I suppose you could call me an sports fan atheist because I don’t believe in such a thing as “Basketball Gods.” Or maybe I’m agnostic because I’m not 100% sure they don’t exist. I mention this because on Tuesday, May 16th, the NBA has it’s annual draft lottery in which the 14 worst teams in the league pray, chant or cross their fingers. They’re all hoping to get a top draft choice so next year, they will make the playoffs and not have to go through this humiliating nonsense to compensate for their ownership’s glaring incompetence.
The word “incompetence” brings me to our once beloved L.A. Lakers who, on Tuesday, will have participated in the Lottery for four straight years and seem to be making it a habit. Only this year there is even more on the line. If the Lakers, who had the third worst record in the league, don’t get the right combination of ping pong balls they could come away with nothing. Zilch. Zippo. If so (God forbid) and you think they were bad last year, if L.A,. walks away with nada, next year probably won’t be much different.
The Laker choices are protected only if the ping pong balls yield # 3 or better. Otherwise they go to other teams and this will also be the case in 2019. (Biting my tongue.) This horrific possibility exists partially as a result of the infamous Steve Nash trade. Albeit because of injuries, not only was Nash a disaster while he played for the Lakers, his ghost continues years after he’s retired.
You’ve heard of the “gift that keeps giving?” The Nash trade is the misery that never goes away. (Speaking of misery, frankly, I’m not sure I can take Donald Trump as president and the Lakers being lousy much longer.)
The NBA is the only professional league which makes its worst teams rely on some luck to get a top draft choice. In the NFL, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, the worst team gets the best draft choice and so on. Supposedly the lottery system was created to stop bad teams from “tanking” at the end of the season, losing on purpose, to be rewarded with a top draft choice.
It’s said of the NBA that a team is best off being in the elite or in the doghouse and nowhere in the middle. If you’re at the bottom, you can hope the lottery turns things around. If you’re in the elite, the top free agents will likely want to play for you for a chance to win a title. Put another way, “It’s all about the rings.”
This “how many rings” mentality, I’m not sure proves anything. Former Celtic Bill Russell won 11 championships in 13 years but no one ever mentions him as the GOAT (greatest of all-time.) In the NFL it’s how many Super Bowls a quarterback won. But is that right?
Otto Graham, a Cleveland quarterback in the 1950’s, took his teams to 10 straight championship games! And won 7 of them! But because it was before the “Super Bow era,” nobody remembers his name. (Other than Joe Montana who considers Otto the greatest professional quarterback of all-time.)
The late Jerry Buss who owned the Lakers from 1979 until his passing in 2013, manged the team so brilliantly the Lakers were in the NBA Championship finals 16 times and won the title 10 times. Since his passing, his heirs have yet to make the playoffs and are essentially forcing me to recite the Ping Pong Ball Prayer moments prior to the lottery. (You think I’m joking?)
On Tuesday, the Lakers will have a 46.9% (I optimistically round up to 47%) of getting at least the 3rd pick in the draft. At the risk of sounding greedy, they also have a chance at getting the #1 draft choice. At the risk of sounding realistic, that chance is 15.6%. When Jerry Buss owned the team, among the Lakers’ biggest problems was making room for all the championship trophies. Now it’s hoping for a lucky ping pong ball bounce.
On Tuesday, Magic Johnson, President of Basketball Operations, will be among the Laker brass at New York’s Hilton Midtown Hotel where the ping pong balls will be flying. If he comes home with the 3rd draft choice or better Earvin will add to his reputation as The Magic Man. Maybe I should email him a copy of the Ping Pong Prayer.
The NBA Draft Lottery is Tuesday, May 16th, at 5 P.M. Shown live on ESPN. Jack Neworth also writes “Laughing Matters,” which appears every Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.