Not more than five minutes after last year's NBA Lottery, my phone rang. It was a friend calling to say that The Lottery was fixed. How else could you explain the New York Knickerbockers getting Patrick Ewing?
Luck, I said.
Luck, he said, has nothing to do with it. It was a conspiracy. As proof he offered the conspiratorial smiles of David stern and Dave DeBusschere. Why, he wondered, was Stern smiling if he hadn't wanted Ewing in New York? Every sport wants a strong team in New York for the TV ratings and the advertising dollars. New York gives you credibility. Don't you listen to the radio? If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. You don't honestly think the NBA would let a once-in-a-lifetime player like Ewing end up in Indiana or Sacramento, R.F.D., did you? Just a coincidence, no doubt, that DeBusschere had that No. 33 jersey ready made and waiting for Ewing?
Costs his 10 bucks for the jersey, I said, worth the shot.
It was fixed, he said.
That wasn't the only call. There were more that day, more the next day, and a memorable conversation with neighbor Jeff covering the same ground. Each said he didn't know how Stern did it -- maybe he used magnets, maybe the envelopes were marked -- but the Knicks getting Ewing was simply too fortuitous for the league to be trusted.
I said come on, be serious.
Now we have another Lottery. And somehow, because a few porridge heads were banboozled into believing the likes of Jellybean Bryant and Gerald Henderson were worth swapping their No. 1 picks for, Philadelphia and Boston wound up in the Elite Eight. The 76ers and Celtics need to be in The Lottery like Pat Sajak needs a day job.
There were needy teams in the Lottery: Phoenix, Cleveland, Indiana and Golden State. (The Knicks had the worst record in the NBA this year, but if Bernard King gets healthy and joins Ewing, they have championship potential.) Phoenix has a Bulgarian national starting at forward. That doesn't sound like a long-term solution. Cleveland has the 44-year-old World B. Free and nine guys named Harpo. Golden State and Indiana are especially wretched. In a league where 16 of 23 teams get into the playoffs, the Warriors haven't been since Rick Barry left in 1978; you could give the Pacers the No. 1 pick from now through doomsday and they'd still finish last.
So, given four teams with gaping holes (and another with one sneaker on the court and another in the HMO), who wins The Lottery?
Who else? Philly picks No. 1. Boston picks No. 2.
Don't call. I'm with you.
I don't know how, but I know why. I don't have method, but I have motive.
David Stern, come on down. CBS, come on down.
You don't think so? Fine, let me ask you this: How excited do you think the boys at CBS would be if they had Indiana and Sacramento in the finals? Does the word "coma" mean anything to you? (As long as I've got you here, let me ask you another question: Did Red Auerbach steal the case of missing Lite?)
Seen any great Cleveland-Phoenix games lately? Of course not. As far as CBS is concerned, the NBA doesn't have 23 teams and four divisions. It has New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Lakers in one division, and Michael Jordan, Isiah and Dominique in the other division. (And Isiah had better look out. If Detroit slips any further, the only time Isiah will find himself on CBS is the All-Star Game.) Seattle? San Antonio? Utah? What does CBS look like, the Salvation Army? Stop whining and get cable.
I think we can see a pattern here. CBS rigs the first Lottery so the Knicks can get Ewing. Not only does this ensure New York of a healthy franchise on the floor and at the gate, but it gives CBS a fistful of meaningful season tickets at the Garden. In sports, as we know, the man with the comps rules. The Knicks, unfortunately, were dunk bait last season even with Ewing and made The Lottery again. (DeBusschere took the fall for that, not Ewing or Hubie, and let that be a word to the wide, Pat Williams.) CBS could hardly smooch the Knicks again. This time they let Philadelphia and Boston, two fat teams, get fatter. This is known as protecting your prime Sunday afternoon 1-3:30 time slot.
And wait until you see the CBS plan for next year's Lottery. By then New York, Philly and Boston will be set for the next decade by virtue of certain inexplicable trades: the Knicks will have sent Bill Cartwright and a foot surgeon to be named later to the Bulls for Jordan; the 76ers will have traded Perry Moss, Kenny Green and their No. 1 pick in 1996 to Atlanta for Dominique; the Celtics will have talked the Pistons into trading Isiah for Kevin McHale's dog and a chase of Lite. CBS will have but one team to shore up: the Lakers.
The Lakers will get into The Lottery by trading kareem's migraine medicine and Peter Gudmundsson to Indiana for a No. 1, and Indiana, as ever, will finish last. Shaockingly (heh-heh), the Lakers will select the envelope that gives them the first pick, and name David Robinson. Everyone will giggle until David Stern reads a telegram sent by the commander-in-chief (southern California's own) excusing Robinson from Military service. Magic will smile and thank everyone for coming.