Hill: ‘It’s like losing somebody you know’

Hill: Its like losing somebody you know

Lance Madden

NEW YORK – When news spread that Michael Jackson had died last Thursday, it was destined to be a weird evening, even in the basketball world.

Farrah Fawcett had also passed away and Shaq had become LeBron’s teammate, but MJ’s death was the center of attention.

Cell phone and computer screens flashed updates about Jackson’s shocking death throughout the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, putting a damper on the excitement of the 2009 NBA Draft. It was much like O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco chase, which happened during Game 5 of the NBA Finals between Houston and New York.

Hours after the King of Pop left the world he had made such an impact on, Jordan Hill experienced, first hand, the tough love of New York and Chase Budinger-once the co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game with Kevin Durant-watched his stock plummet lower than some on nearby Wall Street, as he became Arizona’s lowest NBA Draft pick since 2006.

The first of six Pacific 10 Conference players drafted in the first round was a Sun Devil-James Harden-and the first player to ever go straight from high school in America to the professional ranks in Europe showed up late to the biggest event of his life.

The Los Angeles Clippers, the punching bag of the NBA, had the first overall pick and obtained college basketball’s unanimous No. 1 player from this past season in Blake Griffin.

America’s most intriguing and unquestionably strange icon of the past quarter-century was gone forever, and the NBA’s best story lines were beginning to unfold, with chunks of Arizona’s storied basketball program intertwined.

The transition felt like a smooth one in the WaMu Theater. Moments before the Draft began, a man held up a sign that read, “”R.I.P. KING of POP.”” When Hill was picked No. 8 overall by the New York Knicks, the man wrote on the back of the sign, “”Hill + LeBron = KNICKS 2011 CHAMPS.””

But not all Knicks fans were as optimistic. Hill received a long chorus of boos and jeers as he walked up to the stage to shake NBA commissioner David Stern’s hand.

Soon he will officially be a member of the city containing some of the most opinionated inhabitants in America, full of honking horns on the streets and fist shakers clad in blue and orange during Knicks games, anxious for their first winning season since 2000-01.

Despite the negative reaction from fans in his new city, the 6-foot-10 forward was able to find encouragement.

“”I don’t care. I don’t let those kinds of things get to me,”” Hill said. “”I did have fans that (were) glad that I’m a Knick, glad that I’m with them. So I appreciate that.””

ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy seemed baffled at the welcome Hill received.

“”I don’t understand the reaction of this crowd,”” he said on air. “”They probably have not seen Hill play. They don’t know what they’re booing about.””

Hill has a lot to live up to already. He said Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni compared him to All-Star player Amar’e Stoudemire, whom D’Antoni coached in Phoenix. But he did not have as much pressure on him as Brandon Jennings, who spent the past year playing professionally in Europe.

Jennings was one of 15 players invited to the green room. With his stock falling quickly, the former Arizona signee decided to rent a hotel suite for about 30 of his friends and family to watch the draft on TV. As soon as he was drafted No. 10 overall by Milwaukee, Jennings was taken to Madison Square Garden, and was introduced on stage four picks later.

“”I just felt like spending the time with them in this whole process because they have been there for me since day one,”” Jennings said. “”It was better to spend it with my family.””

Meanwhile, a live interview with former Wildcat and current Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr was shown on the screens in WaMu, as he tried to give an explanation for trading Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland.

Budinger watched this on TV with his family in California. He was expecting to be a mid-to-late first-round pick, and had scheduled a telephone conference with the media for 8 p.m. At 8:14 p.m., he was finally drafted No. 44 overall by Detroit, and then was traded to Houston. He canceled his teleconference.

“”It was a little nerve-wracking just sitting there watching team after team make their picks,”” Budinger told Rockets.com.

Budinger was just one of many parts that made up an undeniably strange Draft Day with Jackson’s death setting the tone for the evening. The basketball world had just gained several new megastars, but it won’t be forgotten that the whole world just lost one.

“”That’s crazy man,”” Hill said of the pop-icon’s death. “”It’s like losing somebody you know.””