ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Last night in New York City, a handful of NBA franchises looking for a little luck gathered in Times Square to try and beat the odds. That’s right, it’s the annual NBA Draft lottery, where the best of the worst vie for the first pick in the NBA Draft. I showed up and brought my cell phone camera along with me to see what went down behind the scenes.
Let’s get to the pictures …
I arrived in Times Square right around 6:30 p.m. and fought my way over to the ABC Studios, where they shoot “Good Day America” or “Today This Morning” or whatever they call it — one of those morning shows that airs when I’m still asleep. There’s never really a good time to be in Times Square, because it is consistently crowded and busy and bustling, but 6:30 p.m. must be just about the worst time. Add in that it was humid and in the mid-80s today, and Times Square felt a bit like being stuck in a mosh pit. Or at the bottom of a mosh pit.
Then again, one of the fun things about living in New York City is you never know when you’ll have a celebrity sighting or come across a movie or TV set where magic is being made. Here, just a block away from the ABC studios, you can only imagine how lucky I felt to happen upon the set of Transformers 6: Construction Sitez. In this shot you can see the star of the flick, Cat Dozer. It’s more than meets the eye, my friends.
I eventually found my way to the Millennium Hotel, across the street from the ABC studios, which served as the headquarters during the Draft lottery. Because the television studio is relatively small, the media sets up in a hotel ballroom, and a dining area serves as the hospitality center for all the representatives of the various teams. In this photo, ESPN.com’s Henry Abbott demonstrates the key to being able to last throughout the evening: Unfiltered caffeine. (Also, you can tell we’re in a hotel because of the lovely carpeting.)
This guy looked really familiar, but he insisted on holding his hand in front of his face and speaking in a high, squeaky voice in an attempt to disguise himself. But I’d know that facial hair anywhere…
That’s right, it’s Kevin Love! Kevin was in NYC to represent the Timberwolves up on the podium during the Draft lottery show. I asked Kevin if he’d brought along any good luck charms. He launched into some convoluted story about how he had sent something via the U.S. Postal Service, because it was too big for him to carry, but he wasn’t sure if it had arrived or not. I pressed him for details but he didn’t want to go any further for fear of jinxing things. Understood.
It’s not an NBA event without a press conference, and last night there was a short presser before the Draft Lottery with Commissioner David Stern and his Deputy Commissioner and successor, Adam Silver. It was a relatively brief session as these things go, but it was still entertaining, as Stern engaged in a brief debate after a reporter asked if Stern was concerned about three of the four remaining teams being “small market” teams.
COMMISSIONER STERN: Not the least. I asked Heather Cox, how do you define small?
REPORTER: Well, it’s not Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago.
COMMISSIONER STERN: Is it the lower half of the league? Will that do it?
REPORTER: I think pocket TV markets.
COMMISSIONER STERN: Well, lower half? Good, thank you. We have four teams in the lower half of our TV households. It’s not three of the four; it’s four of four. Miami is 16. It just goes to show you that if you have good teams, people want to watch, and they’re interesting teams. Miami wasn’t the big market defined by the media as a big market until it attracted players and then it suddenly became a big market.
REPORTER: I meant an international market that goes beyond perhaps the size?
COMMISSIONER STERN: Really? You should go back and look at some of the numbers. Sorry, it doesn’t hold. And the answer is we’re delighted that the best teams are having a great run, and our TV partners are also happy.
Boom. After that we had about an hour to kill before the broadcast began, so everyone wandered over to the dining room to grab some grub. Players, owners, agents, executives and writers all wandered around. I briefly debated trying to sneak a photo of Commissioner Stern at the buffet, but decided getting ejected from the hospitality suite probably wasn’t a good idea.
While there were NBA-related people everywhere you turned, I may have been the only person to recognize the guy in the photo above. Don’t know him? Then you haven’t been reading the All Ball blog!
That’s right, Tate Moore himself was in the house, just off the plane from Cleveland, along with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and a deep crew of Cavs supporters. As you can see, Tate’s fingers were already crossed. At that moment, the Cleveland crew was mostly concerned with figuring out how to get their Cavs-logo bow ties tied correctly — they consulted YouTube, to no avail, but then found an NBA staffer at the hotel who was terrific at tying bow ties, so he went around the group making sure everyone was tied up perfectly.
Finally, it was time to go to the studio. Most of the seats in the studio were earmarked for team personnel, but when they realized they needed to fill three seats, two other writers and I were rushed out of the hotel, across 44th Street, into a side door of the ABC studio, and onto an elevator large enough to hold a couple dozen people. We went up one floor, down a winding hallway, and emerged into the well-lit studio.
Because we were still fifteen minutes from airtime, everyone was kind of hanging out and chatting, trying to alleviate nervousness in their own ways. Here Lehigh grad (and All Ball blogger) CJ McCollum and Cleveland-based rapper Machine Gun Kelly pose with a young fan.
