june 22, 2017 | tanya ganguli | THE L.A. TIMES | ARTICLE LINK
After Lonzo Ball’s dream came true, he finally admitted that he’d felt this coming.
“Ever since my season at UCLA, I kind of felt confident,” the former Bruins point guard said in a quiet moment between the constant stream of interviews and photo ops that come with being the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft. “… I just trusted my game. I knew I was going to be a top pick. When I saw they had second it put a smile on my face.
“I’m glad everything worked out.”
After all the predictions, critiques and smokescreens, the Lakers made the obvious choice. They drafted the kid from Chino Hills, the best passer in the draft and a player that Magic Johnson once said reminded him of himself.
Ball, 19, is the first UCLA player to be drafted that high since 1979, when David Greenwood went second to the Chicago Bulls after the Lakers took Johnson with the No. 1 pick. He is the first UCLA player to be taken in the top four since Russell Westbrook in 2008.
“When he’s on the floor, all four guys out there with him become better instantly,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “That’s a quality trait that not many people have. The great ones all have it. I hope by the way he plays, everyone else on our team becomes better.’’
Ball was one of three UCLA freshmen drafted. TJ Leaf went 18th to the Indiana Pacers and Ike Anigbogu, projected to go late in the first round, fell to the 47th pick, also to the Pacers.
In addition to Ball, the Lakers selected Utah forward Kyle Kuzma with the 27th pick, which they acquired from the Brooklyn Nets this week in a trade that sent D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Nets.
That trade paved the way for Ball to join the team without complication. Russell, a point guard who was the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, was a starter in 60 games for the Lakers last season.
The Lakers then traded the 28th pick, a pick they’d received from the Houston Rockets in a trade for Lou Williams, to the Utah Jazz. In return, the Lakers got the 30th and 42nd picks and took Villanova guard Josh Hart and Indiana center Thomas Bryant, both of whom worked out for the Lakers during the pre-draft process.
The night, though, belonged to their top pick.
After the Philadelphia 76ers made Washington point guard Markelle Fultz the No. 1 pick in the draft, the Lakers were on the clock. As their allotted five minutes wound down, Ball removed the dress shoes he’d worn into the building and changed into a pair of purple and gold sneakers made by his family’s brand.
Then he waited.
Two and a half minutes later, his agent handed him a phone. Within seconds everyone seated at his table — his brothers, his father, his trainer and a family friend — broke into grins. They took in the moment as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Lonzo’s name and the crowd inside the Barclays Center erupted.
Then the interview gauntlet began. Ball started with his podium interview, where he showed deference and reverence to Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations.
“He's one of the best to ever do it, and I can't — there's never going to be another Magic Johnson,” Ball said. “So I'm trying to be myself, but if I can come halfway short of him, you know it's going to be good.”
Next, in a crowded media room across the arena, he conducted interviews for “The Jimmy Kimmel Show,” local television stations, national radio shows, websites and video conferences shared in Australia, Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Chile, France, India, Mexico, the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
Not long after, Ball was doing a television interview in a hallway at Barclays Center when Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox, taken fifth by the Sacramento Kings, pranced by and giddily called out to Ball.
“Yeah, Zo!” Fox said. “Yeah, Zo!”
Fox would later pass Ball again, playfully slapping the bill on his Lakers cap and declaring that his cap was the best because it wasn’t a cap, but a visor.
Ball sat for the NBA’s social media channels, then was presented with a watch. Then he reached the Lakers at their practice facility in El Segundo. Johnson, Walton, Jeanie Buss and Joey Buss all congratulated him. General manager Rob Pelinka told him, “We like to make dreams come true.”
Ball grew up watching the Lakers win championships with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. His outspoken father, LaVar, had insisted for months that his son would play for the Lakers. As the draft was about to begin, LaVar declared their table a place for positivity and for believing that the Lakers would take his oldest son.
The Ball family remained at their table until just before the Lakers made their later selections. Then they got up and walked out past a rowdy crowd of draft spectators, who started to boo loudly at LaVar. He grinned and pumped his fists at them. He threw his purple and gold Big Baller Brand cap into the crowd before leaving to meet Lonzo.
Soon they would be celebrating into the night.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be crazy,” Lonzo said.