Draft Season: All-American, Twisted And Downright Infectious

May 7, 2014
Originally published on May 7, 2014 1:08 pm

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, there is now a fifth season in major American team sports to go along with baseball, football, basketball and ice hockey. Well, it's sort of an adjunct season, but it's very real and is passionately followed by die-hard fans. It is the draft season, which begins tomorrow with the NFL and extends through late June, when the NHL holds its draft. The NBA and Major League Baseball hold theirs in between.

Fans love real draft days.

The sports draft is wonderful because it's both all-American (a fresh new morning for everybody) and socialistic (with a division of the spoils, but the proletariat getting first dibs). In fact, the draft started in the Depression, when the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles persuaded his colleagues to institute a selection of college players, operating with a procedure based on what Jesus himself said: "The last shall be first." (So, the draft is the epitome of Christianity, too.)

Of course, because the worst teams get their pick of the litter, this leads, as it surely did in the NBA this season, to the worst teams kind of sort of losing on purpose. Bad form, but old strategy. As a consequence, the NBA has a weighted lottery for the bottom feeders, so finishing dead last only guarantees you the best odds at the first pick. Sort of "socialism-plus."

For me, the strangest aspect of the draft is the experts, whose advertised expertise it is not to rate the best players, but to predict how the teams will rate them. Invariably, then, if some team has the courage to defy the conventional wisdom and dare choose a player it independently admires, all of the experts have a fit, and the fans boo. Never mind that someone like Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, was overlooked till the third round. But the experts were right, you see, because everybody was wrong. It's like if your doctor got credited with making the consensus diagnosis on you, even though that was wrong and you died. The draft experts remain in demand, all over TV, bloviating.

And the drafts are infectious. Draft day is the day that every team, every fan, believes is that someday when his prince will come.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And while the Clippers ownership drama plays out here in LA, commentator Frank Deford points out that the NBA and other pro-sports leagues are moving on to a whole new season about to begin.

FRANK DEFORD: For those of you who haven't been paying attention, there is now a fifth season in major American team sports to go along with baseball, football, basketball and ice hockey. Well, it's sort of an adjunct season, but it's very real and is passionately followed by real fans. It is the draft season, which begins tomorrow with the NFL, and extends through June 27th when the NHL holds its draft; the NBA and major-league baseball in between.

You don't think it matters? You can find countdown clocks on league websites. Fans can attend drafts; they're televised now, some in prime time. There's even a movie out, entitled "Draft Day," starring Kevin Costner, but it's not doing very good box office. Maybe that's because it's about the Cleveland Browns, and the popular sports movies are invariably about ugly ducklings that turn into winners. And, as you may know, Cleveland doesn't quite fit that bill.

Anyway, fans love real draft days. The sports draft is wonderful because it's both all-American - a fresh new morning for everybody - and socialistic, with a division of the spoils but the proletariat getting first dibs. In fact, the draft started in the Depression when the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, a weak sister of a franchise, convinced his colleagues to institute a selection of college players, operating with a procedure based on what Jesus himself said: The last shall be first. So the draft is the epitome of Christianity, too.

Of course, because the worst teams get the pick of the litter, this leads - as it surely did in the NBA this season - to the worst teams kind of-sort of losing on purpose. Bad form but old strategy. As a consequence, the NBA has a weighted lottery for the bottom feeders, so finishing dead last only guarantees you the best odds at the first pick. Sort of socialism-plus.

For me, the strangest aspect of the draft is the experts, whose advertised expertise it is not to rate the best players, but to predict how the teams will rate them. Invariably, then, if some team has the courage to defy the conventional wisdom and dare choose a player that it independently admires, all the experts have a fit and the fans boo.

Never mind that someone like Russell Wilson, the Super Bowl MVP, was overlooked till the third round. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Wilson was not the Super Bowl MVP.] But the experts were right, you see, because everybody was wrong. It's like if your doctor got credited with making the consensus diagnosis on you, even though that was wrong and you died.

The draft experts remain in demand, though, all over TV, bloviating. And the drafts are infectious. Draft day is the day that every team, every fan, believes is that someday when their prince will come.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us every Wednesday here on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.