Suspense makes memories.
The NBA Draft Lottery is the one of the most suspense-filled events in all of sports. The league’s lottery alone is boasts more excitement than many professional sports league’s drafts. Anything can happen—anyone can win.
While critics preach that the lottery is unfair to the league’s worst team because the franchise with the highest odds rarely lands the No. 1 pick. But the format simply prevents a team from tanking to win the first-overall selection. And of course, the ping-pong balls add a unique element to the process that makes it special.
In all of the lottery’s most memorable moments, here are the 10 that stand out the most.
In 1988, the final two selections in the lottery came down to the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers. LA won the first overall pick and Elgin Baylor, the Clips' representative, was so hyped about winning that he was too impatient to wait until the draft—he wanted the Clippers to draft someone that instant. So, he pulled out a customized Clippers Danny Manning jersey announcing the franchise’s unofficial selection.
Like Elgin Baylor, the San Antonio Spurs had their hearts set on a player going into the draft lottery. This time around, it was ball club’s general manager Bob Bass making the early commitment.
According to Roy S. Johnson of the New York Times, the GM told an interviewer after the Spurs won the lottery for the first time in franchise history that David Robinson would be their selection: “There's no doubt in my mind that we will draft him. We waited 14 years, what's two more?”
In 2000, the New Jersey Nets and Vancouver Grizzlies were the last teams holding their breath in anticipation of the final pair of envelopes being opened. New Jersey entered the lottery after finishing with the seventh-worst record in the NBA that season. Despite only possessing a 4.4 percent chance to win the lottery, they landed the first overall pick that turned into Kenyon Martin.
Shaquille O’Neal, the dominant physical force out of LSU was the consensus No. 1 pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. Naturally, when the Orlando Magic finished the night with more luck than the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando general manager Pat Williams nearly threw a party. And Williams’ luck would prove to be long-lasting…
In 1992 when the Magic won the first overall pick, they had the second-best odds to pull it off. The very next year, they entered the lottery with a 1/66 shot or a 1.52 percent chance to win, but in the end, the result was the same. Orlando hit the jackpot for the second straight year and traded the selection that turned into Chris Webber for Penny Hardaway.
2011 featured two unforgettable lottery moments and the first is the curse of the Los Angeles Clippers. In the previous season at the trade deadline, LA traded their first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mo Williams. Cleveland ended up winning the lottery with the Clips’ pick and selecting Kyrie Irving—the point guard that the Clippers were desperate enough to deal for at the deadline.
Derrick Rose grew up in Chicago so when the Bulls landed the first-overall pick in the 2008 draft, it was a dream scenario for both sides. Who the Bulls selected, though, isn’t the only detail that made this lottery moment memorable. Chicago won the lottery despite having just a 1.7 percent chance to do it.
Cleveland entered the 2003 NBA Draft lottery as the worst team in the league. They hadn’t gotten out of the first round of the playoffs since 1993. The city needed a savior and it was only fitting that they landed the most hyped prospect ever—there hometown hero, AK-Town’s LeBron James.
In the league’s first lottery with a draft class featuring the best prospect in years, the New York Knicks hit the jackpot and won the No. 1 pick. Whether they got lucky or David Stern fixed the drawing is the magic question. From the frozen envelope theory to the crease, we’ll never know the truth about the 1985 lottery.
Dan Gilbert chose to send his son Nick Gilbert to represent the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 lottery for good luck. Cleveland left the lottery big winners as they ended up landing the first and fourth overall picks in the draft. Nick was born with a nerve disorder so his success as a good luck charm was tear-jerking.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.