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The Bulls had a 1.7 percent chance of hitting the jackpot with local legend Derrick Rose.
The 29th NBA Draft Lottery ping-pong balls will be bouncing behind closed doors Tuesday with 1,000 permutations in play and the top three picks in this year’s NBA Draft (Thursday, June 27) at stake. Ever since the New York Knicks won the lottery (and the opportunity to draft Patrick Ewing) in 1985, the process has been a magnet for conspiracy theories.
“It’s too delicious. If you want to go on YouTube you can see the (1985) lottery where I supposedly had the frozen card. It’s all too delightful,” said Commissioner David Stern, discussing the NBA Draft Lottery with ABC during the 2012 NBA Finals and referencing the popular urban legend that the New York Knicks’ envelope had been frozen prior to the 1985 lottery, ensuring that Stern would be able to pick the Knicks’ envelope for the No. 1 overall pick Patrick Ewing.
The NBA Draft Lottery has evolved from the Commissioner pulling envelopes out of a spinning bin to today’s complicated ping-pong ball method overseen by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young — the pillar of integrity who recently settled with the feds, paying $123 million to squash a tax-fraud probe stemming from $2 billion in unpaid taxes.
The weighted system gives the team with the NBA’s worst record (Orlando Magic in 2013) a 25 percent chance to win, the second-worst club (Charlotte Bobcats) a 19.9 percent chance, the third-worst (Cleveland Cavaliers) a 15.6 percent chance and on down the line to the 14th and final non-playoff team (Utah Jazz) with a 0.5 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick.
After the top three picks have been determined by lottery, picks 4-through-14 are placed in reverse order of record. The lottery is intended to give the worst teams a chance to draft the best players, without handing the worst team the No. 1 pick outright. Sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t. But the results can be the difference between LeBron James and Darko Milicic.
There have been a few statistical anomalies in the draft lottery over the years. And each long shot has had a suspicious story to tell.
1993 – Orlando Magic – Chris Webber
The Magic won their second of back-to-back lotteries, having selected Shaquille O’Neal with the top spot the year before. Orlando traded the Fab Five leader Webber for Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a castmate of Shaq’s in Blue Chips. Despite having the best record of any non-playoff team, the Magic — who nearly made the playoffs with a roster that included a rookie Shaq and little else — won the lottery (and a Superman sidekick) despite having the longest odds. Doesn't take the Big Aristotle to do the math on this one, which was so shady it actually resulted in a rule change in the lottery process.
2008 – Chicago Bulls – Derrick Rose
Shy Chicago native Derrick Rose landed in his hometown despite the odds. The joke was that the Bulls weren’t going to unretire Michael Jordan’s No. 23 — the jersey number that Rose wore at Memphis — but the local legend could wear No. 1.7 to honor his unbelievable lottery luck.
2011 – Cleveland Cavaliers – Kyrie Irving
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert (and son Nick) were winners in their first post-LeBron James lottery. Don’t let LeBron’s pregame chalk get in your eyes, though. There’s more. Cleveland won not with its own lottery ball, but with that of the longshot L.A. Clippers, who traded the rights to their selection as part of a bad Baron Davis deal. So, the Cavs’ lottery winnings resulted in both the No. 1 overall pick and the No. 4 pick — not to mention the minor celebrity of lucky charm Nick Gilbert.
2000 – New Jersey Nets – Kenyon Martin
Rod Thorn went from being David Stern’s right-hand man in the league office to the top spot in the Nets’ front office, immediately winning the lottery in a one-man draft class. This was a must since the other top prospects included Stromile Swift, Darius Miles and Marcus Fizer.
2007 – Portland Trail Blazers – Greg Oden
The Blazers were given the chance to carry on their tradition of drafting injury-prone 7-footers, winning the lottery and taking “can’t miss” center Greg Oden one spot ahead of Kevin Durant. Bill Walton, Sam Bowie and Arvydas Sabonis can empathize with Oden.
It doesn’t take a longshot winning the lottery to raise a few eyebrows, however. There are a few other interesting winners and statistics.
– Last year, the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) won the lottery while technically owned by the National Basketball Association itself.
– The worst team in the NBA has only won the lottery four times. The third time was a charm, with Ohio native LeBron James going to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003.
– Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin passed away on Nov. 24, 2009. The Wiz won the very next lottery in 2010, with Abe’s widow Irene Pollin in attendance.
– Basketball history was altered by the bounce of a ping pong ball when Tim Duncan’s destination was David Robinson’s San Antonio Spurs rather than coach Rick Pitino’s Boston Celtics, who owned two picks and had a 36 percent chance of winning No. 1.
Since then, Duncan has won four NBA championships (with a shot at a fifth this year) and Pitino has gone back to school, where he led Louisville to the 2013 NCAA title.
The NBA Draft Lottery is more important than the NBA Draft itself, tune in to ESPN (8:30 p.m. Eastern) to witness the results prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals between the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs.