The NBA Draft started out like any other sports event. It had a humble beginning, only being mentioned in the back of newspapers the day after. The process was not public and the importance of the draft was only seen by the NBA coaches who selected players for their teams.
The process of the NBA did, however, change over the years.
Fans were excited; their dream of having the next great basketball star may have only been a coin flip away.
The NBA Draft's coveted number one pick was rewarded to the winner of a coin toss between the worst team in the Eastern Conference and the worst team in the Western Conference. Whoever won the coin toss would go on to win the right to select the best player in the draft.
Sometimes, the coin toss could make or break a team's long term success. In 1969, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks, who won the coin toss over the Phoenix Suns. In just his second season, he teamed up with NBA great Oscar Robertson and gave the franchise its first NBA championship.
The Phoenix Suns were successful regardless of losing Lew Alcindor. They made the NBA Finals in 1976, losing to the Celtics in six games. In 1993, they managed to have NBA MVP Charles Barkley lead them to the Finals that year, only to lose to the defending champion Chicago Bulls.
They are yet to win a title to this day.
That was not the only coin toss that cost a team dearly. The Philadelphia 76ers lost the 1974 coin toss to the Portland Trailblazers that brought the latter UCLA center Bill Walton. Bill Walton led the Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship, and won league MVP the following year.
Marvin Barnes' contribution as the 76ers' second pick was minimal.
The 1979 coin toss between the Lakers of Los Angeles and the Bulls of Chicago was also costly for the latter. The Lakers won the toss, and subsequently won Earvin Johnson. In his rookie year, he was pivotal in the Lakers' first of five NBA championships.
The Bulls did not suffer all that much with David Greenwood; They did get the third pick five years later, and draft Michael Jordan. The rest was history.
Nonetheless, the stakes were always high at the coin toss. One flip of a coin could win you the best NBA basketball player in years. Thus, teams allegedly lost games on purpose to make the annual determination of that first selection.
When the Houston Rockets were accused of tanking games to select Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1984, the NBA started a reform. They created the NBA draft lottery, a process that made it a little more random to decide who had the number one pick in the NBA draft.
The controversial NBA Draft lottery of 1985 sparked another reform. Instead of big giant envelopes that could be bent, thus created theories of rigging, there were ping pong balls that formed four number lottery combinations.
The Draft Lottery's relevance and credibility is disputable to this day.
The NBA Draft Lottery has brought about questionable results. The Orlando Magic winning back to back lotteries, despite low odds, helped them snatch Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway respectively (Although, if I am correct, Hardaway was acquired through a trade with the Warriors in exchange for the real number one pick, Chris Webber).
Only two teams with the worst record in the league have won the NBA draft lottery. Last year, the Chicago Bulls only had a 1.7 percent chance of winning, and managed to grab the top spot. They selected a Chicago native by the name of Derrick Rose.
The NBA Draft Lottery only created conspiracy theories, and thoughts of the NBA being a corporate money machine. The NBA Draft coin toss, however, did not deter the integrity of the league, but only of its teams.
Still, what if the NBA Draft Lottery was never made? What if the coin toss was still the "make or break" event that it was throughout the league's history. Could the flip of a coin have actually brought a championship to an unsuccessful team, or on the contrary, prevented such a thing from happening? What would it be like?
1985 NBA Draft
This was already established in the Sporting News. In that What-If, the Indiana Pacers won the coin flip, and selected Patrick Ewing in the summer. The article stated that Pat Riley would have accepted a job to coach the Pacers, and with Ewing being their main man, the Pacers would have won the NBA championship in 1991.
To parallel this, the New York Knicks would continue to struggle under coach Dave DeBusschere. Although Wayman Tisdale helped alleviate the mediocrity of the Knicks, they would be doomed to be a large market loser for the rest of the decade, and half of the 90's until new coach Rick Pitino turned them around to be a solid playoff team. They'd not be contenders to this day.
1986 NBA Draft
The Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks face off for the first pick in the NBA Draft. This time around, the New York Knicks would win the NBA Draft Lottery. They would select Brad Daugherty from North Carolina to be their second big man alongside Patrick Ewing.
The one-two combination in New York becomes a dream. Although Daugherty is not a five star caliber player, he proves himself worthy of being a solid forward. Patrick Ewing, Daugherty, Ron Harper, and Bernard King would be a great troop to play with. They did win the Eastern Conference championship in 1989, and then completed the ultimatum in 1992, edging the Portland Blazers in seven games to win the NBA championship.
1987 NBA Draft
The Los Angeles Clippers would win the 1987 coin toss over the ever unlucky New York Knicks. Lacking a man in the middle who could consistently perform well enough, they drafted David Robinson from the Naval Academy.
They had to wait until 1989 to use him, but when he came along, he shined for them. David Robinson's solid play turned the Clippers into playoff contenders. Danny Manning, Charles Smith, Loy Vaught, and Robinson all impacted the Clippers franchise.
They did win more games than the Lakers starting in 1992 when they had Larry Brown at the helm to coach the team. Although they never won an NBA championship due to the competitive Western Conference and Bulls Dynasty, they did manage to make the Western Conference Finals in 1993 (They lost to their division rival, the Suns), and won the Pacific Division title along with a return trip to the Western Finals in 1995. Robinson would retire with a lone MVP award in 1995, but no ring.
The Spurs never won an NBA title.
1988 NBA Draft
The New Jersey Nets won the draft lottery of 1988, and to no one's surprise, selected NCAA champion Danny Manning. Manning became a popular rookie in New Jersey, even after being out with a knee injury in his first season.
When he returned, he came back to a lackluster Nets team. He eventually led them to the playoffs, and became a two time All Star while in New Jersey. After a losing season in 1993, the management traded the injury prone Manning to the Atlanta Hawks. He'd shift from team to team for the rest of his career.
1989 NBA Draft
Despite having the league's worst record, the expansion Miami Heat lost the coin toss to the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets drafted Pervis Ellison, while the Heat drafted Danny Ferry.
Neither team benefit all that well. Pervis Ellison's injury almost harmed him, but the next year he improved well enough to become the team's starter. His injuries plagued him, and he only helped the Hornets to the playoffs. Ferry didn't want to play with the upstart Heat, and spent time in Italy to hone his skills. He was traded to another team, but never became a star player like he was hyped to be.
Meanwhile, the Spurs still drafted Sean Elliot and won the NBA title in 1999 with him.
1990 NBA Draft
The New Jersey Nets won the 1990 coin toss, and drafted sensational player Derrick Coleman.
Despite winning only 26 games in his rookie campaign, he did well enough to become NBA Rookie of the Year. In his third season, the Nets won a playoff berth.
They didn't win an NBA championship with Coleman, but he became their starting forward, and led to them to the playoffs multiple times.
There will be more in Part two of my series.