Nerlens Noel’s NBA career has been an absolute whirlwind, and it started the day he officially became a professional player.
The Cleveland Cavaliers owned the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, and no one had any clue what they were planning to do with it. Not even Cleveland. The former Kentucky big man was listed atop most mock drafts at the time, and with no clear-cut favorite, many just assumed the flat-top Wildcat would be the final choice.
Apparently Noel did, too.
The 7-foot defensive savant out of Boston, Massachusetts only interviewed with Cleveland, Orlando, and Washington, the owners of the top three selections of the draft. There are rumors that the Cavaliers promised to take him first overall, and the Wizards organization assured him he wouldn’t fall past that spot, so he didn’t bother looking for a backup plan elsewhere.
When asked by fans at an autograph signing prior to the draft whether he would be the top selection or not, Noel gave a wink-wink, nudge-nudge response.
“We’ll see on Thursday,” Noel said with a big ‘ole grin.
Basically, it was an “I’m not saying you should buy No. 3 Cleveland jerseys, I’m just saying” approach.
Noel was so confident Cleveland would select him with the No. 1 pick that he reportedly had their logo sewn into the right side of his jacket.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City’s 12th selection of the 2013 draft, wrote about the situation in his book, saying he couldn’t believe Noel had the courage to put all his eggs in one basket.
When I walked into the room, the first thing I noticed was a Cleveland Cavaliers singlet laid out with the logo cut out. One of the women told me a player had asked for the Cavaliers’ logo to be sewn into the lining of his jacket. I thought that was bloody brave. No player knows for sure where they’re going to end up and no organisation knows for sure which player they’ll pick until they do it on the night. I had an inkling that I was going to go to Oklahoma City because of the way my visits there had gone, but I would never have dared tell anyone, let alone stitch the Oklahoma City Thunder logo into the lining of my suit.
I needed to know who the man was with the biggest balls in the draft. So while I was looking through the rack for my suit, I had a peek at all the other players’ outfits. All of them were pretty standard until I saw one that had a college team’s singlet number on one side of the lining and on the other was the logo of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I couldn’t believe this guy was that confident, and somehow I knew right then that the Cavaliers wouldn’t pick him first. The universe wouldn’t let anything work out that smoothly.
The Cavaliers shocked the world by taking UNLV’s Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick, causing a massive domino effect with the next several selections. Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter Jr. were selected with the next two picks, followed by big men Cody Zeller and Alex Len.
There Noel sat, visibly crushed in the NBA draft green room. Teams in the top five just couldn’t justify taking an injured center with limited offensive skills.
New Orleans took him at No. 6, and then immediately traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers.
And it took everything he could for Adams to not laugh at the moment unfold…
This guy’s table stared at the floor like someone had just died. I’ve never seen a group of people look so disappointed at such a joyous occasion. If the camera had cut to our table, it would have shown all of us with our mouths wide open, trying not to laugh. It was an amazing moment.
People seemed to feel sorry for him, but not me. We were all about to be recruited by an NBA team and live our dream. Not one of us deserved anyone’s sympathy. We were the luckiest guys in the world that night.
When this guy was finally selected, I watched as he flashed one side of his jacket and then held the other side shut while he shook David Stern’s hand on stage. There was an audible sigh of relief throughout the room when his name was read out, as if being selected in an NBA draft was some kind of torture.
If you recall, a distraught Noel still managed to give a not-so-subtle tip of the cap to the Wildcats as the cameras panned to him, flashing the inside of his jacket to reveal his No. 3 Kentucky jersey stitched in. For a rough season that consisted of a torn ACL from their star player and an opening-round NIT loss, it was a very nice gesture toward the BBN.
What I didn’t notice at the time, however, was how tight Noel kept the right side of his jacket shut when the cameras were flashing…