Why the 2013 draft was the most suspenseful and memorable -- ever

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- We'll never have another draft anything like what happened at Barclays Center Thursday night.

Draftniks and NBA/college hoops fans knew the setup. This was an underwhelming crop, right? It lacked sizzle, basketball sex appeal and face-of-the-franchise players. It wasn't going to be a draft for the ages, to say the least. It wasn't even going to be a draft to note a week from now, according to plenty of cynics. (We'll circle back around on that judgment four or five years down the road.)

Yet Thursday night was memorable because it was suspenseful and surprising. Dare I say: actually gripping, and better than this year's NFL Draft by a wide margin. A lot of the proceedings were unpredictable. And funny. And will be David Stern's last as commissioner, making this moment an instant classic and all too appropriate. It was the draft that definitively proved the rule of how mock drafts are good for intrigue but lean on information.

So often, you never really know. On Thursday night, absolutely, nobody knew.

We love sports -- or more specifically, the games -- because of that unknown factor. What could happen? Drafts offer that, but in a different, smaller way. A delayed way. Seldom do they actually provide surprise and buzz.

But this one did, and that's why 2013 gave us the best draft I can remember, even if it it's unlikely to produce a batch of Hall-of-Famers or multiple future all-stars. It started at the top. Anthony Bennett No. 1? For the NBA fans reading this, did you even know who Anthony Bennett was? And if not, how often can you ever say that about an incoming No. 1 pick? This was the shocker, an out-of-nowhere top choice, the likes of which I think we'll go another 20 years -- at least -- before we are so blindsided by a No. 1 man. When it came to Cleveland's choice and Bennett as the pick, almost everyone was in the dark. Only a few insiders had a hunch on Bennett -- and those rumors came light on Thursday afternoon.

And if it's going to be a few decades before we can get shocked by a No. 1 pick, think about how long it'll be before the favorite to be picked No. 1 will slide to No. 6 again. That's what happened to Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, selected by New Orleans and shipped to Philadelphia.

That was surely an NBA draft first, at least in the modern era. Never does a projected No. 1 guy wait and see five other fellas go in front of him. Noel's sad face is something that will get replay quite a bit come Friday.

And the surprises kept coming. Cody Zeller at No. 4 to Charlotte. WHAT? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a player from Georgia that plenty of college hoops fans had no idea existed, scooted up to No. 8 to Detroit. Steven Adams to Oklahoma City in the No. 12 spot. One-time candidate for the No. 1 pick, Shabazz Muhammad, dips down to Utah at No. 14.

Ben McLemore went seventh. Plenty of reputable prognosticators thought he was going second, to Orlando. Says it all.

And that's before we get to all the trades. But don't worry, we've got you covered there.

And then, out of nowhere, this glorious, glorious happenstance. A meeting to go down in history.

It was genuine drama -- and comedy -- every time Stern appeared from behind the facade, waddled to the lectern and encouraged the boos. He's long been the willing villain for fans and architect for the league. His exit provided fodder for the crowd and energy in the building. Drafts will be different without him in the future.

Next year's class is expected to be really good. The 2014 lottery picks will be coveted unlike anything the league has seen in nearly a decade, essentially. So the build-up will be big. The rumors could be relentless, but it won't have as much intrigue or shock factor. That's what Thursday had. No one expected it, making it even better.

If only we could count on this kind of thing every year.

 
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