NEW YORK -- It was the hottest debate in the NBA draft, and the New Jersey Nets went with their hearts, not their heads. Billy Owens was the logical No. 2 selection, Kenny Anderson the magical one. The beauty of the NBA is that magic almost always wins.
The moment Anderson was selected, his mother Joan burst into tears and 7,000 fans at Madison Square Garden leaped for the stars. Anderson does that to people in a way Billy Owens never will. That's why the Nets ignored their best instincts and dared to dream.
It's not simply that Anderson is the hometown kid from Queens. This goes far deeper than that. Anderson is only 6 feet 2 and 168 pounds, but the Nets envision him as the next Tiny Archibald or Isiah Thomas. He is that gifted, that exciting. And to think, he's only 20 years old.
Maryland coach Gary Williams spent many a sleepless night trying to figure out a way to stop Anderson at Georgia Tech, and the wondrous point guard was only there two years. But let's face it, even Williams would have found it difficult bypassing Owens if he was drafting for the Nets.
Logic, remember? New Jersey already had a point guard (Mookie Blaylock) and desperately needed a small forward. Coach Bill Fitch and vice president Willis Reed both said they wanted Owens, the 6-9 forward from Syracuse who NBA scouts compare to Scottie Pippen.
The Nets even conducted a fan poll in a local newspaper that showed a 10-to-1 preference for Owens. That seemed to quash the notion that Anderson translated to greater box-office appeal -- a legitimate concern for New Jersey, a distant No. 2 in its market behind the New York Knicks.
Thus, everything pointed to Owens, which would have left Anderson for (gasp!) Sacramento at No. 3. It turned out just the opposite. Anderson insisted he would have been happy either way, but couldn't hide his excitement over staying close to home. "Definitely," he said, "New Jersey had a piece of my heart."
Magic, remember? The Garden fans started chanting "Ken-ny! Ken-ny!" moments after Charlotte, as expected, made Nevada-Las Vegas' Larry Johnson the No. 1 pick. By then, the Nets had already made up their minds. "A Kenny Anderson comes along only once every 10 years or so," part-owner Joe Taub told reporters in New Jersey.
Taub was said to be pushing hardest for Anderson, but not surprisingly, the Nets presented a united front. Fitch said there "wasn't any blood on the carpet" after the final meeting. Reed said it was a "team decision, our decision . . . a basketball decision."
Reed added, "A lot of people say he's too short, too young, too light, not a good shooter, but he's always gotten the job done." Which, of course, is the bottom line. Anderson led Tech to the Final Four his freshman year. He averaged 25.9 points and 8.1 assists as a sophomore, and led all ACC guards in rebounding with 5.7 per game.
The question is whether his body can withstand day-in, day-out NBA pounding, but Anderson already is preparing for his rookie year. "I've been working out extremely hard for three months, and I plan on continuing," he said. "There's a lot of work ahead of me. I'm 20 years old. It will take a little time."
The other issue Anderson faces is the pressure of playing so close to home, but that isn't expected to be a problem. He has been a public figure in New York since his freshman year of high school. His only problem will be finding the Meadowlands Arena. Asked which route he'd take, he said, "I'm not even sure. I might get lost."
Meanwhile, in another part of the Garden, his mother was so excited, she could hardly speak. "I'm not over the jitters yet," Joan Anderson told reporters moments after the announcement, still wiping away tears. "I'll be over them in a minute, as soon as they bring my son."
Joan, too, claimed she would have settled for Sacramento, explaining that she didn't care which team picked Kenny, "just as long as he went." Kenny plans to buy her a home in the suburbs, and joked she'd still live close enough to "smack me around a little bit."
First she'd have to catch him. Anderson said he can't wait to run the break with NBA Rookie of the Year Derrick Coleman. He can't wait, period. He wore a Nets cap on his head and clutched a team jersey and roster in his hand. He smiled and pumped his fist at the fans calling his name.
The night only grew more electric when the Knicks drafted a point guard of their own, UNLV's Greg Anthony, at No. 12. Anthony was asked if he had anything to say to Anderson, and he told the crowd, "I feel sorry for him." The fans howled and stamped their feet.
But that's a debate for another time.
The Nets got their magic act.
Watch their problems disappear.