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Redoing the 1998 NBA Draft

Jun 9 2017
Photo by
Darron Cummings/AP Images
Photo by
Darron Cummings/AP Images
Al Harrington
Retired NBA
Jun 9 2017

Five minutes after I got drafted with the 25th pick by the Pacers — I grew up a bigtime Knicks fan, and I hated the Pacers — I got a call from Larry Bird.

“You surprised?” He asked.

No s***, I thought. Yeah, I was surprised. Not only had I fallen lower in the draft than I thought I would, but now I’m going to Indiana. Reggie Miller had torn our hearts out year after year.

Damn, I’m going to the NBA, and I’m about to play for team I hate the most, with the player I hate the most!

If I had to redo that draft, I’d go a lot higher. Thankfully The Players’ Tribune is giving me the opportunity to redo this draft from scratch.

David E. Klutho/SI/Getty Images

I’m taking Dirk with the first pick.

Me and Dirk go back. Before the draft, I had played against him in the World Games. We’re playing against Germany and I see this tall, lanky white kid and I’m like, Who the hell is that guy? He was handling the ball, knocking down every open jumpshot, doing all this stuff none of us had ever seen a European player do. We called him Nasty Dirk.

On top of having an incredible career — 30,000 points and counting — Dirk invented a position. Before Dirk, there wasn’t really this 7-foot guard/forward hybrid. No one that size was supposed to be shooting threes back then. But he was so good at it that you couldn’t stop him from doing it.

Me and my teammates at the World Games were clowning him a little bit, like, Man, I know you got some tapes of American players back at your house! Because he did not have a “Germany” game at all.

Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

When me and Paul played against each other, I’ll be honest — I couldn’t stand him. He and Antoine Walker talked so much s***. If you go back and watch any Indiana vs. Boston matchup from around that time, you’ll see me and Paul and Antoine getting into it. Those two would not shut the hell up.

The one thing that makes Paul a unique basketball legend is that his game is so weird. I always had to guard him, and while I was defending him I’d be thinking, Man, I’m doing pretty good. I’ve got him real off balance. But Paul was actually in control — he had this way of appearing like he was off balance or playing out of control when he actually wasn’t. He’d make a move and you’d think he’d be going down, but then he’d pop back up and take it right to you. Or he’d pull up at the moment when you thought it was impossible for him to get a shot off. He drew a lot of fouls that way.

I learned to love competing against Paul. Now we’re pretty good friends — we watch a lot of games together and go to dinner. But man, if you had told me back then that me and Paul Pierce were gonna be cool when we got done playing, I’d have told you, Get the f*** outta here.

Robert Mora/NBAE/Getty Images

Early after the lockout ended the Pacers played the Raptors in Indiana and Vince pulled out this insane windmill dunk in the game. I was a rookie, so I was still learning the ropes, and one lesson I hadn’t quite absorbed was: “Don’t go crazy when the other team dunks on your team.”

Vince threw that dunk down, and I jumped up off our bench. “OOOOOOH S***!” I felt like I was at Rucker Park when Vince did that s***. But then Dale Davis or someone yanked me down to my chair. “Sit your ass down,” he said. Then we both started cracking up.

No one had athleticism like Vince. In my eyes, he is the most explosive player in the history of the NBA. I get into arguments with people all the time because most people think that Dominique was more explosive than Vince, but I don’t believe that.

Vince was on another level.

Andy Hayt/NBAE/Getty Images

Antawn was, like Paul, another herky-jerky player. He used to make a lot of weird shots — one-hand floaters, runners, s*** where you never had the time to gather yourself and contest the shot. But he was a scoring machine. He was just one guy you hated to play ’cause he could score in so many crazy, crafty ways. You had to have full attention on everything he did all the time. If you let your attention slip for one second, he’d find a way to take advantage. On top of that, he could jump from the free throw line and dunk on you.

David E. Klutho/SI/Getty Images

I never got to know J-Will all that well, personally, but he was a guy that every person in the NBA watched in their downtime. The flair and excitement he brought to the game was just sick. He was a magician out there with the basketball. What I like about J-Will is that he didn’t seem like a big ego guy — on the Miami Heat team that won the championship, he was content to be a contributor off the bench and help them get a ring. On top of the stuff he could do with the ball, that’s why he’s the fifth pick to me.

Walter Iooss Jr./SI/Getty Images

Back in the day, all of the top prospects in a high school class would usually have to follow each other from afar. Nowadays,  they’re deliberately grouped together by USA Basketball and by the big prep sneaker camps held by Adidas and Nike. But when Rashard and I were No. 1 and No. 2 in our class rankings during our senior season, we might as well have been sitting across the world from one another.

This was back before YouTube, so all I knew about Rashard was through his numbers going into our senior year. While I had a chance to play with Rashard at the Adidas national camp, I ended up going to the Nike one instead. Most of the bigger prospects chose Nike that year, and since I was ranked in the 20s at the time, it was my best chance to climb up the ladder. I won the MVP of the Nike camp, and Rashard won the MVP for Adidas, so it was settled: Our whole senior year we were competing for that No. 1 spot.

What I learned about Rashard during our NBA days is that he’s a really reserved guy. My favorite type of guy to play with or against were those “rah-rah” guys, guys who pumped fists, got after it, got heated. Rashard had more of a smooth game paired with a Kawhi Leonard-esque demeanor. He let the game come to him. When he had open shots he made them, when he had post-up opportunities he was hella steady, hella solid. Emotionally, he never looked too up or too down.

He ended up getting picked in the second round — Rashard got a green room invite, and when all these other guys were getting picked, the camera cut to him crying back there — but he proved everyone wrong.

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

I got a funny story about Mike Bibby.

I went to St. Patrick’s with Shaheen Holloway, and he and Mike were the first- and second-best players in the class of ’96. (I was class of ’98). So Shaheen didn’t like Mike. Back then, there was this perception about light-skinned guys — Mike was light-skinned and people, at that time, looked at light-skinned guys like they were soft. Shaheen wanted to play him so bad — “I’m tired of motherf****** saying he’s as good as me. I’d bust his ass. I mean just look at him!”

Eventually we got to be in the same tournament as Mike, but we didn’t play him because his team was competing in a different division. We would see him in the cafeteria, though — we all had to eat in the same cafeteria, and basically the tournament organizers just laid out McDonald’s Quarter Pounder boxes on the tables and let us go to work. It was a place where a lot of s***-talking was going down — Sha got me not liking Mike too, just because he didn’t like him, so I was over there like “F*** him up Sha!”

Mike was the No. 2 pick in the draft that year, and he didn’t disappoint. Mike was a legend for drawing fouls on his jump shot — he’d go up and draw contact what felt like every time.

I fell for it a lot.

Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images

With the eighth, I’m picking me.

Outside of the top two in this draft, I feel like I could have been right there at the top without the injuries. I’m definitely one of the top 10 players, though. I was able to play 16 years and be very productive for many of those years. I was one of those tweeners that changed the game — if I was playing now, I’d be one of those $150 million guys because now the league is filled with 6′ 8″, 6′ 9″ guys that can play either guard or either forward position. I could even play center on some nights. With today’s game being so fast and so wide open, I feel like I would thrive in this era too.

But at the end of the day, y’all know my game — I could always get my own shot. Anytime I see Gus Johnson, he comes up to me and says:

“MY NAME’S AL HARRINGTON, AND I GET BUCKETS.” We laugh.

“Did you get a patent on that yet?”

Not yet, Gus.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

I played with a lot of cerebral players, but Larry always sticks out to me as being one of the smartest basketball players I ever played with. He was like Johnny on the Spot — he could always come up with a big offensive or defensive idea that could change a game, just like that.

When he was younger, he was hella athletic — he was a perfect backcourt partner with AI. At the end of the day, when I think of Larry, I just think of a guy who’s a winner. Whatever you’re doing, if you bring Larry in, all of a sudden you’re doing it a lot better.

Tom Hauck/Allsport/Getty Images

Cuttino got picked in the second round, which, that’s crazy. Because he was a stone-cold killer. He and Stevie Franchise remind me of what Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are doing now — they both could get 30 on you any night. He made huge shots.

He’s one of my neighbors, so he’s in our pickup game a lot. He’s got the same game he always did, but now he looks like Uncle Drew. He’s all gray now and he looks like he’s 80 years old.

Our draft class was special because we made being a “tweener” valuable. It all starts with Dirk basically inventing a new position in the NBA, but we had a lot of guys that had these hybrid, crafty games. Antawn, me, Paul — we were all guys who could defend a few different positions and really stretch the floor. That was ahead of its time, and that’s way I think the 1998 Draft class will always be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.

In conclusion, I can’t wait to bust some of these guy’s asses in the BIG3. God, we’re getting old.

Al Harrington
Retired NBA