From LeBron to Darko: The Oral History of the 2003 NBA Draft
It was the summer of 2003, and the NBA was in the midst of one of the most anticipated drafts in history. Fans and analysts alike were excited to see who would be drafted and how they would perform in the league. The 2003 draft was full of talented players, including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. However, one player that stood out the most was Darko Milicic, a young player from Serbia who was expected to be a top pick in the draft. Let’s take a look at the oral history of the 2003 NBA draft lottery.
The draft lottery is an annual event in which the teams with the worst records from the previous season have a chance to obtain the top picks in the draft. Before the 2003 lottery, the Cleveland Cavaliers had the best chance of obtaining the first pick, followed by the Denver Nuggets and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Chris Grant, then assistant general manager of the Cavaliers, remembers the pressure leading up to the lottery. “We knew we had a chance to get LeBron James, and we were all nervous and excited to see what would happen,” he said.
As the lottery balls were drawn, it became clear that the Cavaliers had secured the top pick. The Nuggets and the Grizzlies followed, with the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors rounding out the top five.
LeBron James was the most highly anticipated player in the draft. He was the best high school basketball player in the country and had already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 17. Many analysts predicted that he would be a superstar in the NBA.
Nate McMillan, then head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics, remembers watching James in high school. “He was just so much better than everyone else,” he said. “It was clear that he was going to be a special player.”
James was excited to be drafted by the Cavaliers, his hometown team. “It was a dream come true,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that I was going to be playing in the NBA.”
Carmelo Anthony was another highly touted player in the draft. He had led Syracuse University to the national championship and was known for his scoring ability.
George Karl, then head coach of the Nuggets, was impressed with Anthony’s game. “He was a natural scorer,” Karl said. “He could shoot from anywhere on the court and was tough to guard.”
Anthony was thrilled to be drafted by the Nuggets. “I knew that Denver was the perfect place for me,” he said. “I was ready to come in and make an impact right away.”
Chris Bosh was a versatile player from Georgia Tech who could play both power forward and center. He was known for his athleticism and his ability to rebound and block shots.
Rudy Tomjanovich, then head coach of the Rockets, was impressed with Bosh’s game. “He was so athletic and skilled,” Tomjanovich said. “We knew that he was going to be a great player in the league.”
Bosh was drafted by the Raptors, a team that had struggled in recent years. “I was ready to come in and help turn things around,” he said. “I knew that we had a lot of work to do, but I was excited for the challenge.”
Dwyane Wade was a standout player from Marquette University who was known for his scoring ability and his defensive prowess. He had led the Golden Eagles to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament and was expected to be a top pick in the draft.
Pat Riley, then head coach of the Heat, was impressed with Wade’s game. “He had all the tools to be a great player,” Riley said. “He was quick, athletic, and could do it all on the court.”
Wade was excited to be drafted by the Heat and to play alongside Shaquille O’Neal. “I knew that we had a chance to do something special,” he said. “I was ready to come in and work hard and learn from Shaq.”
Darko Milicic was a 7-foot-tall player from Serbia who was expected to be a top pick in the draft. He had played professionally in Europe and had already won a championship with his club team.
Joe Dumars, then general manager of the Pistons, was convinced that Milicic was the player that his team needed. “We were looking for a big man who could help us win a championship,” he said. “We were confident that Darko was the right choice.”
However, Milicic struggled to adjust to the NBA. He played limited minutes in his first season with the Pistons and was eventually traded to other teams throughout his career.
The 2003 NBA draft was one of the most memorable in history. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade all went on to have successful careers in the NBA and are considered some of the best players of their generation. However, the draft also serves as a cautionary tale about the challenges of talent evaluation. Darko Milicic, the player who was expected to be a superstar, struggled in the league and is considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time.
In the end, the 2003 NBA draft lottery was a defining moment for the league. It set the stage for a new generation of players who would take the league by storm and help redefine what it meant to be a superstar in the NBA.