gotta live it up and enjoy it all. Right now I’m enjoying it all and I’m not getting tired of all the questions.”
From the draft, everything takes off. Interviews, photo sessions, endorsements, jerseys, training camp, debut game and, of course, an immense amount of hype should one be a lottery pick. Which brings us to Wednesday night. While the NBA is first and foremost a business — a multi-billion dollar industry — let’s focus on the human aspect of the draft.
Let’s let the personal moments warm our hearts. Observe the emotion of family members who have sacrificed just as much as their child. Understand, no matter how a certain player’s career pans out, the achievement of making it to the NBA — or being one of only three in 10,000 hopefuls to walk across that stage.