Every year at roughly this time, representatives from 14 NBA teams gather in one of the most uncomfortable collections of current and former players, old, rich white men and Nick Gilbert the world has ever seen to battle and win favor with the gods, David Stern and Adam Silver, using the most devastating and soul-crushing weapon the world has ever known: probability. The winner will have the chance to draft a 6-11 center with a bum knee, a 6-4 athletic marvel with a picture-pretty shot who has been criticized by, among others, his college coach for not being “assertive” enough, or taking a pass and, for the first year, utilizing the option of forgoing this year’s selection for the same slotted spot next year.
Yeah, just kidding about that last option. Sorry.
Outside of actual in-game action, the single best on-screen moment in the NBA season is (shockingly) the draft lottery. More specifically, it is the lead up to the lottery results, when each team’s representative is introduced and captured on camera, if briefly, in amazing comic squirm. It’s the NBA’s version of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Consider the following:
1.) This is, essentially, the NBA’s roll call of its losers for this (and, in most cases, several) season(s). For all the build up of dangling this year’s best college players in front of these win-starved teams, the only way they can broadcast this beautiful train wreck is to attach it to a playoff game. So, all of these team reps, knowing their shortcomings are being paraded out by the league in advance of a Conference playoff game, seem to call out to the audience from behind watery eyes, “Please, this is the part of the season where we get to disappear! Let us go away! Why are you making us do this?!”
2.) There is that beautiful moment when the draft’s winner is assured and we get to see the look of utter disgust on the face of the runner up, whose team is often more deserving than the winner for being even more bereft of luck. Remember David Kahn’s passive-agressive comments when Nick Gilbert won the Cavs the 2011 draft? Remember Jerry West in 2003 when he realized that the Grizzlies had a chance to draft LeBron James, only to be reminded that a first rounder with only number one protection is always too steep a price for Otis Thorpe?
The players in attendance seem generally uninterested in representing their teams, while the team owners and GMs care a little too much.
3.) The fall-out of the draft lottery is a fascinating study in fan base psychology/paranoia. It can’t be a coincidence that the Cavs got the number one pick the year after LeBron left, can it? And you say the New Orleans Hornets got the number one pick following a year that saw them owned and operated by the NBA? Huh. So, who is in line this year? Seeing as how the worst teams will want to still be bad for next year’s boffo draft class — and given all the poo-pooing prognosticators are doing on this year’s group of young men — we’re probably in line for a team with a little bit of talent already jumping up and grabbing the top spot. Maybe that’s a team like Portland (league still owes them for Greg Oden), Minnesota (league owes it to Kevin Love … for some reason) or Oklahoma City (wherein every TV set across the country simultaneously explodes) [Correction: Toronto's pick that, at its current slot, goes to OKC is top-3 protected ... so, unfortunately, this gorgeous scenario cannot play out.].
The relative down-ness of this year’s draft just makes it all the more awkward. Tonight, someone will inevitably/hopefully make some thinly veiled comment or disgusted facial expression all over Nerlens Noel or Ben McLemore.
The NBA would like us to believe that its draft lottery is an exciting event promising the chance for franchise altering change. But it’s actually the ugly side of luck. The fact that these 14 team reps are gathered in a broadcast studio is because they are not the lucky ones. The lucky ones are the ones still playing. These 14 team reps are put (arguably unfairly) in a position to expose the true emotions of the NBA’s left-outs: jealousy, suspicion and indifference. Even the team granted the number one pick is not especially lucky this year. That team is the unluckiest of the luckiest of the unluckiest.
May that unluckiest of the luckiest of the unluckiest be the Cavs…