Reporting Dave Wischnowsky
By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) In life, some things are just more trouble than they’re worth.
And in the NBA, that includes the Draft Lottery.
Since 1985, it’s the league’s preferred way of dispensing its top picks, but these days the system – designed to launch basketball careers – instead spawns more conspiracy theories than Area 51.
And it’s time for the thing to become extinct.
Last month, the lottery came up questionable yet again when the New Orleans Hornets – a team owned by the NBA and located in a struggling city in desperate need of a new star – conveniently captured the No. 1 overall pick, expected to be Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, despite having just the fourth-best chance of the 14 teams.
Charlotte, with the league’s worst record, had a 25 percent chance at the top pick, followed by Washington at 19.9, Cleveland at 13.8 and New Orleans at 13.7. And the Hornets’ underdog victory again sparked skepticism about the legitimacy of the lottery in the eyes of many NBA fans.
It also prompted a testy exchange between sports radio host Jim Rome and NBA commissioner David Stern, with Rome asking the commish, “New Orleans won the draft lottery, which of course produced the usual round of speculation that maybe the lottery was fixed. I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy – was the fix in for the lottery?”
“I have two answers for that,” Stern replied. “I’ll give you the easy one: No, and shame on you for asking.”
Rome countered by saying, “I understand why you would say that to me, and I wanted to preface it by saying it respectively. I think it’s my job to ask because I think people wonder.”
And, in that regard, Rome was correct. Right, wrong – or “ridiculous,” as Stern later said – people do wonder. And they’ve done so ever since the very first lottery back in 1985 when the big-city New York Knicks won the No. 1 pick and prized big man Patrick Ewing.
Since then, we’ve seen Cleveland conveniently get the top pick when local product LeBron James was available, and the Bulls conveniently get the top pick when local product Derrick Rose was on the board.
We’ve seen Orlando win the lottery one season to get Shaquille O’Neal and then – despite having just a 1.5 percent chance – end up with the No. 1 pick again the very next year to get him a superstar running mate in Penny Hardaway.
And so on, and so on …
Now, of course, none of that is at all proof that the NBA lottery is indeed fixed. But that those coincidences certainly do add fuel to the fire for those who believe it is. And with that in mind, tell me, what true benefit is the lottery actually bringing the NBA these days?
Because, really, all I can see is the bad press it provides.
Following the 1984 coin flip that resulted in the Houston Rockets winning the No. 1 pick (and Akeem Olajuwon, as the future Hall of Famer was then named), the NBA introduced the lottery system to counter accusations that the Rockets and other teams were losing regular-season games on purpose in the hopes of getting the first pick.
I understand why that move was made at the time, but the change really hasn’t ever quelled negative accusations. Rather, it’s merely transferred them from the league’s teams to the league itself. And, beyond that, if teams really were losing on purpose, they still could do so now to improve their chances in the lottery.
So, again, tell me what the upside is?
I’m having a tough time finding it. And so, my suggestion is to just go back to the way things were P.E. (Pre-Ewing) and retire the lottery. Besides, it seems that the NFL and Major League Baseball operate just fine by simply giving their league’s worst team the draft’s top pick.
No conspiracy theories necessary.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.