Went to the NBA draft in Minneapolis last week and an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire broke out. Contestants eager to win a fortune first had to qualify by answering a battery of questions, each one easier than Carmen Electra. Among the brainteasers put to high school star Darius Miles—by the Chicago Bulls in a predraft evaluation three weeks ago—was this: "If you have $4 and I give you $5, how much will you have?" An incredulous Miles, whose anemic ACT score received widespread publicity, replied, "Do you ask that question to everybody?" (That was his final answer.)
Contestants could always phone a friend. So agent Arn Tellem, self-confessed inspiration for the HBO series Arli$$, stood in the bowels of the Target Center with cell phones affixed to his cauliflowered ears and a bandolier of batteries on his suit. Told that his cell phone of choice was rated the model most likely to give its user brain cancer, Tellem cupped a hand over the lethal weapon and said, "I know." Then, as if you had missed the point, he added brightly, "I had seven guys taken in the first round!"
Finally, as on Millionaire, the Reege reigned supreme. Not Regis Philbin, mind you, but "the Reege"—Philbin's monochromatic preference in suit-shirt-tie combinations. Courtney Alexander, a first-round pick of the Orlando Magic, was turned out in a white suit-white shirt-white tie-white pocket hanky number that led to the Oscar-night question, "Who are you wearing?"
"Willie Scott," replied Alexander. "He made one for my son, too." Tugging at Alexander's pristine linen pant leg was three-year-old Courtney Jr.—in an identical suit, as if father and son were Mr. Roarke and Tattoo welcoming visitors to Fantasy Island. Which, in a way, they were.
Difficult to keep a suit like that clean? "Yeah," sighed Courtney Sr. "I got some lipstick on it earlier. It's hard to get out." This reporter—wearing Tie Rack, a designer out of Terminal C at Pittsburgh International Airport—gave a sympathetic chortle that said, "You're tellin' me?"
Cell phones aside, lipstick stains were the most dangerous occupational hazard at the NBA draft, which at times resembled Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire. Two young ladies—hemlines higher than J.R. Rider—begged a ticket taker to let them into the sold-out arena. "Pleeease?" one of them singsonged. "We drove all the way up from Chicago. Eight hours. Pleeease?" With that, the usher gave them entry.
Still, the most compelling show-within-the-show is the league's version of Survivor, in which 16 castaways are marooned in a greenroom, each one wanting to be voted off the program by a general manager, until only one miserable wallflower remains. So, two hours after Kenyon Martin became the first to escape the greenroom, 7'2" center Iakovos Tsakalidis remained in that hellhole of hospitality. When he was finally reprieved—by the Phoenix Suns, with the 25th pick—Tsakalidis forlornly made the Stations of the Cross required of all draftees in attendance: Shake hands with commissioner David Stern, submit to an interview with TNT, chat on ESPN Radio, visit NBA.com TV, speak to print reporters and to local television, and finally pose for a portrait by the NBA's photographer. It's on this yellow-brick journey that the draftee forever leaves behind the real world and enters The Real World—a fishbowl existence of big houses, beautiful people and unavoidable self-absorption.
One minute after his handshake from Stern, Tsakalidis was asked about the Greek team trying to bar him from playing in the NBA. Which is how—60 seconds into his new life as an American athlete—Tsakalidis came to say the words that will serve him so well. He said, slumped in a chair, in halting English, "Better speak to my agent."