the draft lottery, this special ceremony where the future of Wembanyama will be decided

On the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, the future of Victor Wembanyama, announced as the No. 1 of the next NBA draft, will be determined after a lottery. Between conspiracy theory, big surprises and permanent tension, this very special evening has become an unmissable event on the other side of the Atlantic.

Undoubtedly the most decisive heads or tails in the history of the sport. March 19, 1969, New York. On that day, the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks must be decided between who will have the honor of choosing in first position during the traditional draft, a ceremony during which the NBA franchises each select the best young players on the planet. . The rule then is simple: the two worst teams in each division (East and West) are in the battle to obtain the first choice. The way to decide between them? A half dollar coin tossed in the air.

On this famous March 19, the coin fell tails and fate tipped in favor of the Bucks. In a fraction of a second, the Wisconsin franchise has just secured the possibility of bringing in a certain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. At the time known as Lew Alcindor (he will change after a conversion to Islam), the interior is a real phenomenon and all observers agree that he is set to change the face of the franchise NBA who will draft him. Confirmation in 1971, two years after this coin toss, when the Bucks won their first title in the wake of a Lew Alcindor voted best player in the championship for his second season in the Great League.

“I took my car to drive around town for hours”

In a throw of a coin, the Suns, they let slip the one who will become one of the best players in history. “We were flabbergasted. On a simple wave of the hand … It was dramatic, told several years later Jerry Colangelo, general manager of Phoenix at the time, in the columns of the Los Angeles Times. took my car to drive around town for hours, just to evacuate. It was a turning point for the franchise.”

54 years after this turning point in 1969, the NBA is about to experience a new explosion with the arrival of Victor Wembanyama. The French prodigy from Boulogne-Levallois (19 years old) panics American recruiters by presenting technical skills and dexterity never seen for a player of this size (2.23m). While it is already part of the list of outlook the most anticipated in history, alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James or even Zion Williamson, his selection in first position in the 2023 draft (on the night of June 22 to 23) is beyond doubt. Except that, this time, the franchise that will have the honor of choosing it will not be determined by a coin toss.

Established since 1966, the heads or tails was replaced in 1985 by a lottery system, set up so that there are more than two teams likely to have the first choice and to avoid that the season is truncated by a race in last place. Each year, the worst franchises are each assigned a probability of getting the first draft pick based on their ranking. Since 2019, the three worst teams in the regular season each have a 14% chance of winning the jackpot. Before that, the last team of the regular season had a 25% chance of having the first choice, the penultimate 19.9% ​​and the penultimate 15.6%. Sacred differences that favored the reservoirthat famous race for last place.

This Tuesday, May 16 (on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday in France), the 14 franchises that failed to qualify for the playoffs will therefore carefully follow the 38th lottery in history. With disparate chances (14% for the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons; 0.5% for the New Orleans Pelicans) but a common dream: to obtain the first pick and the possibility of drafting Wembanyama.

The odds of getting the first pick in the next draft

• Detroit Pistons: 14%
• San Antonio Spurs: 14%
• Houston Rockets: 14%
• Charlotte Hornets: 12; 5%
• Portland Trail Blazers: 10.5%
• Orlando Magic: 9%
• Indiana Pacers: 6.8%
• Wizards of Washington: 6.7%
• Utah Jazz: 4.5%
• Dallas Mavericks: 3%
• Chicago Bulls: 1.8%
• Oklahoma City Thunder: 1.7%
• Toronto Raptors: 1%
• New Orleans Pelicans: 0.5%

Ping pong balls have replaced the coin

The principle of the lottery is as follows: before the ceremony, the 14 franchises are assigned a number of four-digit combinations, with more or fewer combinations depending on the chances of having the first choice (140 combinations for the first three, 5 combinations for the last). Next, ping pong balls, numbered 1 to 14, are placed in a drum that spins for 20 seconds. After these 20 seconds, a ball comes out of the drum. The operation is repeated until a combination of four digits is obtained. The team that has this famous combination wins the jackpot.

Each year, the announcement of the results provokes strong emotions among the leaders and fans of the franchises. The frenzied reaction from members of the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019 when they learned they could pick Zion Williamson in first place gives some idea of ​​the excitement around this lottery.

For franchises, the moment is always unforgettable. “I remember the lottery very well, says Frenchman Maxime Lefèvre, current assistant coach from Minnesota and already present on the staff of the Timberwolves in 2020 when they obtained the first choice. I was home. It was pretty cool because you watch on TV and you see the teams going down from 14th place. N°5, N°4, N°3… and still no Timberwolves! Until we see we have No. 1.”

