- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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NEW YORK -- As kids, we talked about this. When we first played against each other, dropping 56 and 55 on each other the summer before our freshman year of high school; when he'd ask me after practices (we wound up going to the same high school) to stand in the lane while he'd run, jump over me and dunk -- two-handed; when we'd go to the Plaza to buy our Dr. J Converse All-Stars.
We talked about going to the NBA. His talk was legit, real, had a chance to happen; mine was artificial, displayed on a T-shirt with ironed-on letters that read "First Round Draft Pick 1985." Nevertheless, we both had dreams.
On Thursday, I went to the NBA draft to see one of those dreams come true. See, Michael Conley Sr. dreamed about playing in the NBA. Before he became a track star at the University of Arkansas (which he attended on a basketball scholarship), before his Olympic silver medal (1984) and gold medal (1992) in the triple jump, before he put the Foot Locker Slam Fest on the map, Michael Conley wanted to play in the NBA. He wanted to hear his name called on draft day.
And on Thursday, he did.
But it wasn't his name, not exactly. It was his son's. Thursday night, a father got to see his fantasy realized through his son, and for Michael Conley Sr., it was like nothing he'd ever dreamed of. Because not only was his son picked No. 4 in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies but Conley Sr. is also the agent of the No. 1 pick, Greg Oden.
One man. One helluva day.
"I can't distinguish between when I went to sleep and when I woke up," Conley said of the beginning of draft day. "I was on the phone with teams until 1 in the morning. Then I was woken up by someone on 'SportsCenter' saying Greg is going to Portland, which wasn't official, so I'm wondering, 'Whoa, where did that come from?'"
Conley Sr. had to play both agent and father Thursday. He had to find a way to remain calm in the middle of a massive storm. Stay cool, stay calm, spread love, handle business. A requiem in four parts.
By 9 a.m., he was on the phone practically nonstop. Not only securing his son's and Oden's futures but also trying to ensure his other client -- Daequan Cook, another former Ohio State Buckeye -- would be chosen in the first round. Then came the meetings -- shoe-company meetings, about deals that often are just as lucrative and important as the contracts players sign with their teams. With Oden already having signed with Nike, Conley Sr. sat through presentations by adidas, Reebok and Nike, considering potential deals for his son and Cook.
The PDA attached to his right hand, with the plug attached to his right ear, never rested. Every now and then, he'd put it down, only to pick it right back up within seconds. The calls kept coming, and coming. The players' families were nervous. The players' families were excited. And all the while, Conley Sr. was trying to keep his cool and not let on that he was probably even more excited than the rest of them.
"I haven't really had a chance to enjoy this as a parent," he said. "That's good and bad. Bad because I should enjoy it, because this is my son and his dream. Good because I'm not stressed out about it like a parent would be."
By noontime, Conley still wasn't sure about Cook's situation. Teams were talking about him, but no team was confirming it'd take him. He'd been assured his son would be selected either No. 3 or No. 4, but teams have been known to lie or change their minds, to be more politically correct.
When I asked him how he'd been able to handle the stress of the day -- of being both a father and an agent -- Conley Sr. laughed. "This agent business has been good for that," he said. "As [just] a parent I probably would have been pulling my hair out. I would have been overly anxious and excited, sitting there worried about all of the things that were going to happen next in my son's life. Instead, I'm in the middle of trying to make this whole experience work out, trying to make sure every team has all of the information they need to be able to make an assessment for him. And that has me focused. Almost in competition mode. And when I'm in that mode, I'm at a different level. There is no emotion attached. Just straight focus."
Then he told me a story, from the Sunday in between this year's Final Four and national championship game, when his son asked him a question. "We were walking to the [hotel] room, and he put his arm around me and he said, 'Dad what is this my cousins are telling me, that on television they are talking about that I can be a lottery pick if I come out. What is that all about?' That was the first time it had ever dawned on him. That was the first time it hit him that he was even in this position."
Conley Sr. went on to tell me how he'd known 3-4 weeks before that. How he already had talked to people in the NBA who told him his son would be chosen in the top 15 and how two teams already had him in their top 15. He told me how he knew this was coming, how he knew his family was going to have to make a decision, and how he never shared this info with Li'l Mike. How he had to be his son's father before he was his son's agent.
Then, about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, an emotion came over him. Calmness. One more phone call came about Daequan Cook. After that phone conversation, he "had a secure feeling" that Cook was going in the first round. "The last piece to the puzzle," he said. His entire body, for the first time, shifted into a relaxed state.
Finally, he had a concrete idea about where the three players he had been coaching in AAU ball since they were 13 years old were going to go, when their names were going to be called. With just a few hours remaining before showtime, Conley Sr. went to check on Oden and his family, then to Li'l Mike's room to check on him before they got dressed for the draft. Conley Jr. was chillin' in his room, do-rag on his head to make sure the waves looked fresh for his second shining moment. Junior stood next to his father. Senior grabbed Junior's tatted left arm and said, "You're getting big." Junior replied, "Naw, I need to hit the weights more, I need to get stronger." And his father answered him -- as only a father and agent could -- "You need to work on your jump shot."
At Madison Square Garden, Michael Conley Sr. kicked into agent mode when Oden's name was called. But when David Stern called Junior's name, his mother, Renee, grabbed him and wrapped her arms around him, and Conley Sr. got to play the proud papa -- hugging his son, then sitting down at the table again to watch Junior make that walk onto the stage. Then all he had left to do was wait to hear Cook's name get called, at No. 21 -- then watch him get shipped from Philadelphia to Miami in a trade, something he knew might happen -- and then Conley Sr.'s work was done.
How does a guy balance fatherhood and agenthood on a day like this? The same way a writer balances journalism and friendship when he's there to see his friend's dream come true. He does his best.
I asked Conley Sr., when the day was over, what plane he was getting on. His answer? "Scoop, I might be the first agent in history that didn't travel to the city of the team of the player who was the No. 1 pick in the draft. But tomorrow, I'm going to be with my son."
What was draft night like for Mike Conley Sr. -- Greg Oden's agent, Mike Conley Jr.'s father? Scoop Jackson spent the entire day with him.