EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the Philadelphia 76ers last had the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft a decade ago, they dealt the pick in what turned out to be one of the worst blunders in franchise history. There were no deals last night, as the team addressed its strong need for a point guard.
And that point guard turned out to be Allen Iverson, who became the first point guard selected with the top pick since the Los Angeles Lakers took Magic Johnson in 1979. The Sixers did so after fielding some offers for the pick, including one in which the Washington Bullets offered a package that included Philadelphia native Rasheed Wallace.
Marcus Camby went to the Toronto Raptors with the second pick, and he was followed by Shareef Abdur-Rahim (third, to the Vancouver Grizzlies), Stephon Marbury (fourth to the Milwaukee Bucks) and Ray Allen (fifth to the Minnesota Timberwolves). Marbury, less than a half-hour later, was dealt to Minnesota for Allen and a future first-round pick.
A big question going into last night was who would take a chance on the two high school players in the draft, Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O'Neal. Bryant was chosen 13th by the Charlotte Hornets and O'Neal was selected with the 17th pick by the Portland Trail Blazers.
But this was a night where everyone took a back seat to the 6-foot Iverson, who just over two years ago was in prison, convicted of assault after an altercation at a bowling alley
in his native Virginia. Iverson was eventually pardoned, and went on to play two solid seasons at Georgetown, leading the Hoyas to the East Regional final last season.
He goes to a Philadelphia team that, the last time it had the top pick, in 1986, traded it to the Cleveland Cavaliers -- who took Brad Daugherty -- for Roy Hinson and cash. It was one of the most lopsided trades in franchise history, and one the team is hoping to live down with the selection of Iverson.
"I think I can do a lot for this team," said Iverson, who averaged 25.0 points a game and was named a first-team All-America as a sophomore. "I hope I'm the missing piece to the puzzle. [Jerry] Stackhouse is a great player. [Clarence] Weatherspoon is great, and so is Derrick Coleman. I'm looking forward to playing with them."
Coach Johnny Davis was very enthusiastic about a guard tandem of Iverson and Stackhouse. "It should be one of the best backcourts in the league," he said. "It's a dynamic backcourt of the future."
When the Toronto Raptors followed with the second pick, many t2expected it to be Abdur-Rahim, the 6-foot-10 forward who averaged 21.1 points in his one year at California. Instead the Raptors selected Massachusetts forward Marcus Camby.
"My last two years have finished in this arena, and now my whole new career is going to start here," said Camby, whose UMass team lost here at Continental Airlines Arena to Kentucky in the Final Four. "People question what position I will play, three, four or five. I see myself just as a player. Just get me out on the court and let me play."
In selecting Abdur-Rahim with the third pick, the Grizzlies get a versatile forward to play alongside Bryant Reeves. After tearfully announcing that he was entering the draft, Abdur-Rahim two weeks later said he was going back to California. But he never officially notified the league, and was taken with the third pick.
"It was just a situation where I knew I had to do what was best for me," Abdur-Rahim said. "Vancouver was a place I really got a good feel for. From what I've seen of Big Country, we're both individuals that work hard."
Marbury had said before the draft that he didn't want to go to Vancouver, and he went one pick later to Milwaukee. But barely 20 minutes after Marbury was saying how he much he looked forward to playing alongside Bucks forwards Vin Baker and Glenn Robinson, he was traded to Minnesota -- which gave up its fifth pick, Ray Allen, and a future first-round pick.
The 6-2 Marbury is considered the best playmaker of the draft. After shaking the hand of NBA commissioner David Stern, Marbury walked to the side to do a television interview -- where he broke down and cried.
"My dream is complete, now I have to go on to my new birth," a more composed Marbury said later. "This is the start to a new beginning. I've worked so hard for so long, and right now it's all paying off."
The first seven picks -- and a record 17 overall -- turned out to be early-entry candidates, with that string ending when the New Jersey Nets selected Villanova guard Kerry Kittles with the eighth pick. The pick turned out to be a favorite for the home fans.
"It's only an hour and 15 minutes from Villanova," a pleased Kittles said. "Some teams have a bad couple of years, and it picks up later. Hopefully we can get things rolling."