You know how some NBA players are considered to be trendsetters? Like they would do something, and you’ll see many follow their lead. Well, Moses Malone was one of them.
He was the first player to come to the league straight out of high school. He got drafted into the ABA in ’74. After the NBA-ABA merger in ’76, Malone ended up with the Buffalo Braves. However, Malone wasn’t the first one that was drafted straight to the NBA. That title belongs to Darryl Dawkins. The Sixers took him in the year of a merger, and the Hawks followed it up 14 picks later by picking Bill Willoughby. After that, the NBA had seen a drought of prep-to-pro leaps and had waited 20 years for one to appear.
Then came ’95 – the year when Kevin Garnett filled out his draft application. Two decades after Willoughby was drafted, the kid from Farragut Career Academy felt like he was good enough to skip a step and go straight to the pros. Even if he wasn’t sure, one workout in Chicago put his mind at ease.
Mike Jordan in there. Scottie Pippen was in there. I’m like ‘oooh.’ All of a sudden, ‘hey you, come here!’ I was like ‘me?’ I was like ‘throw my shoes yo!’ Jordan was like ‘let’s go’ so we go. I launched my s***, boom! And I hear somebody go ‘I see you, OK, I see you!’ Then Isiah Thomas said, ‘boy, you could play in the league right now!’ When he said that, the world stopped.Kevin Garnett, SHOWTIME SPORTS
When a player of Isiah’s caliber says something like that, you’re not having second thoughts. And neither was Garnett, as he had made his decision. It made him a forerunner in the modern era of drafting high-schoolers. After Kevin did it, it became a regular practice in the league.
Upon declaring for the draft, Garnett went through a normal pre-draft process of working out with various NBA teams. However, one workout stood out. One encounter in particular, and it involved Pat Riley.
Coming to workout, I heard Pat Riley like ‘come on, what the f*** is this, you got me in here watching a high school guy?’ “You don’t know why you’re here?” Garnett quipped at Riley during the workout. “Motherf****, f*** you mean, ‘Why you in here?’ Riley started clapping, and all he said was ‘nice workout young fella.’Kevin Garnett, SHOWTIME SPORTS
Riley had just taken over complete control over Heat’s basketball operations. He wasn’t going to spend his valuable time on a high school kid. Because let’s face it, at the time, very few believed they would be good enough. Say no more. KG was pumped-up. It was a full display of his tenacity, something which became his trademark over his NBA career. It took Garnett one workout to prove his worth to one of the greatest executives ever. He was that special.
Whatever the impression KG had left, it didn’t matter. The Heat had the 10th pick in the draft – too low for a high ceiling high school prospect. Garnett was picked fifth by the Timberwolves, and it was the beginning of a Hall of Fame career. It was also a door-opening moment for future high schoolers who felt they were good enough to go straight to the NBA.
KG started the wave, and many followed his path.