The 18-year-old draft pick looks like first Black superstar since goalie Grant Fuhr.
Don’t expect the 2013 NHL Draft tonight to have the suspense, tension and Hollywood theatrics that the NBA Draft had a day earlier. The NHL selections at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., should follow a calmer script, which means the man whose name will be called first is Seth Jones.
Unless you are a hockey diehard — no, that doesn’t simply mean you watched the Stanley Cup Finals — 18-year-old Seth Jones might not be an athlete that you’re familiar with. What fame he had until now is that of being the son of an NBA player. Who hasn’t heard of Popeye Jones?
Somewhere on the road to a professional career, Popeye’s boy fell in love with ice hockey. During his son’s adolescence, Popeye did what all good fathers do: He nurtured his son’s passion. The results have been stunning: a minute-munching, athletic, two-way defenseman with the grace of a male figure skater and the nastiness of NHL star Chris Pronger.
So good is Popeye’s boy that he won’t be wearing that label much longer. He’s the consensus No.1 pick of hockey insiders, so in the future, people in sports circles will be referring to Popeye as Seth’s dad, which, by all accounts, is all right with him.
For he has done everything he could to get his son here. He sought counsel early, reaching out to then-Denver Avalanche star Joe Sakic for advice after discovering Seth’s interest leaned hard toward hockey. Sakic, now an executive with the Avs, told Popeye: Teach your son to skate first.
Now, Seth is that skater and more. He is blessed with the skills that should make him the best Black hockey player ever. Not that hockey has had a deep pool of Black talent, but the pool has deepened since goalie Grant Fuhr was a No.1 pick in the 1981 draft.
Fuhr became an NHL star, his work in net winning Stanley Cups for some great Edmonton Oiler teams. What Fuhr wasn’t, however, was a man who was comfortable ushering in an era of Black participation in the sport. The NHL was unable to turn Fuhr’s brilliance into a marketing plan that drew more Blacks to the sport.
Maybe Seth Jones might find such a role unsettling as well, because being the face of the Black face of a white sport isn’t always a comfortable thing. For all the glamor and glitz, you give up privacy. Ask any NBA star about that. He might not be a noticeable face in every U.S. city, but he will be famous in Canada if his star shines bright enough.
It is hard not to see Popeye’s boy with a star as bright as anybody’s. He’s in a strong draft, a draft that includes two or three other Black players who should go in the first round.
But to go No.1 overall, man … that’s rarified air. No Black hockey player has ever had the skills of Popeye’s boy, who should take his talent on ice to a much higher profile than Popeye was ever able to do on the hardwood.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)