The 2011 NBA Draft has come and gone, and for many of the 60 men selected, June 23, 2011, will go down as the date on which they began their lives as professional basketball players.
And June 24, 2011, will go down as the first date on which they celebrated it.
New York City's own Kemba Walker—the ninth overall pick in the draft—hosted his official draft after party at the Greenhouse, a venue in lower Manhattan. The event was coordinated in conjunction with DJ Skee, Skee Sports and Slam Magazine, and was attended by a "who's who" of some of the NBA's youngest and brightest stars.
But, more importantly, this was a celebration of the future.
Immediately upon his arrival just after 1 a.m., Walker breathed a huge sigh of relief and told everyone within shouting distance that after such a hectic day, it was time to have some fun.
Since early March, when he helped his UConn Huskies win the 2011 Big East tournament and the NCAA National Championship, there were times when Kemba literally had no time to breathe. Five games in five nights will do that to you.
After winning those unprecedented five games in five nights en route to winning the Big East, Kemba had a miraculous run in the NCAA Tournament, winning its Most Outstanding Player award and helping Jim Calhoun win his third NCAA Tournament as coach of the UConn Huskies.
After making numerous appearances around the country in his new-found role as a national celebrity, Kemba had to travel from coast to coast to work out for NBA teams. But tonight, he was happy that—for now— it was over. He was celebrating becoming the newest member of the Charlotte Bobcats.
"Michael Jordan's given me a great opportunity," he said. "So I'm just gonna come in with a great attitude, respect everyone, and try to do everything possible to get that team to the playoffs."
The Charlotte Bobcats completed a three-team trade earlier in the evening, part of which sent G/F Stephen Jackson to the Milwaukee Bucks and gave Charlotte the seventh overall pick in the draft. That pick was used on Congo native Bismack Biyombo, who Kemba hopes will help lead the Bobcats back to the NBA playoffs next season.
Just prior to the draft, there was speculation that Walker had a knee ailment that could result in him possibly dropping out of the lottery. Kemba heard the rumors, but wasn't concerned. Earlier, he informed his agent, Jeff Schwartz, that he didn't want to hear any rumors and didn't want to know which team would ultimately select him.
"I didn't want my agent to tell me anything," said Kemba. "[I told him]... Just let things happen… Let it flow."
And that's what makes events such as Kemba's NBA draft after party so special. These events are the fist time that young men who—in many cases—worked their entire lives to achieve a goal actually get to sit back, relax, celebrate and take it all in. Finally, a chance to exhale.
Other lottery picks in attendance included Tristan Thompson, the 4th overall selection of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and twin brothers Markieff and Marcus Morris, selected by the Houston Rockets (13th) and Phoenix Suns (14th), respectively.
Union representatives Chris Paul, Jared Dudley, and Kyle Lowry were in attendance. Although they had another important bargaining session with the league's owners on Friday, June 24, this night was about celebrating the league's future.
None of the gentlemen provided comment on the NBPA's stance on the league's latest CBA proposal. "I'm just here to celebrate with these guys and have some fun," said Jared Dudley, union representative for the Phoenix Suns.
Due to Greenhouse reaching capacity, the doors were closed around 2 a.m. The night of celebration was a success not only for Kemba Walker, but also for DJ Skee, Slam Magazine, and the other sponsors of the event.
Despite the uncertain labor situation, most rookies in this year's class are excited to get out on the floor. And for the players in attendance at Kemba's official draft party, this night was only the beginning of what they hope to be long and fruitful careers.
Follow Moke Hamilton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mokehamilton