Is the NBA Draft Lottery Rigged?

Is the NBA Draft Lottery Rigged?

Cole Paganelli
2 years ago
3 min read
Is the NBA Draft Lottery Rigged?

The NBA Draft Lottery is Tuesday, June 22nd, and every year the lottery arrives the same question gets asked: Is it rigged?

While it seems ridiculous to think the NBA is rigging the lottery, fans are quick to point out a number of coincidences that just seemed too good to be pure luck. And believe me, some of them are hard to argue with.

Here are a few of the biggest conspiracies surrounding the NBA draft lottery and whether these examples are enough to prove that the whole thing is rigged or not.

The Frozen Envelope

By now you’ve probably heard the “frozen envelope” term mentioned, but what is it? Back when the lottery began in 1985, the whole process was just the league putting seven team cards inside of a large orb, spinning it a few times and then the commissioner selecting a card. 

However, rumors have remained strong over the years that the NBA wanted the Knicks, who play in the massive media market of New York, to land the consensus top prospect, Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing. So to ensure the commissioner David Stern picked the Knicks card, the league literally froze their card ahead of time so that when he reached in to grab it, it would feel colder than the others.

Some also noticed a slight bend on the corner of New York’s card, another possible indicator that the league may have wanted the big market Knicks to land the next superstar.

The Arrival and Departure of LeBron

When Akron-native LeBron James entered the NBA Draft in 2003, the Cavaliers and Nuggets were each tied with the worst record in the league. However, the Cavs ended up prevailing and winning the lottery, while Denver slid to third overall.

So while it may be fishy that Cleveland wound up getting the homegrown James, it’s not as if they overcame minuscule odds to grab the first pick (that conspiracy is coming up next). However, once James left the Cavs in 2010 to form the superteam in Miami, this is where the league may have interfered with the results.

Cleveland went 19-63 in their first post-LeBron season, entering the lottery with the second-highest odds to win and also the eighth-highest after a previous trade with the Clippers. In the end, their Clippers pick, which had a sub-two percent chance to win, turned into the number one overall pick, giving them the first and fourth picks they would eventually use for Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.

Two years later, Cleveland won again despite having the third-best odds, regretfully selecting Anthony Bennett. And when that pick failed, the Cavs won the lottery once more in 2014 with the NINTH-best odds, using their pick to draft the phenom Andrew Wiggins. 

Cleveland’s plethora of highly-drafted players helped convince James to return after four years with the Heat, where two years after his return they won their first NBA championship.

Bulls land D-Rose 

Since Michael Jordan played his final game with the team in 1998, the Bulls franchise was unable to secure any star to take over as the face of the franchise. But that all changed in 2008 when Chicago was able to land Derrick Rose out of Memphis.

Rose was a Chicago kid, born and raised in the city, even more so than LeBron’s relationship to Cleveland. But even more eyebrow-raising was how the Bulls, who had a 1.7 percent chance of winning the lottery, somehow had the odds fall in their favor to select the Windy City superstar.

With Rose on the Bulls, the third-biggest media market in the country became relevant again, going to the conference finals in 2011 and the point guard becoming the youngest player ever to win league MVP.

So is it rigged?

These are just three of the bigger conspiracies out there, but there are even more as it pertains to the lottery. The then-New Orleans Hornets getting the first pick and selecting Anthony Davis a few months after Stern rejected a potential Chris Paul to the Lakers deal. Dikembe Mutombo congratulating the 76ers on Twitter for winning the lottery in 2016, hours before the lottery was televised.

While the most diehard conspiracy theorists can probably make a case for every lottery being rigged one way or another, there are far more lotteries that actually look to be random. But even still, it would shock nobody to find out one day that some or all of these conspiracies were true in some regard.

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