As Jabari Parker accepted his Milwaukee Bucks cap from NBA commissioner Adam Silver and exited the stage, he had to face love in the form of congratulations and questions shaped around his future.
Then, once he turned the corner -- once he got away from his family, friends, supporters, the lights, cameras, handlers and media that have been a part of his life since he was 8 years old -- it hit him.
The tears flowed beautifully and uncontrollably.
Jabari Parker didn't hide them. He just stopped walking. Turned inside of a small doorway outside of the interview room in the basement of the Barclays Center and let it all go. Released years and years of locked-up and pent-up hope, anticipation and expectations. No one said anything to him. We just all let him be.
This was a long time coming. Probably longer for Parker than any other player -- or family -- in this draft. Before he was Jabari, to those of us who knew his father, he was "Sonny's kid." Prodigy from the beginning. Born in 1995 as the Bulls began another three-peat. Raised in Chicago, just like his father, former NBA player Sonny Parker. The Second City's official Second Coming.
"You watched him grow up," his father said to me after his son was selected No. 2. "He's going where he wants to go." When I asked Sonny, who has been battling kidney illness and was recently released from the hospital, how he felt about this moment finally happening for Jabari, he said one word: "Relieved."
The talk of this moment has been attached to Jabari's life since inception. Not by his parents necessarily, but by people who knew or know of his father. By the entire city of Chicago. Different even from LeBron James or Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant before him (all players well-known for years and uber-hyped entering their respective drafts) or even Andrew Wiggins (also a product of an NBA father), who over the past two years has indirectly shared this NBA/NCAA best player/top pick in the draft ride with Parker.
And this is part of the reason the enormity of this was so heavy on Jabari and why the tears finally forced themselves out. Even with Rose and Anthony Davis being top selections in recent drafts (2008, 2012 respectively) and being considered legendary Chicago products, neither had to live up to the responsibility of being the "next-best-ever" prodigy that Parker had to live up to nor for as long as he had to live up to it.
"I feel personal pride in having been a part of allowing kids [from Chicago] to dream bigger dreams from my hoop dream story and my mother's story," Isiah Thomas said to me after Jabari was drafted. Thomas, who is still hailed as the greatest player to ever be born in, raised in and escape from Chicago, speaks truthfully of a power not many from the city can acknowledge without coming off as arrogant. Although there were others before him, Thomas gave Chicago basketball its identity. He is still the player from Chi against whom all other players from Chi will be judged. "Jabari being the second pick speaks loudly to Chicago's commitment to our youth sports and educational program citywide," Thomas said.
The loneliest moments of one's life often happen when one least expects it. Sitting outside of a conference room in the caves of an arena in Brooklyn that Jay Z figuratively built while waiting to speak to a room full of media is the last place Jabari Parker probably expected to find himself alone.
But there he was. Sitting. All alone. Milwaukee Bucks draft cap on. Head bowed. Soaking his entire life in. Total running time: Close to 10 minutes. The one camera filming Jabari at this moment was so irrelevant to him that he'll likely be surprised if he ever sees it on TV.
And as the tears subsided, the reality that he'd just crossed his life's ordained threshold had to have overcome him. A calm set in. He reached into the inside pocket of his blazer and pulled out his cellphone. Checked for any and all activity that had come his way since he became the new face of an NBA franchise. He looked at his phone one more time. Put it back in his pocket. Then the door opened, Wiggins came out and they hugged. Jabari was up next.
Jabari shared with ESPN.com's Henry Abbott the day before the draft that the best advice he was ever given was to be the same person in the dark that you are in the light. No moment better reflected that advice than this moment in front of the media. He is so himself in this moment of transformation. Even as he tries to compose himself, never asking anyone for a tissue or napkin, he remains true to being that same person when no one else is around to see him break.
The light is finally on Jabari Parker in a way it has never been before. Time to shine young fella, time to shine.
As he left the podium and walked back through the corridor to finish fulfilling the next set of obligations that comes with being called the "most NBA-ready player in the draft," Jabari said in a walk-along interview that 10 years ago he could have never imagined this moment. Then he put his arm around me. We walked. This kid -- now man -- whom I watched grow up.
Knowing he will never have an experience or moment to himself like the one he just had, I had only one question for Jabari before he disappeared into what his life is about to become.
"What was going through your mind during that 10 minutes when you were alone outside of that interview room, once it all hit you?" I asked.
"Pure happiness, Scoop. Pure happiness."
And then he was gone.