Joey Reinsdorf had known that the Bulls dropped from No. 4 to No. 7 for close to an hour Tuesday night when he grimaced as the NBA’s draft lottery TV show aired in a hotel backroom to announce picks he already knew.
“Maybe next time, my dad will get my other brother to come here,” Joey cracked before catching himself. “Actually, hopefully this is our last time here.”
Joey, the 22-year-old son of team President Michael Reinsdorf, will graduate from Northwestern this spring, and the economics major already has a job. He joked that he failed in this one in his second straight year representing the Bulls in the lottery backroom, even while trying to keep an event totally based on luck in perspective.
“I’m definitely not as happy as I was hoping to be,” Reinsdorf said. “But (management) has been able to find talent at this (No. 7) pick before.”
Once again, in an effort to promote transparency, the NBA invited 12 reporters to sit in a locked-down hotel backroom to witness the actual lottery drawing, which is posted to the league’s website after the TV special announces the picks.
It’s a serious affair, changing the fortunes of franchises and jobs. And the league treats it as such.
You can’t enter the backroom until you surrender all electronic devices — smartphone, laptop, tape recorder for interviews, Apple Watch, etc. — which are placed in an envelope with your name on it. You then pass through security much like at an airport.
No bathroom breaks are allowed. Nobody is allowed outside the room after entering.
This is a departure from 2004, the first of the Tribune’s three lottery backroom appearances. That’s when the NBA held the event in Secaucus, N.J., and security guards escorted reporters if nature called.
Thanks to the rebuild that followed the Bulls’ 1990s dynasty, the Tribune was like the Helen Thomas of the NBA draft lottery in the early 2000s.
Thomas was a longtime White House correspondent. Zion Williamson may be as important as the leader of the free world to a sagging franchise.
Otherwise, not much has changed about the lottery process.
Lou DiSabatino, the league’s vice president of event operations, still holds up and calls out the number of each lottery ball, 1 to 14, as he drops them into the machine. Micah Day, a member of the NBA’s event-management team, is the timekeeper. With his back turned to DiSabatino, he holds up his hand to signal when a pingpong ball should be pulled from the drum to the chute for each four-number combination — 20 seconds of mixing for the first ball and 10 seconds for each of the second, third and fourth balls.
Darrington Hobson, a partner at the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, is to DiSabatino’s left to make sure the process runs smoothly and on the up-and-up. A representative from Smartplay, which manufactures lottery machines, is on hand. So is a backup machine if any of the weighed, measured and certified pingpong balls don’t fly up the chute.
Like we said, it’s serious stuff.
Also on hand are Jamin Dershowitz, the NBA’s assistant general counsel, who explains the logistics to the assembled reporters and 14 team representatives. And Kiki VanDeWeghe, the league’s executive vice president of basketball operations, who announces the lottery results in the backroom. Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum does so on stage for the TV broadcast.
If the lottery is fixed, whoever is responsible for pulling off such a feat should take on fixing Cristiano Felicio’s ability to catch passes for his or her next trick.
The Bulls owned 125 numerical combinations for the No. 1 pick. Eighty-six began with the number 2. Thirty-nine began with 3.
At 6:41 p.m., the process begins. DiSabatino, on timekeeper Day’s prompting, calls out the numbers to his first draw. Dershowitz finds the winner of the numerical combination 7-4-12-13.
It’s the Pelicans.
“(Expletive) yeah!” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry shouts, raising his arms and jumping from his seat to slap hands with other team representatives.
Gentry, whose team had just a 6% chance to win, catches himself after his exuberant outburst.
“Sorry,” he says.
The next draw of 5-7-10-12 helps the Grizzlies overcome mere 6.3% odds to win the No. 2 pick. The Knicks, who shared the best 14% odds to win the No. 1 pick with the Suns and Cavaliers, salvage the third pick when their combination of 3-1-2-5 follows.
A Grizzlies combination also actually comes up for the fourth pick, but it can’t be so. So another draw is held, vaulting the Lakers from No. 11 to No. 4 despite mere 2.8% odds. General manager Rob Pelinka, a Lake Forest native, looks skyward.
Gentry, whose franchise endured the messy public saga of an Anthony Davis trade request that never went down, is ebullient. He wore a tie given to him by new Pelicans general manager David Griffin that a Cavaliers official wore for two winning draft-lottery appearances when Griffin worked for that franchise.
“I will be playing 7-4-12-13 in Vegas for summer league,” Gentry said. “For a lot of money.”
Joey Reinsdorf said he brought no lucky charms this year after using a “few too many last year.” That’s when the Bulls dropped one slot from No. 6 to No. 7.
Particularly with a potentially generational talent like Zion Williamson, this year’s fall is more painful and precipitous. But again, Reinsdorf tried to keep perspective.
“A lot of people can relate to a father-son relationship,” Reinsdorf said of having Michael pick him to sit in the room. “This is bigger than sports.”