So the Philadelphia 76ers won the NBA lottery tonight, meaning they’ll somehow select a defensive-minded 7-footer with asthma and a club foot. Which, truly, matters not. Because when I think of the Draft, I’m not pondering 2016 or 2006 or even 1996. I don’t care who the Sixers select No. 1, who the Lakers grab No. 2, who the Celtics add No. 3.
Nope, I’m all about 1993.
Yup, 1993. That was the year when a 6-foot-2 junior forward from the University of Delaware declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft. The kid averaged about eight points, 12 rebounds and four blocks per game. His athleticism was pretty poor, his speed mediocre. He didn’t see the floor well, didn’t pass well, didn’t dunk.
His name: Jeff Pearlman
I digress. Two years earlier, while working as an assistant sports editor at the student newspaper, The Review, I had a conversation with Alain Nana-Sinkham, the sports editor and a former reserve forward for the Blue Hens. Alain was toying with the idea of applying for the NBA Draft as a stunt; to see what would happen were he to write the league a letter giving up his eligibility. I absolute LOVED it—and loved it even more when Alain graduated without ever having taken the needed steps.
Hence, in 1993 I sent the NBA a note—My name is Jeff Pearlman. I’m a junior forward at Delaware, and I’m planning on entering your upcoming draft. Blah, blah. And here’s the beauty of it: There was no lying. I was, indeed, a junior forward at Delaware—starting forward for Edna’s Edibles, intramural runner-ups. Our mighty front line of Dan Monaghan-Paul Duer-Pearlman was one of the league’s elites. So, yeah, I was ready for a new level of competition. Bring it.
Anyhow, the letter was sent off into the world with few realistic hopes of anything transpiring. But then, a few weeks later, I arrived back at the Christiana Towers pad to this sentence from Paul Hannsen, my roommate: “Pearl, you got something from the NBA.” WHAT? I opened the envelope and there, on league letterhead, was a notice that, as of the stated date, I was forgoing any remaining eligibility. Which, after much prayer and deliberation, I was quite OK with.
A couple of days later, I was back home at my parents’ house in Mahopac, N.Y. The phone rang. It was someone from the NBA with a pretty direct question: “Who are you?”
“Well, I feel like taking my talent to the NBA …”
The draft came. A Delaware player was selected. Sadly, his name was Spencer Dunkley. There would be no contract for me; no free-agent camp invite; no Air Pearl Jams; no Gatorade commercials.
Three years later, however, it all paid off.
I was hired four months later.