The LA Clippers weren’t projected to appear in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft, having traded their pick to Memphis in 2016. The team eventually ended up moving into the first round to select Mfiondu Kabengele, but a certain Clipper showed up much earlier — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The LA rookie is the first cousin of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and the two grew up more like brothers since they’re only three months apart and grew up about 40 miles away from one another. They even lived together in the same room for two years at their high school coach’s house before Shai went off to Kentucky and Nickeil played at Virginia Tech.
Shai only spent one year in college, and thus got to experience being drafted last year, while Nickeil needed a little extra time before making the leap. He was invited to the green room this year after a stellar season with the Hokies, and got to hear his name called 17th overall.
When asked how he felt seeing his cousin get drafted, Gilgeous-Alexander said,
“It’s a blessing, obviously, but we’ve worked for it our whole life, and we knew, as early as I can remember, that we’d both make it, and we’re here today. We still have more to prove, it doesn’t stop here for us, and we’re ready for the challenge.”
ESPN’s Maria Taylor went on to ask the pair who won their one-on-one battles, and Nickeil said that he did, and he wasn’t going to let Shai answer. Shai got the mic anyway, and said he’d let his cousin say that because it was his day, remarkable maturity from the younger cousin. The ESPN crew also made a conscious choice to tag Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the screen as “Nickeil’s cousin” instead of “LA Clipper” or “2018 NBA Draft no. 11 pick”.
For much of Gilgeous-Alexander’s rookie season, he was praised for having composure beyond his years. He was at ease on the court, always letting the game come to him at his own pace; he was unperturbed off the floor as well, and sometimes he felt a little too poised, as if you couldn’t really tell what he was thinking or feeling.
That was absolutely not the case Thursday, as joy jumped off the screen when Shai spoke about Nickeil. No amount of coaching could have prepared him for how he would react to this moment, when his cousin — but really his brother and best friend — experienced a dream come true.
Congrats to Shai, Nickeil, and the entire Alexander family for this accomplishment. The first Clippers game against the Pelicans will surely be appointment viewing.