Here, a couple of guys with vested interest in the Draft lottery, for various reasons. From left, Pistons center Andre Drummond, Blazers guard (and reigning Rookie of the Year) Damian Lillard, former Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams and Pelicans center Anthony Davis.
Finally we were directed to our assigned seats. I was given an empty seat about 18 inches from my main man Jay Bilas, just out of camera range. In the background on the right you can see former UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, who was interviewed live on air just after the broadcast started.
Then the representatives took their seats and … we waited. The truth is, the Draft lottery is a mostly reactive process: the lottery itself had taken place some time earlier, in a private room, and the order of the Draft was already decided and ready to be revealed inside a stack of sealed envelopes. So for the time being, everyone waited, not altogether patiently, for Silver to appear and let us know how it all shook out.
By now you know: The Cavs crew, led by owner Dan Gilbert‘s son, Nick, beat the odds and came away with the first pick, knocking the Orlando Magic down to second. I caught up with Nick shortly after the Draft, as he posed for photos with onlookers and was handed cellphones to chat with well-wishers, and I asked him about his evening.
ME: Nick, do you have a second or are you guys trying to get out of here?
NICK: I’m trying to stay up as late as I can tonight so I can sleep in tomorrow.
ME: Are you guys going back to Cleveland tonight?
NICK: I think so, yeah.
ME: Now would probably be a good time to talk to your Dad and see if you guys could hang around in New York for the night.
NICK: Oh yeah, talk to my Dad, try to go out to dinner or whatever.
ME: So tell me, what have you learned from your previous appearances here at the Draft Lottery?
NICK: Keep calm, make yourself presentable.
ME: Is that important, being presentable?
NICK: Of course.
ME: Did you bring a good luck charm with you?
NICK: Got my bow tie.
ME: Is that the same one?
NICK: Nah. Not the same one as the first year, no. And [for good luck], the crew that we came with.
ME: Do you still get nervous, after having been through this twice already?
NICK: A little bit, because I thought all my friends were going to give me a lot of grief if we didn’t get that first pick because of the statement I made earlier. So I was relieved when we got the first pick.
ME: Tell me again, what was the statement you made?
NICK: It was that this is our last year here. Our top pick that we’re going to get is going to help us make our final push into the Playoffs.
ME: Once you knew you were in the top three, and they went to a commercial break to let the drama build, was that when the nerves kicked in?
NICK: I felt pretty confident, because Washington had a very, very, very small chance of getting it. And like they said earlier, the team with the best odds hasn’t really gotten the first pick a lot.
ME: I think the team with the best odds has only gotten the first pick four times in Draft Lottery history.
NICK: Yeah. And actually, my Dad looked this up, the third best odds have won it most. And we had the third best odds.
ME: Were you nervous during that time period? Were you excited?
NICK: A little bit of both.
ME: And then once you saw number two was Orlando, and you knew you were number one, did you want to yell like the rest of the guys in your crew did?
NICK: I don’t even know… what was going through my mind, you know?
I can only imagine. Congrats, Nick.
Here’s a photo of the full Cavs crew (taken by Getty Images, not me) that I posted here in order to point out the guy with the shaved head in the top left of the photo, partially obscured by the man in the maroon jacket: Yep, Iron Chef Michael Symon. Symon, who hails from Cleveland and now splits time between Cleveland and NYC, showed up to lend whatever support he could to the Cavs chances. I caught up with him immediately after Cleveland won the lottery…
ME: So how did you get involved in this whole thing? I know you’re a Cleveland guy…
SYMON: I’m a Cleveland guy. Dan and everybody was coming to New York, and I’m here taping “The Chew,” and they texted me: “You want to come to the Draft Lottery?” I’m like, Absolutely! Now I’m here, life is good.
ME: Are you a lifelong Cavs fan?
SYMON: Oh yeah, born and raised. Bingo Smith, baby!
ME: I was going to say, you must be before the Mark Price/Brad Daugherty era.
SYMON: Yes, before that, before that.
ME: So this crew they have now, with Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao and all the young guys, does it feel like this pick will push you guys into the next echelon?
SYMON: I think we’re in a good place, I think we’re in a really good place. So it’ll be good.
ME: When you were waiting to see if you guys got the first pick or the second pick, was that more nerve-racking than waiting to see if you won on “Iron Chef?”
SYMON: It’s a different nervous.
ME: It’s not like, Oh man, did I use enough salt?
SYMON: (laughs) Right, it’s a different nervous. Because I can’t personally screw it up.
Really nice guy. And now I say unto you in the words of my Uncle, “Allez cuisine!”
I guess after you win the lottery, you don’t need a credential.
And finally, the saddest image of the night. Sorry, Magic fans.