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NBA Draft class goes global and gets social

A shot of the floor at Barclays Center on the night of the 2016 NBA Draft.
Eric Chemi | CNBC
A shot of the floor at Barclays Center on the night of the 2016 NBA Draft.

On Thursday night, two major events of global import happened. British voters decided to break away from the European Union, in part because of mounting frustration with unchecked immigration. Ironically enough, professional basketball appears to be embracing them.

Across the Atlantic at the NBA Draft in Brooklyn, foreign-born rookies played a large role in shaping pro basketball's class of 2016. The league selected a record 26 international players out of a total 60 draft picks. That broke the previous record of 21 foreign players, set all the way back in 2003.

Of the 26 international players drafted, 14 of those were in the first round, including six of the first ten picks. Players came from countries that included Australia, Croatia, Bahamas, Canada, Austria, Greece, Spain, France, Turkey, Cameroon, and Haiti.

Brandon Ingram, second overall 2016 NBA draft pick, surrounded by reporters at the Barclays Center.
Eric Chemi | CNBC
Brandon Ingram, second overall 2016 NBA draft pick, surrounded by reporters at the Barclays Center.

ESPN's cameras focused on the main floor, where the TV audience saw players seated with their families, ready to shake hands with Commissioner Adam Silver.

What the TV audience didn't see was everything that happened afterwards. In the underground hallways, back rooms with no windows and weight rooms turned into studios was where the true work began for freshly minted draft picks.

After being ushered off stage to do several TV and radio interviews, each rookie got shepherded from room to room—with work to do in each.

First, each draftee received a watch customized by Tissot, a Swiss company (notice the global theme here?). Tissot is the official timekeeper of the NBA. Each pick had a customized watch with his name and pick number engraved on the spot.

Jakob Poeltl, ninth overall 2016 NBA draft pick, waits for his Tissot watch.
Eric Chemi | CNBC
Jakob Poeltl, ninth overall 2016 NBA draft pick, waits for his Tissot watch.

After that, then it was on to the "social room," which on any other day of the year is the weight room for the Brooklyn Nets. In between dumbbells, cable cords, and a squat rack was a setup of four companies: Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and China's Weibo.

Each player came through and did whatever they were told. Tasks included bouncing basketballs for the GQ/Instagram shoot, signing an autograph on a glass screen for Vine, and...more swag. JBL headphones were customized with team logos, and Snapchat had branded bags with towels, among other things.

Customized JBL headsets given to draft picks
Eric Chemi | CNBC
Customized JBL headsets given to draft picks

"The NBA is the best when it comes to social engagement," said Brandon Gayle, the head of global sports partnerships at Instagram. Gayle pointed out how the NBA's innovative approach, both globally and socially, has allowed them to market their teams and players better than any other domestic league. He said 30 of the 39 top North American athlete accounts on Instagram are NBA players.

Ben Simmons, first overall 2016 NBA draft pick, surrounded in the social media room.
Eric Chemi | CNBC
Ben Simmons, first overall 2016 NBA draft pick, surrounded in the social media room.

After the social room, the new draft picks then headed to the "live shots" room. That was where about 20 separate mini-studios were set up for the players to rotate through one by one.

Brandon Ingram, second overall 2016 NBA draft pick, in the live shots room.
Eric Chemi | CNBC
Brandon Ingram, second overall 2016 NBA draft pick, in the live shots room.

Many of them were the traditional local media outlets, but what stood out were the tech-focused spots. For example, Tencent had a live stream going, allowing its Chinese audience to see athlete interviews live at 9am local time. An NBA spokesperson said China's time zone actually gives them a huge advantage in that market, because people can watch the games in the morning, or on their phones while at work.

Ben Simmons, first overall 2016 NBA draft pick, speaks to Australian reporters via Cisco link.
Eric Chemi | CNBC
Ben Simmons, first overall 2016 NBA draft pick, speaks to Australian reporters via Cisco link.

Right next to Tencent was the Cisco setup. That was a high quality videoconference call with journalists from around the world, including Australia, Brazil, and China.

The Australian video link had over 30 journalists, most of them eagerly awaiting their chance to talk with number one overall pick Ben Simmons, born in Melbourne. His next stop: Philadelphia, to play with the 76ers.

It's the modern NBA. While some places are looking inward, the game of basketball is arguably more global than its ever been.