HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
May 28, 2006

Draft lottery system needs to be updated

By Matt Kane

Is there a bigger waste of time, in regards to sports television, than the NFL and NBA draft?

Yes, yes, there is. It happened Tuesday night on ESPN.

It is the NBA draft lottery, where representatives — also known as lucky charms — from the 14 worst NBA teams in the league sit behind podiums with their fingers and toes crossed hoping their team’s logo is the last one pulled from the oversized envelopes that make all the Oscar envelopes look like junk mail.

Although the prize is significant — this year, it is a shiny, new (well, actually it’s more hairy than shiny) Greg Oden, or a sleek new Kevin Durant — the process is a sleeper. Not even the Price is Right uses a Bingo machine, popping ping-pong balls, to determine winners.

Sticking with the price-is-right theme, the 14 NBA teams that make the final showcase showdown for a chance at the big prize get to the final round by spinning their big wheels during the regular season.

Those who spun their wheels the most without going anywhere this past season — the Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics — have the best chance at getting the top pick, percentage-wise.

But percentages don’t guarantee anything, and that was proven by how the ping-pong balls bounced Tuesday.

Memphis had the worst record in the NBA with a 22-60 mark, followed by Boston, which was 24-58, and if the drawing would have gone according to the odds, the Grizzlies and Celtics would have ended up with the first and second picks in the NBA draft.

That wasn’t the case. The Grizzlies, with a 25 percent chance of getting the top pick, and the Celtics, with a 19.9 percent chance, ended up with the fourth and fifth picks, respectively. The Portland Trailblazers, which had a 5.3 percent chance, got the top ping-pong ball, and will pick whomever they want at the draft, which is June 28 at Madison Square Garden.

The Seattle Supersonics will pick second and the Atlanta Hawks will pick third.

Your Minnesota Timberwolves were out of the running for the top pick early, and will pick seventh.

There is always a question at the end of the regular season whether teams cash it in early so they end up with the worst record they can get in order to get a better chance at the top pick. I don’t necessarily believe this, or maybe I just don’t want to believe this, because, for most athletes (I hope, all), giving up is not an option.

Especially for professional athletes, I would think it is true that they don’t have a circuit in their brains for trying to lose.

The lottery-style selection process is the right idea, in that it doesn’t guarantee the top pick to the worst team, but I would like to see it updated a little bit in a way that would make those team representatives look like more than already rich game show contestants.

Make them actually do something up there, besides answer idiotic questions from the ESPN hosts.

The way those ping-pong balls bounce around in that machine always reminds me of Bingo balls, so I say, make those team representative play a game of Bingo for the rights to the first pick in the NBA draft.

Twelve games of standard Bingo, where a straight line must be covered, would be played to determine picks three through 14, and then, the final two teams would square off.

The best Bingo game that would create the most drama in the final round — I can see ESPN executives drooling now — is Blackout, where all the numbers on a Bingo card must be covered to win.

I can see it now, Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird needing just one more number, and it just so happens to be N-33, Bird’s old number. The camera zooms in on Bird’s pale face and catches him mouthing “N-33, N-33, N-33.” Then, just as Bird begins to mouth “N-33” for the fourth time, the Bingo caller yells out “B-4,” and seconds later, after double checking his card, Timberwolves representative Randy Foye jumps up and shouts “BINGO!”

Now that is entertainment.

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