The NBA Draft Lottery has come under fire for years now from basketball fans far and wide over the belief that it’s rigged. From the notorious envelope controversy of the 1985 Draft Lottery onward, there have been several mysterious happenings and convenient coincidences that have led to legitimate speculation that the most randomized event in major American sports is quite possibly all a facade.
The draft lottery is in place simply to curtail tanking. It’s necessary because teams really would tank beyond belief if it meant ensuring a draft position. Heck, they already do it now, and there’s an element of random chance to draft choice placement. So the lottery must remain intact. And the NBA might be taking advantage of that fact.
While it’s seemingly impossible to surmise how the NBA could rig the draft lottery nowadays, as ping-pong balls are randomly shot out of a vat to determine the top three picks. Supposedly, teams are given a number of ping-pong balls proportional to their record, as in the team with the worst record gets the most ping-pong balls and thus the highest chance of winning the lottery. But how can we be so sure that that’s how it works?
In the buildup to yesterday’s lottery, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton revealed on a talk show that Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson had already assured him that the Lakers would receive a top-three pick. Maybe Walton was trying to be coy about uber-confident Johnson, or maybe Magic really did already know that Lakers (which ended up with the second overall pick) had been one of the teams to have its ping-pong ball selected.
— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) May 3, 2017
As an NBA legend, Magic might’ve had enough pull to get firsthand information from NBA officials prior to the lottery that one of the Lakers’ ping-pong balls had indeed been selected. Or maybe it was due to the fact that the Lakers are one of the NBA’s most important teams and have been on a major downturn in recent years, thus sparking the NBA to grant them a top-three pick without going through the random selection process.
As mentioned before, this isn’t the first time that the NBA Draft Lottery has been shrouded in controversy. Three years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers received the first overall pick at the draft lottery, even with astronomical odds facing them. And the selection of Andrew Wiggins at number one overall allowed the Cavs to trade for Kevin Love and convince LeBron James to rejoin the team, something that has definitely benefited the NBA.
In 2012, the New Orleans Hornets, then owned by the NBA while an ownership change was brewing, received the number-one overall pick and were able to select generational talent Anthony Davis. Davis was reported to be seen wearing a Hornets hat before draft night even rolled around, making it seem as though it was in the cards for the New Orleans franchise, in need of rejuvenation, to get the chance to select him.
Worst of all, however, was the infamous 1985 lottery, in which the New York Knicks won the right to select first overall. With collegiate superstar Patrick Ewing positioned to be the top pick, any team would’ve loved to have the chance to pick him, and it just so happened that then-commissioner David Stern’s favorite team, the Knicks, got that chance. The Knicks had been stuck in a lull in the years leading up to the 1985 NBA Draft, and, as one of the NBA’s most lucrative franchises, they experienced a major turnaround in the years following the selection of Ewing.
What makes this conspiracy so juicy is that the selection process was viewed on live television. Back then, large envelopes were placed into the vat and spun around before Stern reached in and picked one out to reveal the top pick. Before doing so, an assistant tossed the envelopes into the vat, and at the 1985 event, the assistant can be seen tossing one against the glass inside of the vat, bending the envelope’s corner. Thereafter, Stern, visibly nervous, rifled through the envelopes and picked one out that turned out to be the Knicks’ envelope. This has led many to surmise that Stern could’ve felt for the bent corner of what was known to him to be the Knicks’ envelope before pulling it out. There’s even a “frozen envelope” theory centered upon the conspiracy that the Knicks’ envelope could’ve been significantly colder than the others, thus making it easy for Stern to pick it out.
While Stern has vehemently denied that conspiracy in the past, instances such as Magic Johnson claiming to know for certain that his team would select in the top three only adds fuel to that conspiracy fire. Of course, most of these conspiracies are probably complete hogwash, but one can’t help but wonder. And maybe it isn’t always a good thing for teams to be handed high picks anyway. If the Lakers opt to take Lonzo Ball and find that they can’t handle the wrath of LaVar Ball, that would probably make Magic think twice before celebrating a top-three pick.