To Rig or Not to Rig – That is the Question

The NBA Draft Lottery took place on Tuesday, an event that has been highly scrutinized by fans for as long as it has existed.

There have been a couple reasons that fans have been critical of the lottery. First, the method and breakdown of odds have been critiqued. Second, NBA fans have believed it to be rigged since the beginning. I’d like to focus on the rigging debacle for this column, so let’s take a quick at NBA Lottery history.

There have been many conspiracy theories regarding various outcomes of the lottery over the years. Some of them are just outlandish theories while others seem to have some real steam.

Most notably is the 1985 draft. To explain it briefly, the New York Knicks were awful, the NBA had just signed a new TV deal and New York was a key market in the league. Throw in the fact that the Georgetown standout Patrick Ewing was at stake, and Commissioner David Stern had to make sure the Knicks were rewarded.

At this time, the worst seven teams had even odds at landing the first overall pick. To determine the pick, each team would have an envelope put into a clear tumbler and one would be chosen by Stern himself.

There is pretty alarming evidence that the Knicks envelope was dinged against the edge to mark it as the envelopes are being put into the tumbler… Seriously Google it and watch the video. The other six envelopes are gently tossed in the middle while the Knicks envelope is thrown like a fastball against the edge. It’s simply bizarre to watch.

There are also personal accounts that have leaked saying that the Knicks envelope was refrigerated to make it cold to the touch. These two methods would ensure Ewing would go to New York to help keep the NBA afloat.

Other theories exist that are much less blatant than the 1985 lottery, but the Ewing draft is clearly the most revealing. The distrust created by this incident still is present in fans today each year the lottery rolls around.

The NBA has since changed the format to a computerized system with ping pong ball combinations to “ensure” that there is no human interference. It is at least much more believable than the envelope scam to say the least.

However, this lottery process is still completed behind closed doors and is not viewable by the public. It is executed by a third party accounting firm and select media members get to view it. It seems pretty inconceivable that it could still be rigged at this point.

My question is: why not televise this? The ratings would be sky high if we were able to watch them determine the draft order live and watch certain teams celebrate while others shrink down in dismay. You’d think for the ratings and exposure alone the NBA would want to put it on TV; let alone dispelling all theories that it is still rigged…

Fans are already accusing the NBA of rigging it again. On Tuesday, the Lakers jumped from the 11th spot to 4th “to help LeBron” and the Pelicans jumped from 7th to 1st “to make up for the Anthony Davis fiasco.”

The truth is, although I do truly believe that there have been drafts in the past where it has been rigged, this was a simple result of percentages and nothing more.

And Timberwolves fans need to stop with the narrative that “Minnesota has only ever moved down because we are a small market.”

Let’s quickly look at the numbers, shall we? Here were the three scenarios that were possible for Minnesota on Tuesday and their odds of happening.

There was a:

- 13.9% of moving to the top four

- 65.9% chance of picking at our assigned spot

- 18.9% chance of moving down

That means four out of five times, Minnesota would stay the same or move down, an overwhelmingly likely scenario to play out.

Now, Minnesota hasn’t exactly been lucky. In 22 appearances in the lottery out of 30 years in existence (which that number is simply embarrassing), the Wolves have never moved up. This isn’t proof of the NBA stacking the deck against Minnesota as much as some bad luck… But each year it is much more likely to stay or move down than it is to move up and that is the math.

However, until the NBA Draft Lottery is televised, Wolves fans and NBA fans alike will probably continue to believe it is rigged. I suppose is it much easier to blame the NBA for only 8 playoff appearances in franchise history than it is to blame the team itself for incompetence on draft day.


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