NEW YORK - It was three days before the only NBA draft ever held in Toronto, when Isiah Thomas took me aside, put his hand on my shoulder and asked a question.
“Can I trust you to keep a secret?” the part-owner, part-conspiracy theorist, full-time general manager inquired. I assured him I could.
Then he asked me again, just to be certain.
“No one can know this,” he said, as if he was revealing some kind of state secret. To Isiah Thomas, the NBA draft was an event of international intrigue.
“I really want this high school kid,” Thomas told me, back when no one wanted high school kids.
He said that while at the same time complaining about the lousy disservice the NBA had done to Toronto. Instead of picking first or second, the way expansion teams usually do with Vancouver entering the league, the Raptors lost their first-ever coin-toss — foreshadowing, wasn’t it? — and ended up at seventh, one pick behind the Vancouver Grizzlies.
“I love this kid,” he told me, emphasizing the word kid. “I don’t know if we can get him, but believe me, we’re going to do everything possible. I mean, everything possible.”
The kid from Farragut Academy in Chicago via Mauldin High in South Carolina? Kevin Garnett.
Isiah even had a plan for Garnett as a first-year player out of high school. He didn’t want him playing road games. He didn’t think he was ready for the travel and the NBA lifestyle. He wanted him to take some college courses, just to have some kind of normal life. He had all that worked out in his mind before the draft.
And then draft night happened.