The difference between the NBA and the NHL drafts is the difference between a war room and a goalie-mask telephone. The NBA has war rooms, suggesting great men plotting grand strategies. The war rooms aren't at the draft site—in this year's case, the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis on June 29—but back at each franchise's home headquarters. The selections are relayed to team functionaries at the draft site by telephone.
But not, alas, by goalie-mask telephones. Goalie-mask phones are the province of the NHL, and during the league's '94 draft, on June 28 and 29, they adorned each of the 26 team tables at the Hartford Civic Center, where general managers, coaches and scouts sat in anticipation of making their picks like families awaiting their Thanksgiving turkeys. The NHL remains a mom-and-pop league, a perfect place for Ed Jovanovski.
Jovanovski was the first player drafted, taken by the Florida Panthers two days after his 18th birthday. A defenseman from the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario (Junior) Hockey League, the 6'2", 205-pound Jovanovski is an aggressive player with good hands and small-town values whose major honor, until the moment Panther president Bill Torrey announced his selection, was having been voted Best Body Checker in the Emms Division by OHL coaches. Jovanovski, who a year ago was still playing Junior B, is the league's most obscure No. 1 pick since 1969, when Rejean Houle was chosen by the Montreal Canadiens. By the time Florida opens training camp in September, however, Jovanovski should have a long-term contract that will pay him about $2 million per year.
However, $2 million is less than half of what Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson's agent, Charles Tucker, says his client has already collected in endorsements alone as the No. 1 choice in the NBA draft. Selected by the Milwaukee Bucks, Robinson, a 6'7", 225-pound forward, was everybody's All-Everything at Purdue, and Tucker says that deals with a basketball manufacturer and a trading-card company are done. Soft-drink and electronic game tie-ins are also in the works, and discussions are under way with a shoe company. (How about: "Put Big Dogs on your tired dogs?") All this even before the 21-year-old Robinson, who left Purdue with one year of eligibility remaining, has agreed to a contract with Milwaukee. Chris Webber, last year's No. 1 selection, signed with the Golden State Warriors for $74 million over 15 years, and last week in Indianapolis, Tucker wouldn't squelch talk of Robinson's getting the first $100 million contract.
Come the fall—if life unfolds as it should—Robinson will be slashing to the basket and draining three-pointers for the rejuvenated Bucks. Come the fall—if life unfolds as it might—Jovanovski still will be sleeping in his own room in Windsor, gazing at posters of Brian Leetch and Doug Gilmour and Mario Lemieux and Bob Probert, and playing a second season of junior hockey for the Spitfires. He could be a franchise player someday. Today he is a project.
Hartford, June 28
The restaurant has sent over a glass of bubbly to Jovanovski, who is easy enough to spot. He is the only man in the place wearing a Florida Panther baseball cap. "To Ed, a future star," reads the accompanying note.
"What's this?" Jovanovski asks.
"Champagne," says his mother, Liljana.
Jovanovski takes a sip and grimaces. He is not a champagne guy. He drinks water or orange juice, although if he really wants to whoop it up, if he really wants to paint the town brown, he will have a glass of chocolate milk. Unfortunately for him, Max on Main has no chocolate milk on the menu.