On the Topic of “Rigged” NBA Draft Lotteries…

On the Topic of “Rigged” NBA Draft Lotteries…
M.D. Wright

People have said for years that they felt that the inaugural NBA Player Draft was rigged in order to ensure that the New York Knicks would be able to draft Patrick Ewing out of Georgetown University a few weeks later. And while media has expanded by leaps and bounds, as has the appeal of the NBA in general, we had never seen so much fervor for a player entering the NBA before Ewing. Chamberlain, Bird, Magic, Kareem and even Walton had big names in college, and exceeded the success of Ewing in the NBA, but Ewing was THAT coveted entering the NBA. Think the hype for LeBron James in 2003, when ESPN televised multiple high school games featuring James leading up to the 2003 NBA Draft. That’s how unanimously touted Ewing was by NBA teams entering the 1985 NBA Draft. This helps you understand both the magnitude of the moment (for those who were not around to witness it at the time), and to understand where the claims are coming from — such as notorious anti-New York-everything Boston sports fan, Bill Simmons, who will simply not let the ’85 Draft Lottery go. Doubtful his fervor would be so strong had the parlance regarding the “bent envelope” involved say, the San Antonio Spurs (more on that later).

1985 NBA Draft Lottery 1













This led me to wonder about other drafts. Not each of them were “rigged” (in my opinion), but some people have believed that the #1 pick was rigged for certain teams in certain years. It has been increasingly suspicious in these final (thank God) years of David Stern’s unilateral reign of terror over the NBA. Here are the drafts that look suspicious to me now, particularly in my mid-30s, where such things appear to be askew.

The arrogance of Stern knows no bounds, so as time has progressed, I don’t doubt the ’85 Lottery rigging. However, I do not see it with 1986 (which was such a screwed up draft, but full of potential Hall of Famers who either died before they played a second in the NBA, or coked their way out of the league altogether). I don’t see it in 1988 either, although you can argue it, given how dominant Danny Manning had been in college, and the Clippers having recently moved to Los Angeles from San Diego, needing to establish a fanbase in Magic Johnson‘s backyard. Who even knows anymore? We’re witnessing the 2013 Finals being rigged before our eyes, so is it really that far-fetched anymore?

1987 Lottery.
The Spurs were about to hit the skids for quite some time, as George Gervin had gone to the Chicago Bulls a couple of years prior, and guys like Mike Mitchell were the only pieces that the Spurs featured at the time. Oh, and there was a guy by the name of David Robinson available to be drafted (although he would not play for two years, while fulfilling his Naval commitments). That was fine with the Angelo Drossos Spurs (who had been looking to sell the team at the time, for those who recall — and did, after what would have been Robinson’s rookie season in 1987-88), as they retained Robinson’s rights until he was cleared to enter the NBA. With David Stern nixing the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers deal, citing “competitive balance”, that 1987 lottery looks even more suspicious in retrospect.

1989 Lottery.I don’t see it here, either. Yes, Pervis Ellison was pretty damn good in college, but I just don’t see it, given that there were other logical places for this pick to land, if it were to be “fixed.”

1990 Lottery.
The Nets were truly the worst team in the league, and I don’t feel any kind of way about that draft. The Nets were and have always been their own worst enemies (sold off Julius Erving just to be able to move into the Knicks’ territory in the NBA, mismanaging their fortunes in the late 80s, leading to a 17-65 record in 1989-1990, and even today, continuing to play foils to the Knicks, while setting the team’s fortunes back for years, with nonsensical coaching moves in 2013), so I never really felt like anything was amiss here.

1991 Lottery.
This is one that I thought nothing of (as a 12-year old) at the time, but in retrospect, it looks VERY fishy. Of course it makes sense to give the best player in the country to one of the newest teams in the league (but not the WORST team in the league) in order to ensure that they establish a run of a decade of leading the NBA in attendance, in the 24,000-seat Charlotte Coliseum. No one cares, but with the way the Hornets-cum-Pelicans had a draft “fixed” for them 20 years later with Anthony Davis (more to come later), is it that “out there” of an assertion?

1992 Lottery.
Too easy. But then again, the Magic had been a borderline minor league team in their three years prior to this draft lottery. Let’s just move on.

1993 Lottery.This one REALLY stinks. The Magic had a .500 record, and virtually no chance to get the #1 pick, with Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Chris Webber involved? This was probably the first time where I began to question what was really going on with regards to the Draft process.

1994, 1995 Lotteries.
No one cared enough. I mean, it was the Milwaukee Bucks (who selected Glenn Robinson) and the Golden State Warriors (who selected Joe Smith), and both teams had been horrid. They are also not hotbeds and big players in the NBA landscape, so at the time no one had anything to say about these two years, nor does anyone now.

