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NBA Draft Lottery: Behind the scenes in the drawing room where the Spurs won the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes

Will Gottlieb Avatar
May 17, 2023

Alas, the 1.8 percent chance the Bulls had to land the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft did not convey.

Nor did the 2.0 percent chance they had to get the second pick, the 2.2 percent chance they had to get the third pick or the 2.5 percent chance they had to get the fourth pick.

Much like the end of the Bulls season, the draft lottery presented a modicum of hope. With little else to be excited about, even a 1.8 percent chance to win the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes or an 8.5 percent chance to keep the draft pick otherwise sent to Orlando was worth hyping up.

There was a confusing moment on the broadcast, where the 11th pick appeared to be heading to Orlando, which further toyed with viewers emotions. But in the end, the Bulls sent their pick to Orlando, which completes the Nikola Vucevic trade (along with Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr, and the 8th pick in 2021 which became Franz Wagner).**

**Technically, the trade has not yet conveyed in full. Because the Bulls had to include Porter Jr. in the Vucevic trade, they had to take back the effectively dead salary that was Al Farouq Aminu, to whom they had to attach a 2025 top-10 protected pick to sign-and-trade for DeMar DeRozan.**

Being inside the drawing room was a unique experience . At 5:30, an NBA PR representative herded 19 media members from the work room on the second floor, down an escalator and into a private room where the ping pong balls did their magic.

Before entering, the media congregated in a McCormick Place West Convention Center hallway along with 14 representatives from each NBA team in the lottery, a handful of league office officials and members of the Ernst and Young accounting firm, who oversaw the proceedings.

We were only allowed a pen and pad of paper — phones, recorders and other electronic devices had to be turned in. We walked through a metal detector (which my water bottle set off and I had to go through again) and entered yet another giant meeting room in the convention center: the drawing room.

A representative from each team was present, and the Bulls rep, Assistant GM Pat Connelly sat in his assigned seat, the back right corner of the stage, hoping for some lucky numbers. His seating position reflected the Bulls spot in the lottery odds.

Marc Dieli, the Ernst & Young partner who oversaw the drawing, stood in front of the representatives at the lottery machine and broke down the proceedings.

Fourteen ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14 were placed in the lottery
machine. Balls would be drawn out of the machine after 10 seconds of mixing. The process would be repeated four times, at which point, the four balls would represent a four-digit combination. There were 1,001 possible combinations, and the Bulls had only 18. For context, the teams with the highest odds, the Spurs, Pistons and Rockets, all had 140.

Here were the numbers the Bulls were pulling for:

Micah Day, Sr. Director of Events Management at the NBA stood behind the team reps facing away from the stage, where the ping pong ball mixing took place. After eyeing his stopwatch for 10 seconds, he would raise his left hand to indicate that the mixing time was complete and the next ball should be selected from the Lottery Ball machine.

The first number: 14

10 seconds of mixing before Day raised his hand.


10 more seconds of mixing.


10 more seconds of mixing.


As each individual raced to try to determine the owner of these digits, Dieli announced “San Antonio Spurs have the first pick.”

A moment of such buildup, magnitude an excitement led to a slightly underwhelming response. Spurs GM, Brian Wright, was the winner in the room, but did not erupt into an Alvin Gentry-like yell from 2019.

Once the Wembanyama winner was determined, the process repeated itself.

The Hornets won the second pick with the combination: 7-3-5-4.

The Trail Blazers won the third pick with the combination: 11-3-9-6.

For the fourth selection, and the last chance to be able to move up in the NBA Draft, the first two numbers read were 13 and 14, both of which were in most of the Bulls combinations. Hope?


13-14-1-11 was the call and that went to the Spurs. Ignore the result. The re-do was met with a laugh from the reporters.

3-4-9-7 goes to…the Hornets. Ignore the result and re-do. Another laugh.

2-12-7-3 goes to…the Spurs…again! Re-do.


7 (a common Bulls number), 14 (another common Bulls number)…should we get excited again?

4. 1.

Rockets got the fourth pick.

“It was a little more strain than I was expecting,” Day said with a smile after having lifted his arm four times for each of the seven attempts to determine the four lottery winners.

The whole process took about 20 minutes, re-dos included. Afterwards, reporters scurried to the representatives of their respective teams, Spurs in particular, and chatted for about an hour until they aired the broadcast for the sequestered.

It makes sense why the NBA has created such a dramatized version for TV. Because the lottery determines only the top four picks, and the first combination goes to the first team, there is a lack of build up and excitement.

Still, it was cool to be part of a small group of people in the entire world who knew the results as they came out.

Now that it is resolved, the Bulls can move forward knowing what remaining cards they have to play with.

The answer is, not many.

So let the creative work begin.

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