NEW YORK — It’s after midnight, and the throngs of NBA fans who howled throughout the NBA Draft have mostly left the Barclays Center and headed into the humid night. Many of those who remain have found their way down to the front rows, and the ushers mostly just shrug and let them enjoy themselves.
Throughout the rest of the arena, there are large areas of empty seats. But up in Section 125, Tremont Waters is still waiting for his moment. The 5-foot-11-inch guard from LSU was no lock to be drafted, but he came here from his family’s New Haven home anyway, because how many chances do you get for a moment like this?
And now there are just 10 picks left, and the realization sets in that he might be leaving the city without an NBA cap on his head.
“I was thinking up there that whatever situation I go to, I’m going to be blessed,” Waters said later, “that I’d make the best of my opportunity and prove to myself that I belong.”
His girlfriend Mercedes Brooks, who plays for the LSU women’s basketball team, tells him to just keep his faith. His mother, Vanessa Waters, is anxious, but she does not want her son to know. So she just looks at him and watches him to make sure he is doing OK. Waters’s agent, Kim Grillier, calls him into the arena concourse, near the food stands that are now closed, and gives him a quick pep talk.
Then they go back to their seats, and before long Waters sees some ESPN cameras marching in his direction. And there is no one else sitting near him and his family, so he knows it has to be his moment. Seconds later, deputy commissioner Mark Tatum reveals that the Celtics have selected Waters with the 51st overall pick.
Waters, the last prospect left in the Barclays Center to be picked, proudly walks down the stairs and across the stage. It feels just as he had always believed it would.
“It was stressful,” Vanessa Waters says, “but we made it through.”
After putting on his crisp green Celtics hat, Waters walks back toward the back of the arena where he goes through a quick media tour. He signs a few spongy basketballs and throws them into the crowd. He does a television interview. He is ushered down a long hallway to do some more of that.
Finally, it all begins to set in. Growing up in Connecticut, which can serve as a dividing line between Boston and New York sports teams, Waters was often conflicted about how to handle it. Even though his best friend once bought him a Knicks jersey, he usually found himself pulling for the Celtics anyway. Now, he is a Celtic.
He thought he might have a chance of being selected by the Celtics. His final predraft workout was in Boston, and he performed well, including one stretch in which he made 20 consecutive jump shots.
“I felt like I left a pretty good impression,” he says. “They saw the type of dog I had in me. It’s just that now it’s going to come out.”
But there isn’t really much time to let it all sink in just yet. It is a whirlwind.
Several times, Waters talks about how blessed he is to be the 52nd pick of the draft, and he is actually selling himself short, because he was taken 51st. When he thinks about Boston’s other picks of the night, he talks about how excited he is to play with Virginia’s Ty Jerome, but that pick was actually traded to the Suns.
Someone tells Waters that several of the players who were technically selected by the Celtics on the stage will not actually become Celtics, because those picks had been traded. Brooks, or the future Mrs. Waters, as Tremont happily refers to her, has a look of panic. Tremont hasn’t actually spoken to anyone from the Celtics organization.
“His pick was real, right?” she asks.
Yes, he is a Celtic. He is told about the real Celtics picks — Romeo Langford, Carsen Edwards, and Grant Williams — and he smiles.
“That’s cool, too,” he says.
Waters ends up in a posh lounge in the back of the arena that has been partially converted into a photo studio. Earlier in the night, this was the epicenter of activity for draft picks and their families, who mingled and hugged and even posed for family pictures together.
But now the room is almost empty. There are some leftover soda and water bottles sitting on high-top tables. A few tired-looking NBA officials mill about.
Waters walks over to the stage for his photo shoot, because if 51st picks come all the way to New York, they get photo shoots, too. The photographer asks him to jump in the air, and he does. He dribbles through his legs a few times, and the camera shutters click.
Mostly, Waters wants his family to get down here so he can enjoy the moment and pose for some pictures with them, just like No. 1 pick Zion Williamson did with his family more than four hours earlier. The problem is they’re having a tough time getting past security outside.
Several attempts are made to resolve the issue over the phone, but that doesn’t work. So Waters just relays their seat location to an NBA official, who hurries up to escort them himself.
Finally, the Waters crew comes pouring into the room. The group includes his mother, his grandmother, his girlfriend, his agent, and several other friends.
Everyone is there but his father, Ed, and now it’s now past 1 a.m. and the last shuttle bus from Brooklyn to the the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan is idling in a tunnel about 100 yards away. And the arena is emptying quickly.
After a few minutes, Ed Waters comes into the lounge carrying an umbrella and looking a bit flustered. He’d ended up in the wrong room, but now the father is here, and the quick family photo shoot is full. You can see the joy in everyone’s faces.
“It’s priceless,” Vanessa Waters says.
Waters, who averaged 15.3 points per game as a sophomore at LSU last season, said his size has led him to be doubted all his life. And he knows that as a second-round pick with no guarantee of making the roster, that isn’t going to stop now. But neither is he.
“At this point, I’m in the door,” he said. “Now I’m going to do my part . . . Just keep faith in me.”
At 1:19 a.m., it is time to catch the bus back to the draft hotel. When Waters and his group get to the bus, they see they have it all to themselves. All of the other prospects have already left.
For some draft picks, celebrations on this night go well into morning. But Waters is tired, and his girlfriend has to catch a 6 a.m. flight, and he said he did not come here to let loose, anyway.
“I’m a low-key guy,” Waters says. “I’m not a huge partier. I don’t do anything crazy. I don’t smoke or drink. I’m basically playing basketball, chilling with my girl, or going to art galleries and watching movies. I don’t get too hyped about anything, but I’m hyped for this opportunity to try to prove myself.”