Well, well, well.
Let’s get the elephant out of the room. We all know the NBA draft is rigged, whether or not we want to admit it is a different story.
It started with the 1985 draft. Michael Jordan’s draft.
The infamous frozen envelope.
Let’s go back, shall we?
To fully comprehend how prized Ewing was in ’85, you have to forget about the NBA and its current status, and travel backwards in time to when big men were coveted like national treasures. Of course, there was the stretch-four or point-forward,
guys like Bird and Magic… But generally, where you played was determined by how tall you were, and size was prized above all else.
This was the same league where Russell won two hand fulls of rings and Wilt put up 50 and 25 a game. The game plan and winning recipe was: get your big man, and surround him with ball-handlers and people who will feed him the ball.
The seven non-playoff squads that year each had an equal chance at Ewing. 14.3%.
The teams ranged from the truly terrible (league-worst Warriors, who had been out of the postseason since 1977) to the intermittently-indecisive Atlanta Hawk who had just narrowly missed the playoffs in ’84, some say intentionally.
And then there were the New York Knicks.
Coming off of their worst seasons in over twenty years. Best player, and starting forward Bernard King had missed 25 games, center Bill Cartwright had been out the whole year. Most nights, MSG had been less than half full.
If there were a perfect spot for Ewing to land, it was New York, the league’s biggest market.
Now, the NBA’s 4 year, $91.9 million television deal with CBS was set to expire after the season ended. Ewing landing in Sacramento didn’t move the needle as far as CBS was concerned.
But Ewing in the New York…? Come on. We all knew the league would be in much better shape if Ewing ended up sporting orange, blue, and white.
As Sports Illustrated puts it:
“Others took it a step further. Stan Kasten, then the GM of the Hawks, recalls attending a college tournament in Hawaii a few months before the lottery. “I was sitting with a couple of NBA guys,” says Kasten, “and I remember one high-ranking- team executive, who I will not name, was a million percent convinced of what was going to happen. ‘He’s going to the Knicks,’ he kept saying. ‘He’s going to the Knicks. It’s all arranged.’ ” Kasten pauses, chuckles. “I didn’t believe him at the time.””
As David Stern took the podium to commence the 1985 NBA lottery, there were seven envelopes in the drum being rotated by some Ernst and Young rep, Jack Wagner. We see him putting the envelopes in, carefully with the first four, and then the fifth, which is lined up and aggressively thrown against the inside of the drum, crumpling the corner of the envelope. As the drum continues rotating, we see the other two envelopes deposited in safely.
David Stern then reaches into the drum, fumbles around a little bit, and then grabs and envelope and extracts it. What do you know? It has a bent corner. Stern opes the envelope and reads the picks in reverse order (each envelope contained the order of the top-7, each team had it’s own envelope where it received the #1 pick… in theory…)
The seventh pick went to the Golden State Warriors, the team with the worst record the year before would now be picking 7th.
Sacramento received the sixth.
Atlanta the fifth.
Seattle the fourth.
And now, we were down to two. The Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks. David Stern announced that the Pacers would receive the second pick, and subsequently, the Knicks would pick first.
What followed in New York was nothing short of pandemonium. The Knicks received over 1,000 calls to their season ticket office within the first hour after the announcement.
Fast-forward to last night. Philly receives the first overall selection, with Los Angeles receiving the 2nd.
“But if it were truly rigged, the Lakers would’ve picked first!”
Wrong. The NBA wouldn’t want to be quite that obvious. Plus, this year’s coveted player, Ben Simmons, has already stated that he’ll only play for LA or New York. Meaning, the NBA is fine giving the 76ers the first selection, because they know that the Lakers will get the best available player regardless.
Well done, NBA, well done.