Portland Gets First Pick in NBA Draft
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Tonight in New York, one of the most highly anticipated NBA drafts in years. Two players in particular could have a huge impact on the league. The word on Ohio State Center Greg Oden is he's a once-in-a-generation big man, and University of Texas forward Kevin Durant has the potential to be a star quickly. The Portland Trailblazers have the first pick.
NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN: There is a churchlike hush in the Portland Trail Blazer's cavernous practice facility. Close to 50 media people stand quietly against a wall. They were asked not to talk. Every few seconds, the silence is broken by the squeak of a single pair of high tops, the bounce of a single basketball.
Six-foot-10-inch Kevin Durant is showing off his smooth game. Portland General Manager Kevin Pritchard paces back and forth, watching closely. Afterwards, he describes Durant's pre-draft workout as incredible, which Pritchard laments, makes his job that much tougher.
Mr. KEVIN PRITCHARD (General Manager, Portland Trail Blazers): I was telling one of the scouts I slept real good last night, now I'm not so sure I'm going to sleep the rest until draft day.
GOLDMAN: Ultimately, it is Pritchard - with a ton of input - who'll make the decision that could complete a dramatic turnaround by Portland's one major pro-sports team from a losing franchise ridiculed nationwide as the Jail Blazers because of player run-ins with the law, to a championship contender led by model citizens.
Durant is considered that good on the court and off, and so is Greg Oden. He had his workout a couple of days before Durant's, and impressed his potential bosses with his powerful game and humility.
Mr. GREG ODEN (2007 NBA Draft Pick): And I'm - be able to get along with the team and the coaches. I going to come in, and I'm be ready to learn. I'm not going to come in and try to take over or be any problem. I'm going come in and try to win.
GOLDMAN: Oden is a cat-quick seven-footer. He's compared to the great Bill Russell, the kind of center, it's said, who could anchor a championship team for many years. One knock against him: the apparent lack of a killer instinct. Indeed he has said his career goal is to be a dentist.
Tooth decay is not as big an issue for Kevin Durant, however. He's wanted to play in the NBA since he was a kid, and he shows it.
Mr. KEVIN DURANT (2007 NBA Draft Pick): Every time I step on the court, I try to be an assassin.
GOLDMAN: The last time the Blazers had a shot at potentially world-beating talent, they blew it. In the infamous 1984 draft, Portland took center Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan. That won't happen this time, says Kevin Pritchard, because Oden and Durant are equally special players.
Mr. PRITCHARD: I think there's more of a right pick, but I don't think there's a wrong pick.
GOLDMAN: Still, debating the question Oden or Durant has become the city of Portland's favorite pastime. Sarah Mensah is the Blazers senior vice president of marketing and sales.
Ms. SARAH MENSAH (Senior Vice President, Marketing and Sales, Portland Trail Blazers): This question that's just out there, it's at every cocktail party. It's at every barbecue. It's at every bar.
(Soundbite of traffic)
GOLDMAN: And it's on several billboards around town, like the one I'm standing under in Northeast Portland. The billboard says, Oden honk once, Durant honk twice. Now I'm going to see if it works.
(Soundbite of car honking)
GOLDMAN: Ten minutes pointing up at the billboard got me one vote for Durant and one scream. A better barometer is the special Oden versus Durant Web site, which shows Portland fans want Oden by a ratio of three to one. The number the Blazers care about is 3,500. That's how many new season tickets the team has sold since it won the right to the first pick last month.
For all of last season, Portland sold 900 season tickets. Such is the power of one player, who shall be named tonight, and countless expectations.
Tom Goldman, NPR News, Portland.
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