1996 Lottery.
I don’t think anything of this lottery. Allen Iverson was a transcendent player who would have made a difference anywhere. There were a couple of teams in worse shape than Philadelphia at the time, and besides, they already had Jerry Stackhouse. Additionally, it was one of the deepest drafts in NBA history in terms of talent, so I don’t even bat an eye this year.

1997, 1998, 1999 Lotteries.
I have nothing to add here. The Spurs had tanked, plus David Robinson had been injured nearly the entire 1996-1997 season. Did anyone really think there was a fix with Tim Duncan, even though a noticeable slippage had become apparent in David Robinson’s game at the time of this career-altering injury? Robinson was never the same. I don’t care enough about 1998 or 1999 to comment.

2000 Lottery.
Kenyon Martin was the best player in the nation in 1999-2000, and would have had a national championship to go with his #1 pick status, had there not been a cheap shot leg whip by a St. Louis Billikens player that broke Martin’s leg in the NCAA Tournament that spring. Kind of interesting that the New Jersey Nets weren’t nearly the worst team in the league, but Martin would have filled a void in the tri-state area in basketball terms, as both the Nets and Knicks were intersecting — the Knicks spiraling downward for a decade from this point forward, and the Nets experiencing a half-decade run of semi-success without the Knicks as a threat. This may seem more conspiracy-theoryish than something with legs. Just interesting that teams that were much more likely to win the lottery had no need for a player of Martin’s abilities. But this isn’t a major question mark lottery in general. Just an interesting footnote when revisiting history.

2001 Lottery.
You could argue that the whole shebang was rigged because Michael Jordan was at the helm with the Washington Wizards, but the Wizards had only won 19 games in 2000-2001, so it may have just been a statistical coincidence.

2002 Lottery.
This one was DEFINITELY rigged. Probably one of the top 3 suspicious drafts. Yao Ming was the overwhelming favorite to be drafted #1 overall. Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominant force in all of professional sports in Los Angeles. The New York media would have annihilated a presumed-soft Yao (which proved to be true for a few years), and Houston has a huge Chinese/Taiwanese contingent (along with the Rockets heavily scouting in Asia for years prior to Yao). Do the math.

2003 Lottery.Personally speaking, I was 24 years of age and pretty keen on how to “follow the money trail” by this point. With the aforementioned LeBron James coverage, and given that James is from the area. The results of the 2003 lottery were very anticlimactic. We knew that the draft was fixed for the Cleveland Cavaliers to select James, and much like James’ NBA career, the league has attempted to contrive a number of scenarios that made it favorable for James to succeed (opposite of the naturally-occurring Jordan legacy). The “poor” guy is just collateral damage, the vitriol was aimed at Stern and his league cronies who was accused of fixing results that would be favorable for the league coffers.

It continues to this day.

2004 Lottery.
This one is not suspicious at all. The Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats were both putrid in 2003-2004. And Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor were equally touted (although Howard was deemed to have more offensive upside — despite rarely showing it in the decade since).

2005 Lottery.
Again, it’s the Bucks. No one cared.

2006-2011 Lotteries.
The only one that seemed remotely too good to be true was 2008, when the Bulls selected hometown prodigy (although not academically, see Memphis Tigers academic scandals circa 2007-2009) Derrick Rose to rescue a Bulls team that was continuing a decade-long spiral, which saw most of its fans go into the woodwork, or become fans of other teams. Stern could not have that in his third largest market.

2012 Lottery.
Let’s see, the Hornets were sold by George Shinn to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, a trade that would have sent Chris Paul from the Hornets to the Lakers was thwarted by Stern (with the supposed backing of the other 29 owners of the league’s blessing — which we were supposed to believe), and Anthony Davis surprised everyone by becoming a 6’11” big man, after being a 6’2″ guard just 24 months prior. Somehow the Hornets land Davis, then change their name to Pelicans within a calendar year of the team’s sale.

Yeah, too many coincidences for me.

2013 Lottery.
The Cavaliers tanked at the end of the 2012-2013 season in order to increase their odds, and many people opined that the Cavs would win the pick in David Stern’s last draft, as a means of “payback” for Dan Gilbert “losing” LeBron James. Nerlens Noel could be a transcendent player, as the Cavs are rumored to be targeting him, or he could be a bust. Same with Ben McLemore, who will also be in the discussion. Despite the Cavs featuring the 3rd worst team in the NBA this past season, this still seemed curious to many, who have now long been accustomed to suspicious actions stemming from the league office.

At any rate, what do you guys think? Some of you have actually made me believe that some of these draft lotteries were rigged when I never thought anything of it. I’d like some additional feedback here. This was sort of a “winged” piece.

1985 NBA Draft Lottery 2


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