Or…. “Mr. Bent Corner” envelope, as the case may well have been.
Thirty years ago this spring, a young, hungry visionary Commissioner may (or may not) have pulled off one of the greatest card tricks in sports history.
Personally, I think he did. But I ain’t mad about it. Stern was a genius, in so many regards. Today, every overpaid NBA player in the league today (and that’s about all of them, save for the 12-15 guys that really make a difference in winning/losing) should kiss his tanned-and-retired-in-Boca-del-Vista ass for making the modern NBA what it now is.
Sports Illustrated and Chris Ballard have authored one of the best reads in regard to that first ever Lottery. How it came about. Why it looked as awkward and weird as it did that first time. And what the league currently faces with teams STILL tanking like drunks at closing time just to get a few more ping pong ball combinations.
So if Stern did rig it to make Ewing land in Gotham, so be it. He made the right call.
Stern would build on the lottery model, ambitiously elevating spectacle whenever possible. Publishing, events, licensing, home entertainment, international TV deals, All‑Star weekend: Stern wanted in on all of it. In his first seven years the league set attendance records every season, licensed merchandise sales increased 437%, salaries rose 177%, network television fees jumped six-fold and franchises tripled in value.At the time, Stern modeled the NBA after Disney. ‘’They have theme parks,’’ Stern said at the time, ‘’And we have theme parks. Only we call them arenas. They have characters: Mickey Mouse, Goofy. Our characters are named Magic and Michael. Disney sells apparel; we sell apparel. They make home videos; we make home videos.’’
For the losing teams that day, they had their chance at redemption. There were plenty of good players left after Ewing. Golden State got Chris Mullin. Detroit got Joe Dumars. Utah got some guy named Karl Malone. But because the pro game was all about the big man back in the 80’s, 4 of the top 6 picks were centers – three of them utter bums: Benoit Benjamin, Jon Koncak and Joe Klein.
Today, I’d like to see a pure lottery return, where every non-playoff team gets one ball, and we draw them out on live TV. Hell, maybe we can even bring back David Joel Stern to do the honors.