Reimagining the Biggest NBA Draft Lottery 'What Ifs' in History – Bleacher Report

MARTY LEDERHANDLER/Associated Press

The NBA’s original conspiracy theory doubles as its most enduring. More than 30 years after the New York Knicks nabbed the No. 1 pick in the league’s first lottery, phrases like “creased corner” and “frozen envelope” re-enter the sports lexicon every May when the Association determines its draft order.

The Knicks, who won just 24 games during the 1984-85 season, had as good a shot as any team at landing Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing, the closest thing to a surefire franchise cornerstone to come out of college since Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) graduated from UCLA in 1969. As Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Ballard recalled:

He offered the total package. He could score in the post, defend, rebound and knock down an 18-foot jumper. When TBS superimposed a graphic of strengths on the screen during the 1985 draft broadcast, it read only, are you kidding? In Ewing, teams saw not just talent but salvation: ticket sales, playoff runs and, most of all, relevance. He was, as this magazine put it at the time, possibly ‘the most recognized athlete ever to enter a major professional league.‘”

At that time, each of the NBA’s seven non-playoff teams had the same odds (14.3 percent) of jumping to the top. That math convinced some on the fringes of postseason play, including the Dominique Wilkins-led Atlanta Hawks, to engage in what’s since been deemed “tanking.”

“Dominique and I were called into a room and told that we were going to miss some games down the stretch because we were not that far off,” Doc Rivers, then a promising young player for the Hawks, told Bleacher Report. “I swear it’s 40 games left, and we’re like, ‘Wait a minute; we’re still in this.'”

Atlanta might have

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