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?

By Michael Lee |  May 20, 2009; 9:45 AM ET
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The Curse O' Les Boulez!

Posted by: 1stpick | May 20, 2009 10:12 AM

Man, you really jinxed it!

Posted by: sagaliba | May 20, 2009 10:25 AM

I voted for #5 on that informal poll yesterday knowing the curse is alive and well. I kept pressing "reset" on ESPN's Draft Lottery thing trying to get the Wizard's the #1 and it took like 30 tries.


Posted by: chrisk018 | May 20, 2009 10:50 AM

really would love to get Bosh, but I think he may be too risky. Remember, he can still walk away at the end of the year. So lets say that we trade Jamison, the pick and either blatche or Nick (depending on what they ask for), and 1 of the bad contracts(they're not taking both. Colangelo isn't THAT stupid) for Bosh and some other junk to match salaries. Lets say that we finally get past the 1st round and then lose a tight 6 or 7 game series in the semis. Right at that moment, Bosh AND Haywood is now unrestricted free agents. Bosh is going to get offers of 100 mil plus easily and leaves. Then lets say some team gets enamored with brendan, overpays him and he leaves. Not only does that leave our frontline VERY thin,but it also means that we just lost 5 players with nothing to show for it other than cap space. Its too much of a risk.

Posted by: CBell29 | May 20, 2009 10:53 AM

The one bright spot is that the Clippers getting the #1 pick is a stark reminder of how much of a crapshoot the lottery is. The Clips have been in the lottery almost every year for the past two decades, and they still stink. So the idea that winning the lottery is a quick fix goes right out the window.

Posted by: kalo_rama | May 20, 2009 11:00 AM


This was the most common type of comment on the Wizards Insider blog for the better part of the six month season. And no matter how many times it was pointed out to these buffoons that the NBA lottery was created just for those kinds of shenanigans, and that finishing with the NBA's worst record still gave them a 75% chance of NOT getting the first pick, these buffoons kept coming with these comments, displaying total disregard for basic probability.

In some ways, I am almost happy that we didn't get the first pick. Maybe in some distant season many light years from now, these same fools who commented endlessly about how "stupid" Ed Tapscott, Ernie Grunfeld, and the rest of the Wizards brass were for not throwing games, maybe they will think twice about making such asinine comments next time.

Posted by: Barno1 | May 20, 2009 11:02 AM

Well, the Wiz still have Abraham "Abe" Pollin as their patriarch but Blake Griffin was sent to Clipper Land better known as the NBA version of "Sodom & Gomorah"!

Posted by: Stevie-J | May 20, 2009 12:43 PM

"The one bright spot is that the Clippers getting the #1 pick is a stark reminder of how much of a crapshoot the lottery is. The Clips have been in the lottery almost every year for the past two decades, and they still stink. So the idea that winning the lottery is a quick fix goes right out the window.

Posted by: kalo_rama | May 20, 2009 11:00 AM "

You can't blame the lottery for the Clips lack of success. You have to blame their ownership/management for that.

Les BouleS have the same problem.

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | May 20, 2009 4:51 PM

So I guess this means that you're now part of the draft lottery conspiracy Michael (kidding! kidding!) Pretty cool to get an inside report on how the lottery process actually works.

It would make for more interesting television if the actual lottery selection was done live rather than the staged event -- you could see team reactions as the numbers come up -- kind of like with the actual draft itself.

They probably don't do this because they want to break the news to the team ownership first -- membership, after all, has to have some privileges beyond revenue, the ability to shape league rules, and the ability to build a pro sports team.

In reference to the lottery selection, the Wizards still have a 5th pick in the NBA draft. Even if the selection isn't likely to be a future Hall of Famer, or a perennial All-Star, there's still a pretty strong chance that the team could net a future NBA starter (or a prospect that they can trade). The other side of this too -- no one knows what the future holds. A month ago it seemed like a stroke of good luck when the Wizards won the lottery tie-breaker. A month later, it looks like the Wizards would have been better off losing the tie-breaker.

Things change.

Posted by: JPRS | May 20, 2009 9:44 PM

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