In a particularly open draft for the first choice, without any name standing out as is the case this year with Wembanyama, the Wolves leaders opted for Anthony Edwards, selected at the All Star Game last February for his third season in the NBA.

“It’s very disturbing that the fate of a franchise depends on chance”

Covid-19 pandemic requires, the members of Wolves could not meet to follow this lottery. “Normally everyone gets together, but there it was the Covid so everyone was stuck at home, says Maxime Lefèvre. It was a slightly different experience from what it should usually be. In normal times, the leaders are together. How much is it expected by the members of the franchise? It really depends on the level of the draft. This year, I can tell you that within the Spurs, Rockets and Pistons, it must be a lot of talk There must be a lot of pressure and a lot of impatience to be fixed.”

For someone like Maxime Lefèvre, former video coordinator and now assistant coach, the main objective is to dissect the smallest aspects of the game to reduce uncertainty as much as possible. So depending on a lottery is not necessarily easy to live with. “It’s very disturbing that the fate of a franchise depends on chance. That’s why I’m very happy to be on this side, closer to the floor, and not in the offices upstairs like we says”, laughs Maxime Lefèvre.

The third-worst record in the NBA in 2019-20, the Timberwolves knew before the lottery that they were well placed, with a 14% chance of getting the first choice. Over the past three years, this first choice has always gone to one of the three teams most likely to win the cup (Wolves in 2020, Pistons in 2021 and Magic in 2022). But, in 2019, the Pelicans were offered the right to draft Zion Williamson despite only having a 6% chance in the lottery. The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards, all better positioned on the starting line, were all grilled priority.

“I have attended murder trials where the tension was not as high”

Since the establishment of this lottery, the palm of the hold up does not go to the Pelicans. Orlando Magic in 1993 (1.52% chance, Chris Webber’s No. 1 draft), New Jersey Nets in 2000 (4.4%, Kenyon Martin), Chicago Bulls in 2008 (1.7%, Derrick Rose) , Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 (1.7%, Andrew Wiggins).

“The Cold Wrap” from 1985

The great history of the lottery is also made up of somewhat darker chapters. The best known of them is undoubtedly the one around the ceremony of May 1985. That year, for the very first edition, the first choice is particularly coveted because the phenomenon Patrick Ewing presents himself to the draft. The pivot has just martyred the university championship with his college in Georgetown and makes all the NBA leaders salivate. “It was very tense. I’ve been to murder trials where the tension wasn’t as high,” CBS commentator Pat O’Brien recalled in comments reported by Sport Illustrated.

At the time, the famous ping pong balls had not yet been put in place. The seven worst performing teams in the regular season are decided with an envelope system, one per franchise. These are placed in a giant plastic ball, shuffled and then drawn one by one to determine the order of the draft. The last envelope drawn is that of the New York Knicks, who therefore win the jackpot. “We are very happy with the lottery,” said David Stern, the boss of the NBA. With the certainty of seeing the college phenom of the moment join one of the most high-profile franchises, the scenario is indeed ideal. May be too much.

The outcome of this lottery immediately provoked an uproar. Conspiracy theories are quick to emerge, with some fans and franchise bosses believing that New York has been favored for the strong economic spinoffs that an up-and-coming superstar’s presence in the Big Apple offers. The Knicks envelope would have been refrigerated and dented to allow David Stern to recognize it. The identity of the man who placed the envelopes in the giant ball, an accountant from the firm Ersnt & Whinney, which manages the audit of the group that owns the Knicks, does not help.

As a perfect businessman, David Stern welcomes the media impact of this first lottery. Even with these suspicions of rigging, a bad buzz is still a buzz. “If people want to say that the lottery was rigged, fine, launches the boss of the Great League at the time. As long as they spell our name correctly … That means that they are interested in us. It’s amazing.”

By organizing this lottery, the NBA has succeeded: it has created an event. “There’s no doubt that the year after the lottery for Ewing, people turned on their televisions just to see if something in particular would happen again. Then the year after that and the year after that… “, summarizes Sports Illustrated in a long dossier devoted to this evening of May 1985. If it has fascinated America for nearly 40 years, the next lottery, which will determine the future of Victor Wembanyama, should record a record of French viewers. Much to the delight of NBA bosses.

Felix Gabory RMC Sport journalist

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