Shipping up to Portland

By Ryan

There is something about little plastic balls deciding the fate of a franchise that makes the NBA Draft Lottery so intriguing. Heck, I don’t even follow the NBA closely enough to deeply care about a single team. The brilliant thing about it is this: while the coverage of the NFL Draft is getting bigger and bigger each year, they still haven’t found a way to make a separate and completely different process somehow meaningful. They have tried to do it with the Scouting Combine, but no one within reason will watch that unless the televised the Wonderlic tests. (Which I would finally buy a TiVo for…)

The NBA is unique in the fact that they have made picking the order of the draft watchable. Even more exciting is the fact that they toss team representatives in the same room and televise their reactions. The look of absolute disgust after being selected outside of the top 10 is just great television.

But here’s the thing: ping pong balls do absolutely nothing when it comes down to it. My personal feeling about odds comes from Chuck Klosterman and go as follows: everything is 2:1. No matter what the percentages, no matter what the odds, something will either happen or not happen. To quote the affable Yoda: “Do or do not, there is no try.”

For example, when the Sidney Crosby Lottery was held after the NHL lockout, the Buffalo Sabres had one of the highest percentages to land the #1 pick. When everything was said and done, they ended up with the 13th pick and Marek Zagrapan. What is there to say about that? It’s completely inexplicable, but there is nothing that can be done. It’s flukey, it’s random, but after not having a season it was the most reasonable way to decide where Sid the Kid goes.

In the NBA, however, this is done every season. Unlike the NFL which seeds it’s draft order with worst record and other tiebreakers, basketball’s fate is given to a behind the scenes selection that has no real order. The only reason it works is because people are strangely attracted to an event such as this, including myself.

The results of the lottery itself, however, leave much to be desired in many cases. This year, for example, the two teams with the worst records and therefore best chance to get the #1 pick fell to the 4th and 5th seed. (Memphis and Boston respectively) This means two things: 1) percentages once again mean nothing, and 2) Bill Simmons is going to kill himself.

Memphis slipping to pick 4 this year does mean some head shaking down South, but the Celtics being kicked to the mathematical curb once again shakes a die hard basketball crowd. The look of the fan at the Celtics’ lottery party said it all, as the poor kid didn’t move for a solid 2 minutes while holding an impressive “The Scream” pose. Some teams simply do not deserve as cruel a fate as bouncing hollow balls giving the #1 pick to Portland.

Again, it’s tough to say if the lottery is good or not. Nothing is guaranteed, but it does require a large amount of luck. In my opinion, the NFL system does seem to work best, regardless of some allegations of tanking. It just seems right that the Superbowl winner takes the last pick, with the order following in reverse. Maybe it’s just because I’m a bigger football fan than basketball, or maybe it’s because all percentages essentially equate to 50-50 for me.

Either way, it’s unanimous as to which system is more entertaining. The NBA’s superior table tennis/bingo system is wacky and fun, while the NFL just plain makes sense.

Even more proof that people will watch anything that involves a ball.


  1. Dave

    At least Memphis will get Yi…

  2. Anonymous

    I had the exact same thought about Bill Simmons killing himself when I saw Boston at #5. I’m looking forward to his next column.

  3. Buffalo66

    Why didn’t the NHL publicly display the balls being pulled from the hopper? That was the weirdest thing about the Crosby lottery.

    If the Pens would’ve lost that lottery, they’d be in Winnipeg or KC as we speak.

    I am not calling shenanigans, but…