Draft night 2020 was unique in so many ways. Instead of going through the NBA rite of passage of hearing your name called, hugging your family and then walking across a stage to take a fresh hat from commissioner Adam Silver, players sat at home or in a local spot with their loved ones and watched the magic play out while waiting on a Zoom call.
Prior to draft night, prospects were sent a care package from the NBA that included a new hat from all 30 teams, an NBA ball to take photos with and a care package from league sponsors.
According to Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton, ESPN already had set up with each individual player who would hand them a hat once their name was called, so he and his mom had lined up the top twelve or thirteen caps and waited for his name to be called.
When Haliburton’s name was called, his mother handed him a Kings hat, there were smiles all around and the overwhelming thought was that he had landed in the right spot.
“The fact that I fell to 12, I was excited, because I knew there was opportunity to be had in Sacramento,” Haliburton told NBC Sports California during a recent taping of Kings Central which airs at 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on NBC Sports California . “I think that’s the most important thing for anybody in any sport, even in any job opportunity. Anything -- it’s just an opportunity to showcase your talent, to showcase that you belong or you’re good at what you do.”
Sacramento has proven to be the land of opportunity for the 21-year-old guard. He’s flourishing in the Kings’ system and already has taken home two out of three Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards.
The mystery of why Haliburton fell to the Kings is interesting. The Warriors, who held the No. 2 overall selection in the draft, were interested, but once he fell past them, it was a pretty big draft night slide.
Haliburton knows that playing at a lesser-known school may have had something to do with him tumbling and certainly a big reason why he was all over the board on NBA mock drafts.
“If you didn’t watch me play and you just googled ‘Tyrese Haliburton highlights,’ you’re not going to get the full picture, ever,” Haliburton said. “And then, I think there’s things in my game that you can’t put on a statsheet. I think there are things like my IQ, my feel for the game and you can’t put passion to win on a scoresheet. Those are things that can’t be judged.”
Following draft night, rumors circulated that Haliburton and his agent, Aaron Mintz, may have orchestrated a slide to No. 12 where the Kings were selecting. Haliburton refuted the reports, but left some room for interpretation.
“I wouldn’t say that we maneuvered it and told everybody from one to eleven ‘don’t pick me,’” Haliburton said. “That is just not true, I would never say that. I just wanted to play basketball. I didn’t care where I went, I just wanted to play basketball.”
Why would a kid born and raised in Oshkosh, Wisc., and who went to college at Iowa State circle Sacramento as the place he wanted to start his NBA journey?
“I will say this, it didn’t matter to me how high you were drafted, it mattered to me what my fit was there,” Haliburton added. “Some teams I felt like I fit really well, some teams I felt like I didn’t. Sacramento was obviously a place where I thought I fit really well and this is where I landed.”
One of the main reasons Haliburton felt like the Kings were a good match was due to the potential pairing with point guard De’Aaron Fox. Like Haliburton, Fox was excited to come to the Kings in the 2017 NBA Draft and was vocal on the subject.
He also just inked a five-year, $163 million extension with the Kings, which is a tremendous commitment from both the player and the franchise. In his fourth NBA season, Fox is becoming a star and the Kings hope they found his backcourt pairing for a decade or more in Haliburton.
Cut from the same mold, Haliburton and Fox instantly have developed on-court chemistry and off the court, there are plenty of similarities as well.
“I think we’re just growing day-by-day, learning each other more and more, learning our interests off the court,” Haliburton said. “At the end of the day, both of us are pretty nerdy guys. We love video games and he loves anime and stuff like that. We’re boring people. We don’t leave the house. We’re very similar.”
The Kings believe they’ve found another building block in Haliburton. He’s in the race for NBA Rookie of the Year, but more importantly, he is part of the group that has Sacramento fighting for a playoff berth.
Haliburton taking home the trophy or the Kings snapping their 14-year playoff drought would be icing on the cake.
Regardless, the Kings got the steal of the 2021 NBA Draft and added a major piece for their future.