The Atlanta Hawks picked an actual baby in the 1974 NBA Draft


The NBA Draft used to have a lot more than two rounds. Initially, the draft ran without a predetermined pool of players or a pick limit, and even the more constrained drafts of the 1970s still included ten rounds and almost 200 individual selections. Since there is simply not enough basketball talent on Earth to feed the NBA at that rate, teams sometimes burned their late picks on larks, or favors, or even outright goofs. This is how the Bulls gained the rights to track star Carl Lewis, who had no intention of playing basketball, and how the 76ers drafted a middle-aged pharmacist named Norman Horvitz, whose intentions were probably irrelevant.

Those weren’t serious picks, but at least they were used on adults. On May 27, 1974, Atlanta Hawks executive Pat Williams (currently employed by the Orlando Magic) celebrated the birth of his son James — one of what would eventually become 18 Williams children. May 28, 1974 was the NBA Draft. After using a bunch of the picks Atlanta acquired by trading away star Pete Maravich, Williams decided to honor his son with a tenth-round pick. With the selection of James Williams, Atlanta became the first (and, as far as I know, last) NBA franchise to draft a person one day old. Williams’s wingspan was pitiful, and his vertical leap unmeasurable, since he couldn’t stand or even lift his head. Because he was a newborn, you see.

The joke pick confused the league for moment, because the basketball-sized person Atlanta selected happened to share his name with an actual college basketball player — streetball legend James “Fly” Williams. From the May 29, 1974 Greenville News (Greenville, SC):

“In the 10th round, Atlanta selects James Williams,” said Hawks general manager Pat Williams, speaking very distinctly into the microphone in front of him.

“Do you mean ‘The Fly’?” came the reply from the league official on the New York end of the line, referring to the under-class scoring star from Austin Peay who was not eligible to be selected.

“No, this is James Littlejohn Williams,” said the Hawks’ spokesman.

“Well, where’s he from?” asked the NBA man, intent on getting the vital information needed on all draft selections.

“Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta,” said Williams, “and he’s 19 12 inches and weighs seven pounds, five ounces.”

After the laughter on the coast-to-coast hookup subsided, the NBA official congratulated Williams and his wife, Jill, on the birth of their son and then proceeded to void the selection.

As noted, both the infant and the adult, who had insufficient college experience, were ruled ineligible. “Fly” ended up playing a year in the ABA. The baby did not go on to play pro basketball. Oddly enough, Williams’s wife gave birth to another son on June 10, 1977, the same day Williams was running draft night for the Philadelphia 76ers. He decided to pass on drafting his own kid that time.

Anyway, now the draft has two rounds and just sixty picks, so everyone just picks good basketball players. Cowards.



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