Sequestered in Secaucus
I had the honor of going into the top secret conference room at the NBA offices in Secaucus, N.J. to witness how the draft order is
rigged determined with the lottery. After last night, it's hard to assume this thing is fixed (more on that later), but I couldn't help but joke to an NBA staffer as we walked into the room. "This is cool, but where is the real room where they already decided who's getting the top pick?"
It was an interesting experience, but a troubling one because I had the scoop for so long -- that the Los Angeles Clippers were No. 1 and the Washington Wizards dropped down to No. 5 -- but couldn't share the news with anyone.
The NBA ran a pretty tight ship, forcing us to leave behind our cell phones, blocking off all wireless services for our computers and they even made me put the wireless card that I often used for my computer in my pocket (For a minute, they thought about not even letting me do that).
They didn't put potato bags over our heads and lead us into some dark room like cattle, and the actual drawing wasn't that long, so I kind of wondered why the NBA doesn't just do the whole thing live on television. I guess it takes away from the suspense and the wacky reactions of the guy who is lucky enough to land the top pick and the one who was really is sickened by losing.
Once the results were revealed, we were locked into the room and sworn to secrecy/silence until the official announcement was made on ESPN (with that creepy, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"-type music playing in the background). So we knew Blake Griffin was headed to the Clippers almost an hour before the rest of you guys.
There were a handful of reporters with me, and we all were quite curious how the fate of 14 lottery franchises was going to be determined. I, of course, was keenly interested in how it would turn for the Wizards. About two hours before the lottery, Mike Wise asked me where the Wizards were going to pick. Without hestitation, I said, "fifth. It's going to be fifth. That's just how it is with these guys."
Turns out, I was right.
NBA president Joel Litvin explained to the team representatives -- which included a mix of owners, front office types and media relations directors -- how the lottery was going to work. He was going to draw 14 ping-pong balls with a number on them from a briefcase, drop them into a drum that whirls the balls around like a popcorn popper, and stop the machine after getting the signal from an official timer. The first ball came up after 20 seconds, and each ball afterward was picked in 10-second intervals. The drum works the same as the ones for state lotteries.
The funniest part of the night is that the Clippers didn't have anyone representing the team in that room. Henry Abbott, who runs ESPN's TrueHoop blog, has a really good rundown of the action, too, if you want to check it out.
While I didn't get to feel if there was a frozen ball or a heavy ball or anything suspicious, the results looked pretty legit and pretty random. I was a little thrown off by the four-digit number combinations at first, but I slowly figured it out. When the Clippers came up with the first combination -- 5, 3, 6, 10 -- I started to think that maybe this lottery thing isn't rigged. I love conspiracy theories, but no way could David Stern have wanted this. The Clippers?
How could the Clippers get rewarded for their annual stink bomb of a season, especially after team owner Donald Sterling's tacky treatment of former general manager and lottery lifetime achiever Elgin Baylor last season? I had to chuckle for a bit because I spent a good portion of my chat yesterday killing the Clippers. I actually said I wanted any team but the Clippers to win. I would say the league wanted to spite me, but I'm really not that important.
I then started feeling pretty bad for the Wizards, who won the tiebreaker against the Clippers on April 17, but lost the No. 1 pick a month later because it had the set of numbers assigned to the second-worst team, instead of the numbers assigned to the third-worst team. Some luck, huh?
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