Steven Adams makes history at NBA Draft
It was a dream day with a dream outcome for hoops phenomenon Steven Adams.
He was picked at No 12 by the Oklahoma City Thunder in today's NBA Draft in New York, joining superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in a championship calibre squad in Oklahoma.
He will also probably also be learning his trade off starting Thunder centre Kendrick Perkins whose father Kenny lives in Christchurch and was a former NBL player for Canterbury.
"It feels amazing, eh" said Adams after striding to the stage. "All the family in New Zealand were rooting for OKC. I'm pretty happy I ended up going to OKC."
After flashing the New Zealand flag sewed on the inseam of his suit coat to ESPN interviewer, and newly crowned NBA champion, Shane Battier, Adams also had a message to his countrymen.
"I just want to say thank-you for all the support guys. I'm pretty much doing it as a Kiwi, man. Always!"
Adams also becomes an instant millionaire and top-10 earner in Kiwi sport, with his salary set to be around the US$1.7 million mark (about NZ$2.2 million), as dictated by NBA rookie scale.
The 19-year-old New Zealander had to wait an excruciating hour and 20 minutes before hearing his name called out by NBA commissioner David Stern at the glitzy ceremony in Brooklyn's Barclays Center. Even then Stern stumbled on Adams' birthplace of Rotorua, taking a couple of attempts to get it out.
The Thunder were NBA finalists two sasons ago (losing to the Miami Heat), but were eliminated by the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round this year when Westbrook was invalided out of the playoffs with a torn lateral meniscus.
The 2.13m (7ft) centre completed an incredible journey that began in his hometown Rotorua where he first got involved in the sport, was refined in Wellington where he came under the tuition of Kiwi NBL legend Kenny McFadden and has had the finishing touches applied in the United States.
He now becomes the fourth New Zealand-born player to make it to the NBA after trailblazer Sean Marks, the unlucky Kirk Penney and Aron Baynes, who has switched his national allegiance to Australia despite being born in Gisborne.
But he is the first Kiwi to go in the first round, and just the second after Marks to make it to the big league via the draft.
Adams spent last season at the University of Pittsburgh where he averaged an unspectacular 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds before shocking hoops aficionados by declaring for the draft.
But the bold gamble has come up trumps for the Kiwi as he has shot up the draft boards after a series of impressive workouts and interviews. He's rated a physical freak with huge upside, but in need of significant development before he's ready to play in the NBA.
Several analysts believe Adams will spend at least his first season playing in the NBA's D-League where young players are placed to develop their skills.
Today's draft, in which the world's top 60 young players were distributed to the NBA's 30 teams via two rounds of selections, was beamed all round the world live on mega sports channel ESPN.
Adams said en route to the draft that he'd been relatively calm about the biggest day of his young life, but was a little tired.
"It's going to hit me when I get to the table probably. I slept well, I had like eight or nine hours sleep. It's just all the travelling I've done last two weeks catching up now," he said.
Adams' Rotorua family have been dancing all afternoon after hearing that he had been picked by the Thunder.
They were "deliriously happy", older sister Vivian said today after the history making announcement.
"We're jumping up and down making a lot of noise, you can hear us from out on the street," she said.
"We're all deliriously happy."
About half a dozen family members were at the Te Ngae Rd family home this morning waiting for their "baby brother" to be selected from the draft.
Brothers Sid and Mohi were already in New York, she said.
Vivian said the family had kept an open mind on which team would Adams' would be slected to play for.
"We weren't expecting him to go to any team in particular really."
The family had received "heaps of phone calls" from well wishers. "Quite a few want to be part of our whanau now."
She could not explain the family's sporting success.
"Dad wasn't a sportsman, although Mum was,'' she said. "It's all in the genes, having the right bones, and the right attitude."
Younger sister Gabriella could be the next national representative - she is currently trialling for the Tall Ferns.
Adams had been besieged by good luck messages via Twitter prior to the draft, with All Blacks Ma'a Nonu, Cory Jane, Israel Dagg, Liam Messam and Victor Vito, Hurricanes youngster Ardie Savea, former national skipper Tana Umaga, cricketer Jesse Ryder and fellow basketballers Kirk Penney, Mika Vukona, Alex Pledger and Dillon Boucher among those posting their support.
Tall Blacks star Penney, who has made three fleeting appearances in the NBA, told Fairfax Media the young New Zealander's life was now about to change dramatically.
"I can't imagine what's going through his mind, how quickly his life is changing, and how royally he will be treated," Penney said today.
"He's worked hard to get to this point, and as a result he's in an ideal professional position. It will be fun to watch and for New Zealand to support one of their sons on the world stage."
ESPN hoops expert Jay Bilas said Adams had the key attributes of an NBA player.
"He fits the suit. He's got an NBA body, he's a really good athlete, he's big and strong and he can rebound," said Bilas.
"He hasn't played enough basketball [but] you give him some time to develop and you could have something pretty good on your hands.
"But he needs some time to develop. He's not going to get it right away. He's physical, he's not afraid to bang bodies and he's one of those guys who can fight for position down in the low post. He's got the bulk and strength to do that."
Another ESPN analyst Bill Simmons went even further in his reading of the pick by the Thunder.
"At this point you're looking at guys who can translate into a playoff series. This is an energy guy and we've seen these guys succeed in playoff series. And everybody loves his personality."
University of Nevada Las Vegas power forward Anthony Bennett, a Canadian national, was the surprise No 1 choice by the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Indiana point guard Victor Oladipo was picked second by the Orlando Magic and Georgetown forward Otto Porter went third to the Washington Wizards.
Widely predicted top pick Nerlens Noel dropped to No 6 where he was chosen by the New Orleans Pelicans.
Here's where the top 15 NBA draft picks went
1 Cleveland Cavaliers - Anthony Bennett
2 Orlando Magic - Victor Oladipo
3 Washington Wizards - Otto Porter
4 Charlotte Bobcats - Cody Zeller
5 Phoenix Suns - Alex Len
6 New Orleans Pelicans - Nerlens Noel (traded to Philadelphia 76ers)
7 Sacramento Kings - Ben McLemore
8 Detroit Pistons - Kentavious Caldwell Pope
9 Minnesota Timberwolves - Trey Burke (traded to Utah Jazz)
10 Portland Trailblazers - CJ McCollom
11 Philadelphia 76ers - Michael Carter-Williams
12 Oklahoma City Thunder - Steven Adams
13 Dallas Mavericks - Kelly Olynyk (traded to Boston Celtics)
14 Utah Jazz - Shabazz Muhammad (traded to Minnesota Timberwolves)
15 Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Atntetokounmpo