LaMelo Ball sees his NBA dreams turn into reality on emotional draft night
LaVar Ball, the patriarch of one of the Southland’s most high-profile basketball families, once boasted that he could beat Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one.
Now, he knows someone who could make that happen.
LaMelo Ball, who made his name at Chino Hills, who added to his mythology in Lithuania and sharpened his skills in Australia, will begin his NBA career playing in Charlotte for the Hornets, who are owned by Jordan.
“Straight blessing, for real,” he said after being picked. “I don’t even have enough words to say. I’m just blessed right now, for real.”
Ball went third overall in Wednesday’s NBA draft, hearing his name after the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Anthony Edwards No. 1 and the Golden State Warriors took center James Wiseman No. 2. He celebrated inside a crowded room, flanked by his parents.
“I’m just letting it all hit me right now,” Ball said. “… It was beautiful. The whole room was crying. I couldn’t even tell you how many people there were. But when they called my name, everybody was cheering, excited. It was a beautiful scene.”
There was a lot of crying Wednesday night during the league’s virtual draft, the pandemic keeping this class of NBA rookies from walking across the stage, shaking Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand and entering the league instantly in the spotlight.
Instead, players enjoyed their moment with their families, with players and parents openly weeping at the accomplishment of being one of 60 players in the world to be picked by an NBA team.
Ball’s teammate for two years at Chino Hills, USC star Onyeka Okongwu, soaked in the moment next to his mother while the pair remembered the death of his older brother, Nnamdi, who died in 2014 and also starred at Chino Hills.
Word of a broken big toe didn’t scare the Atlanta Hawks off of using the sixth pick on Okongwu, one of the most consistently praised players throughout the draft process.
“Obviously first and foremost, I want to win a championship. That should be everyone’s goal, to win a championship that everyone wants to win,” Okungwu said. “Myself, I just want to be able to get better, be able to be the best that I can be, continue to work hard, have a great work ethic.”
And the best player in college basketball last season, Dayton’s Obi Toppin, sobbed after ending up with his hometown team, the New York Knicks, at No. 8.
“I wouldn’t be here without them,” Toppin said through tears as he listed off his god, his family, his teammates and coaches.
The draft is the middle part of a transactional sandwich giving basketball gluttons all the information they can handle in what should end up being one of the wildest weeks in the league’s history. With trade markets opening Monday and free agency beginning Friday, the league is transforming at warp speed.
A pick-by-pick breakdown of the 2020 NBA draft, which is being held virtually for the first time because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The biggest news had nothing to do with the draft Wednesday, with Warriors guard Klay Thompson suffering a lower right leg injury during a workout. Thompson had been healthy and generating a lot of positive buzz in his recovery from a right knee injury suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals.
LeBron James was among the players who tweeted prayers in support.
Thompson will undergo an MRI Thursday morning, with sources inside the Warriors hoping for the best while bracing for the possibility the news will be bad.
Key rotation pieces also got swapped in a flurry of trades Wednesday.
The Clippers acquired Detroit guard Luke Kennard in a three-team trade with Brooklyn during Wednesday’s draft that saw them part with reserve guards Landry Shamet and Rodney McGruder.
Doc Rivers, in his first offseason with Philadelphia, added a familiar face in Seth Curry, trading for the Dallas sharpshooter by sending the versatile Josh Richardson to Dallas. Curry is married to Rivers’ daughter, Callie.
Philadelphia, with new president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, dealt Al Horford to Oklahoma City earlier in the day for former Laker Danny Green.
The Clippers were involved in a three-team deal that shot Landry Shamet to Brooklyn, the No. 19 pick (Villanova’s Saddiq Bey) to Detroit and shooting guard Luke Kennard to Los Angeles. The Lakers, who traded for Dennis Schröder on Sunday, didn’t make a pick.
The No. 28 pick the Lakers originally owned and used in the deal ended up in Minnesota, which took Washington forward Jaden McDaniels. The Timberwolves also acquired guard Ricky Rubio in the deal.
There was still suspense, though, about whom would be taken first, with the Timberwolves taking calls until the last minutes before taking the incredibly athletic Edwards No. 1. He was flanked by paintings of his late mother and grandmother when he got the news.
Former Chino Hills High teammates LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okungwu join Lonzo Ball as NBA draft lottery picks.
“Ready to get there as soon as possible,” Edwards said of Minnesota. “Those emotions were overwhelming with just my mother and grandmother being there. I mean, it was just a dream come true and just a blessing.”
The Warriors took Wiseman, a player with a chance to dominate at the basket on both ends before Charlotte swooped up Ball, putting him onto the next stop in his global basketball odyssey.
“I feel like these previous experiences made me who I am today. So it’s quite easy,” Ball said. “… I feel like I can go out there and play basketball. I feel like I was born to do this. That’s really my answer right there.”
Charlotte and Michael Jordan are hoping he’s their answer too.
The Lakers stayed put in the NBA draft on Wednesday, picking Washington forward Jaden McDaniels, who will in turn be traded to Oklahoma City and eventually Minnesota.
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