New York, June 22. The curtain has not yet risen on the Barclays Center, a modern basketball hall whose patinated steel facade symbolizes the renewal of the Brooklyn district. The eye never rests in this arena saturated with lights and giant screens. Neither does the ear. The crowd of 17,000 spectators, heated by beer, maintains a hubbub of impatience, against a backdrop of hip-hop. In less than an hour begins the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, the annual evening during which the most promising talents in international basketball are chosen to join American clubs.
Twenty-five players, accompanied by their families and agents, occupy the greenroom, offered to the gaze of the public, in front of the stage. A term borrowed from the actors’ waiting rooms, from the theatre. It is “the” evening of their (young) life – they are all between 18 and 22 years old. Months, years they wait to join the most prestigious basketball championship in the world.
The invitation to sit here rewards their prowess but does not represent the end of the road: they must still be selected by one of the league’s thirty franchises – a term used across the Atlantic to designate clubs. According to tradition, the worst-placed teams during the past season, then ranked according to a weighted lottery, have the opportunity to pick the first from the list of candidates. A way of rebalancing the forces present each year.
Exotic from a European point of view, the show is an essential event in American sports culture, as old as the NBA, whose creation dates back to 1946. It also exists in baseball, hockey or football (in its version from across the Atlantic). A sort of rite of passage for aspiring professionals, invited to follow one another on the stage, like graduates fresh from university, to be presented with a cap bearing the logo of their new employer.
Crying, hugs… the empathy machine is then running at full speed, live on the sports channel ESPN, as well as on ABC, one of the three main networks in the United States. The opportunity for these future millionaires, invited to present themselves in civilian clothes, to display their taste – often flashy – for undermining and rhinestones.
This 2023 edition could go down in history for reasons other than an affront to elegance. The explanation lies in one name: Victor Wembanyama, whom the Texas team of San Antonio Spurs chose in first position. Never had a Frenchman been selected at this level. Above all, the potential of the young man of 19 years feeds all the fantasies. Experts have been wondering for months: is he the most anticipated player in NBA history, the equivalent of a Michael Jordan or a LeBron James? The unprecedented talent of this 2.22 meter giant, who can shoot, dribble and run like a “small” 1.90 meter, will he revolutionize the game? The answer doesn’t really matter. The only thing that counts is waiting, this engine of desire.
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