NBA Lottery: Is the Fix In?

Brad Berreman@@bradberreman24Analyst IMay 20, 2008

In the first year of the NBA Lottery in 1985, the New York Knicks were awarded the first pick and selected C Patrick Ewing from Georgetown University.  That pick certainly set the franchise up for success for many years to come, recent struggles aside.

In 1997, after a very down year in which David Robinson was injured, the San Antonio Spurs won the number-one pick and selected F/C Tim Duncan from Wake Forest.  After four titles in nine years (with the possibility of five in ten), the franchise has become a dynasty.

In 2003, the Cleveland Cavaliers had the league's worst record the previous season and got the number-one overall pick.  LeBron James was their prize, and the franchise was set on the right course.  In my memory, this was one of the only occasions in the NBA Lottery's history where the team with the league's worst record the previous season (and the most mathematical chance at getting the number-one pick) actually ended up with pole position.  James was a much publicized high school player from where? Akron, Ohio. 

The past two NBA Lotteries have seen the Portland Trailblazers (2007) and this year the Chicago Bulls win the number one overall pick for June's NBA Draft.  The Bulls had a 1.7 percent chance of getting the number one pick, and Portland faced similar, though somewhat better, odds of attaining the pick.  Yet both did, leapfrogging many teams that had much worse records and therefore a better chance at winning the number one pick. 

Don't even get me started on the numerical system the NBA now uses to determine odds of a team winning a certain spot.  "Headache-inducing" would be putting it nicely.  I long for the days of the simple ping-pong balls with the team logos on them, with how many each team had determined by their record.  More losses equaled more ping-pong balls, which in turn equaled better odds at getting a top pick.

It occurred to me that one of the top two prospects in the upcoming draft, "one and done" Memphis guard Derrick Rose, is from Chicago.  Coincidence? Seems to be, but it's hard to explain as well.  There is no guarantee the Bulls will even take Rose at No. 1, but they now have the opportunity to do so.

Do I think the NBA Lottery is fixed to bring marquee players to big market teams? It's hard to disprove at times, though Portland or San Antonio wouldn't be considered major NBA markets for the most part.  It certainly doesn't hurt the league to have major college prospects play in the major markets, and commissioner David Stern is known as a great marketing mind. 

It has been under his watch that the league reached it's height of popularity—something it now seems to be getting back toward.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.