Big Suits, Big Nerves, Bigger Dreams: Memories from the 2003 NBA Draft

Plus: A tribute to my boy Lewis Hamilton!

Like just about everything this year, the NBA draft is happening on Zoom. But I hope that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to everyone involved. Choosing to represent yourself, your family, and your home at the highest level of the game–no matter how many people are actually in attendance–is a huge milestone. I know it was for me. 

Man. Getting drafted feels like it happened in another lifetime, but it also feels like yesterday.

Draft Day was surreal before it even started—from the moment I set foot in New York. Right away, everything changed: I went from sleeping in my dorm room to a hotel in Times Square. People were asking for my autograph. Brands were throwing “free” gear at all of us, hoping we’d wear it in pictures. I could barely realize where I was before we were on to the next place. I guess this is what a New York Minute is, I thought.

Then I had to pick out my suit—or suits, plural. I’d seen enough guys blow it with their draft fits, so I had two made, just in case one sucked. Baggy-ass suits were in back then—we can debate how questionable a style that is, but in 2003, that was what you wore. And getting fitted for one? I’d seen it in the movies, but I did not know that was a real thing.

Draft day turned into draft night. The draftees take their own bus over to Madison Square Garden, so I sat by myself at a table before my family got there for what seemed like hours. I’ve always had a connection to MSG—I played the McDonald’s All-American Game there, and even got the chance to play a game in college with Georgia Tech. So it felt amazing to be back in this capacity, living a dream. 

I’d been given a two-way pager: To the Gen Z-ers out there, you’re forgiven for not knowing what that is. The thing had no contacts on it, and there wasn’t an internet connection, either, so I just fidgeted with it as I waited for the draft to start, looking for anything to keep busy and fight my nerves. I don’t know how long it actually was, but it sure as hell felt like a while. Finally, David Stern came out to start things up.

Despite the tension, getting to be there with friends and fellow competitors was nothing short of amazing. Less than two years earlier, I’d been playing against Melo and Bron in AAU summer league. Now we were sharing an experience it felt like we were destined for. And while I hadn’t met D until just beforehand, seeing him accomplish his dream with his son, Zaire, by his side was a trip—and it got me pumped about the night’s potential. We also had the same agent—the late, great Henry Thomas—so we were rooting for each other. 

The butterflies got real when the first pick went on the clock. Cleveland has five minutes to make their choice, the announcer said—as if the Cavs had to think about it for a second. We all knew who was going to go first, second, and third! The infamous MSG draft boooooos started up.

Bron went. Darko went. Melo went. Then Toronto was on the clock. A flood of emotions I didn't even know existed started to course through my body. Suddenly, nothing was fun anymore. My family tried to make jokes to lighten the mood and loosen me up, but I wasn’t having it. I felt like I needed a bathroom stall, but I wasn’t even sure which end it would come out of. 

Usually, there are ninety seconds between when a team sends in their pick and when it’s actually announced to the public. Somewhere in that minute and a half, Hank Thomas came to me to tell me that the Raptors were taking me at #4. Wow. 

They called my name. I hugged my family and took my hat, thrilled and relieved at the same time. I walked onstage, just like I’d visualized so many times before, and shook David’s hand. 

Your new life continues to take shape after all that. You get taken backstage. Live microphones are placed in front of you and you have to explain why you’re going to be successful in your career. 

A lot happens after that, of course. But that’s what I think of when I remember that crazy day in New York. 

And even though the guys this year won’t have the City as a background, I hope they know the dream starts here—no matter where they’re Zooming in from. 

The World’s Best Driver is more than just that

I couldn’t close this newsletter without shouting out my brother Lewis Hamilton–who just tied the only F1 record he hadn’t already broken.

I first met Lewis across the pond, at a Kanye concert in Glastonbury. I won’t lie: I had no idea who he was. I didn’t watch much—if any—racing, but as I was walking into the show, all I could hear was girls screaming. I knew for sure they weren’t screaming at me, and I can’t blame them: I was dressed in some of the craziest stuff I’ve ever put on. Wellington boots, face paint—definitely nothing designer.

Then there was Lewis, wearing something dope. Once the screaming died down some, we connected pretty much instantly, chopping it up backstage. He told me he was an F1 driver. I knew what that meant, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.

Fast forward: Lewis and I have spent Christmas in Aspen together, rented a yacht in Monaco with D-Wade, and had an epic post-race celebration with Justin Bieber. Lil Jon was DJing.. True story.

But what I value most are the times I’ve gotten to see Lewis race up close, whether it was in my hometown of Austin or at the British Grand Prix last summer. His work ethic would be impressive in any sport. Calling him a friend, and watching him race up close, has been epic.

But on top of all the hard work and consistent wins, Lewis has never taken his success for granted—for using his voice and platform to stand for a cause.

Lewis has been vocal about and against racial injustice in F1 and beyond. From his Black Lives Matter Helmet and uniform to the all-black Mercedes he races in, he’s used the sport’s symbols to speak for what’s right.

As two Black men, we’ve had tough conversations about what it’s like in our respective sports. He’s told stories and expressed frustrations—in public, too. Now, I’m watching him put thought into action on a massive stage.

That’s just the beginning of what I think his legacy will be, as an athlete and activist. Now, Black boys who might not have known what F1 was are going to see themselves driving the #44 car, as he sets new records and new examples.

He’s the greatest driver in the world. And I’m proud to call him a friend.