Tip-Off Timer: '85 Lottery Still the Best
Even today, 24 years after the fact, the debate still rages over the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery. Was it predetermined to ensure the high-profile New York Knicks got the No. 1 pick and franchise center Patrick Ewing, the most heralded college player in several years?
Or is that just another wild-eyed conspiracy theory? People still argue it, while Commissioner David Stern grew tired of the talk long ago.
"I've heard the theories,'' said longtime NBA executive Pat Williams. "And they're just bogus.''
There is no debate that winning that first Lottery changed the course of the Knicks, the league's pet franchise that had been mired in mediocrity the previous 11 years. After Ewing's arrival and his two-year breaking-in period, the Knicks reached the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons with him as the starting center.
The debate is whether Stern knew what he was doing when he reached into the tumbler and -- with a one-in-seven-chance -- pulled out the envelope with the Knicks logo inside.
There is one theory that he knew which envelope to pull because it was put in a freezer to make it colder to the touch. The other theory is that one envelope had a bent corner for him to feel as he reached inside.
The video lends little credibility to either theory.
While the Draft Lottery was rushed into use to end a controversy caused by the Houston Rockets, it only started another one because the system proved to be flawed.
For such a dramatic change in the way the NBA did business, there was very little debate among the owners when the league decided it needed a Draft Lottery for '85.
The Houston Rockets made the decision easy. They had gained too much from tanking games. There was too much reward for being so bad.
After watching the Rockets get the No. 1 pick in back-to-back years to take Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon -- by virtually quitting on the court -- the NBA owners knew that with Ewing waiting in the next draft, there was the potential for an outbreak of teams trying too hard not to win.
"Usually, owners want to study these kind of things. But there was no committee formed, no anything except an attitude that 'we need to fix what we had,'" said Williams. "After the Rockets went into the tank the way they did, it was automatic.''
Instead of a two-team coin flip between the worst team from the East and the worst team from the West -- a 50-50 chance at the No. 1 pick -- the NBA went to a lottery system for all the teams that didn't make the playoffs (only a one in seven chance) for the chance at No. 1.
When the worst team in the league, the Warriors, ended up with the No. 7 pick, there obviously needed more tweaking in the system. In 1987, it was changed so only the top three picks were determined by the lottery. The rest followed by reverse order of regular season record.
By 1990, it was adjusted again with a weighted system, giving the worst teams a better chance of winning one of the top three picks. Through the '90s, the lottery became in incredibly popular event for the NBA, getting tweaked even more.
As good as they've been, and the surprises they produced, only the '85 Lottery still evokes a debate.