NEWARK – Bradley Beal was about 12 years old when he grabbed a baseball cap, strolled into the bedroom of his parents, Bobby and Besta, and deftly played the role of NBA Commissioner David Stern introducing him at the draft. At the time, neither Beal nor his family could have imagined that the moment would actually arrive so soon thereafter, or that he would have the privilege of celebrating his 19th birthday in such unique fashion — surrounded by loved ones, donning a Washington Wizards cap, and finally greeting the man he once imitated with a grin and a handshake.
“I didn’t know it was going to come this fast. Here I am today,” Beal said at Prudential Center after the Wizards selected him with the third pick in the NBA draft. “The greatest feeling ever. This is by far, the best feeling I’ve ever had. To actually achieve my dream and my goal is a blessing and an honor. I’m grateful right now, but I can’t stop here. I’ve got to get to work.”
After all of the speculation, rumored deals and uncertainty, the Wizards got the player they had targeted all along — and Beal got the team he wanted to play for the moment he completed a workout at Verizon Center two weeks ago. The Charlotte Bobcats had been shopping the No. 2 around the league and several teams had expressed a desire to move up to earn the opportunity to draft Beal. Beal was understandably nervous, as he expressed to his family some worry that he could get drafted and dealt to a place where he didn’t want to play. But once the Bobcats selected Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal was finally able to relax and look forward to beginning his career in Washington.
“To be honest, in the back of my head. I had the feeling after working out with them, that’s where I wanted to be,” Beal said. “At the end of the day, no matter where I would’ve landed, I would’ve been happy. But I’m grateful I’m in D.C.”
The Wizards were excited to have Beal, as well. Since taking point guard John Wall with the top choice in 2010, the Wizards haven’t escaped the bottom rung of the NBA. After completing a trade with New Orleans for center Emeka Okafor and small forward Trevor Ariza, the Wizards established the hope that they were done collecting high lottery picks and could possibly compete on a more consistent basis. Okafor and Ariza are both noted defenders but the deal also created an obvious need for more help on the perimeter.
The Wizards ranked 23rd in scoring and 28th in three-point shooting percentage and were desperately in need of some talent at the wing positions. With the addition of the 6-foot-3 Beal, they have now found a possible running mate to grow with Wall.
“I think he’s a great pick,” said Wall. “The organization, the owner and GM did a great job. I’m glad we had the opportunity to pick him. He’s somebody that can makes shots, help spread the court for you. You can’t say what to expect from him right away, but I think he’ll come in and help us out a lot.”
Jordan Crawford started at shooting guard in the season’s second half, but Beal said he expected the three players to form a formidable back court in Washington. “I think it’ll be terrific. J-Wall and Crawford are both great players. He can create for himself and Crawford can put the ball in the rim,” said Beal, adding that he doesn’t feel any pressure to produce right away. “Not so much, because I’m not going to come in and force the issue. I’m going to try to play my role and have an impact as much as I can. . . . I think I am ready, physically and mentally. I know I have to get a lot stronger. It’s going to be some things that I’m going to have to go through. I’m still going to pick myself up and keep playing hard.”
Anthony Davis, the consensus national player of the year who led the Wildcats to a national championship last season, became the second player from Kentucky to go No. 1 overall — joining Wall — to the Hornets. Despite the uncertainty of the draft after Davis, the Wizards knew that at least two of the three players that they had targeted would be available with the third pick. They had their sights set on the freshman Beal, who averaged 14.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in his one season at Florida.
“We had some real good choices there — but yes, we were hoping he would fall to three,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said of Beal. “He can stretch the defense, is a very good three-point shooter and he knows how to play the game.”
Cleveland selected Syracuse guard Dion Waiters at No. 4 and Kansas power forward and District native Thomas Robinson went fifth to Sacramento. The Wizards also grabbed Tomas Satoransky, a 6-7 guard of Czech Republic with pick No. 32.
Beal has worn the No. 23 since high school but Michael Jordan, considered by many the greatest player to lace up a pair of sneakers, wore the same number for Chicago and Washington — though many would rather forget those two years with the Wizards.
He has already decided to find a different identity in Washington.
“I’m not going to wear it,” Beal said, when asked if he would seek the No. 23 in Washington.
Beal’s day was a bit of contrast to a year ago, when he spent his 18th birthday at summer school orientation at Florida. “It wasn’t too good, but this one tops off anything else,” Beal said. “The best birthday I’ve ever had, by far. I’m just enjoying it.”
With parents, agent Mark Bartelstein, and four brothers Brandon, Bruce, Bryon and Byron, providing support, Beal was able to make good on his imaginary draft night back home in St. Louis. “I thought that was really cute,” Besta Beal said, recalling that day, “and now he’s in the NBA.”