A kid from Canada, a kid who goes on to star at UNLV, is taken with the first pick in his pro draft. By Cleveland.
Anthony Bennett, meet Simon Keith.
If you are a fan of history repeating itself, or a Simon Keith fan, then when Anthony Bennett took a couple of giant strides to the podium to shake hands with NBA commissioner David Stern on Thursday night, and put on the hat, you might have thought you had seen it before.
Or at least heard about it. Because when the Cleveland Crunch selected Simon Keith with the first pick in the 1989 Major Indoor Soccer League Draft, it wasn’t televised by ESPN, in prime time. Not even on ESPN Ocho, after the dodgeball playoffs.
Not even Simon Keith’s biggest fans made the connection.
When Sean Keith asked what his father thought of a Canadian who had played for UNLV going first to Cleveland, Simon Keith, 48, reminded his son that he was a Canadian who had played for UNLV who had gone first to Cleveland first. Before Sean was born.
“He said ‘Give it up, Dad,’ that (Bennett) is going to make more money in one quarter than I did all season, ” Simon Keith said.
Not quite. But close. Per NBA limits, Anthony Bennett, who grew up in Toronto, is expected to make around $5 million in his rookie season. If he plays all 82 games, he would make around $15,243.90 per quarter.
Simon Keith of Victoria, British Columbia, by way of Lewes in England, made $19,000 in his rookie season in Cleveland. Plus a $5,000 signing bonus. And a free steak dinner after the draft.
Thursday’s NBA Draft was held at the state-of-the-art Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The 1989 MISL Draft was held at a Best Western in Wichita, Kan.
Actually, Keith said the draft was held at the “nicest hotel in Wichita,” though he couldn’t remember the name. So it could have been a Best Western. Or a La Quinta. He doesn’t recall anybody stumbling inside because they couldn’t find the ice machine or the swimming pool.
Somebody from the Crunch, which was the new indoor soccer team in Cleveland, replacing the Force, had told Keith the night before that Cleveland would take him with the No. 1 pick. So it wasn’t a huge surprise, as it was for Bennett. And Cavaliers fans.
(It should be noted that Bennett and Keith also went first in their respective drafts despite health problems. Bennett has asthma, which can be serious, and a bum shoulder. Keith had a heart transplant when he was 21. So you gotta come strong when discussing what ails you with Simon Keith.)
It took Keith a few more strides to reach the podium than it did Bennett, because Keith is only 5 feet 8 inches. He remembers somebody from the Crunch being up there, and the MISL commissioner, and he remembers getting the hat.
When I asked if it was one of those mesh truckers caps, he said no, but that it definitely snapped in back.
In other words, it was better than those chef hats Bennett and the other top NBA picks received before having their pictures taken with the commissioner. These new ball caps with the team name spelled out in front stick up so high, I thought Bennett might cook a casserole right there on stage.
Keith said there must have been 150 spectators at the MISL Draft at the nice hotel in Wichita, and that, yes, you had to get dressed up, and wear a tie.
The MISL lasted 14 years and had its share of stars, guys such as Steve Zungul and Branko Segota and Karl Heinz-Granitza and Preki and Tatu and Juli Veee, with 3 E’s. Guys whose names practically jumped out of the sports briefs.
It was not the NBA. It was not even close. That’s why it was easy for Simon Keith and I to share a laugh about it all these years later.
Still, he was picked No. 1. A lot of us never get picked No. 1 for anything. Not even for Wiffle Ball.
Keith, who scored six goals during his 52-game MISL career and now heads his own foundation in Las Vegas, devoted to creating awareness in organ donation, was selected ahead of John Harkes of Virginia, who went on to become the first American to play in the English Premier League.
He remembers the MISL had offered to fly in the parents of the top college players, but that he had declined.
Simon Keith was driving his son Sean to Los Angeles for a Dodgers-Phillies game when we talked about the footnote to UNLV sports history, and him kicking the soccer ball around the Plexiglas.
Looking back at things, as people often do while navigating Barstow and the high desert, he said it would have been special to share the moment with his father. Because as Simon says — and what Anthony Bennett will say years from now — you can’t be better than No. 1.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski