CHICAGO — Joel Glass, a longtime public relations official for the Orlando Magic, entered a sequestered ballroom at the McCormick Place Convention Center ballroom, toting a black backpack with a team-issued bag tag and three lucky charms inside.
Orlando hit the jackpot for the fourth time Tuesday, winning the rights to the No. 1 pick in the June 23 draft, when Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. and Duke’s Paolo Banchero will vie to be the first player selected. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings will pick second, third and fourth.
“It’s relief more than anything,” said Glass, who clapped when NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum announced the selection and shook hands onstage with Magic Coach Jamahl Mosley.
The Washington Wizards, who entered the drawing with a 3 percent chance to get the top pick, will select 10th. In their past two lottery appearances, the Wizards used the ninth pick to select Rui Hachimura in 2019 and Deni Avdija in 2020. Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin, Memphis center Jalen Duren and G League Ignite guard Dyson Daniels are among the candidates if Washington uses the 10th pick.
To ensure integrity and prevent spoilers, the NBA draft lottery drawing is a cloak-and-dagger affair: Team representatives, a small group of media members, a handful of league employees, a couple of cameramen and a representative from the Ernst & Young accounting firm must agree to give up their cellphones and smartwatches to ensure the drawing’s results don’t leak.
NBA President of Operations Byron Spruell announces the top four picks, which are made by selecting four out of 14 ping-pong balls from a hopper, with each team given a percentage of the 1,001 possible combinations based on their regular season record. The drawing is held ahead of the broadcast to account for the possibility of a machine malfunction or a repeat selection by the same team.
Orlando, which finished with the Eastern Conference’s worst record at 22-60, had a 14 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. The winning combination was 14-1-13-6. Had the final number been 2 or 3, the Rockets would have won the pick. If it had been 10, 11 or 12, the pick would have gone to the Detroit Pistons. Orlando owned 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 as well.
When Orlando was announced as the winner in the drawing room, an Eastern Conference executive squeezed Glass’s shoulders and hailed him as the “next Pat Williams,” the former Magic executive who helped the franchise claim its three previous lottery wins.
Despite those wins, which landed the Magic the rights to Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber (who was traded for Anfernee Hardaway) and Dwight Howard, its luck had run dry in recent years. Orlando picked fourth in 2014 when Joel Embiid was selected with the third pick, then narrowly missed out on the likes of Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic and Trae Young in subsequent drafts. Last year, Orlando slipped from a top-three spot in the projected order to fifth, putting the top three Rookie of the Year finishers — Scottie Barnes, Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham — out of reach.
“Our lottery luck hasn’t been as good recently as it was in the past,” said Magic President Jeff Weltman, who joined the organization in 2017. “Winning this won’t change our evaluation process. We’re not a need-based team. We’re looking for talent and character.”
Once Mark Tatum revealed the final selection, the sealed drawing room was opened and Glass bolted out the door, the first to leave. Power-walking to the television stage, he joined Mosley, Weltman and a gleeful Magic contingent that included General Manager John Hammond, CEO Alex Martins and Cole DeVos, the grandson of the franchise’s former owner, Richard DeVos. For good luck, the 25-year-old DeVos wore a Bremont watch, complete with a blue strap that matched the Magic’s color scheme, that belonged to his grandfather, who died in 2018.
Tuesday’s win was a long time coming for the beleaguered Magic, which hasn’t had a true franchise player or won a playoff series victory since Howard’s 2012 departure. Orlando plunged itself into a deep rebuild at the 2021 trade deadline, moving Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon for draft assets in hopes of sparking a youth movement.
Glass, who has been with the organization for more than 25 years, hardly had the chance to celebrate; he got back to work snapping group photos and coordinating media interviews.
“We’ve had the great fortune of winning the lottery in the past, and it has propelled our organization to the NBA Finals [with O’Neal and Howard],” Martins said. “We can only hope for similar results.”
General Manager Sam Presti, who has overseen a similar rebuilding effort and accumulated countless draft assets in Oklahoma City, landed his franchise’s highest selection since Kevin Durant went second in 2007. If the Magic takes Smith, a smooth-shooting scoring forward who could boost Orlando’s 29th-ranked offense, the Thunder would be in position to select Holmgren, a versatile 7-footer who can block shots, handle the ball and shoot from long distance.
After Oklahoma City slipped to sixth in last year’s lottery, Presti came armed with two lucky green rocks, one picked out by his 7-year-old son, Nicholas. As Spruell read the numbers, Presti kept a straight face and jotted in a notebook. Later, he savored the win by watching Nick Collison, the longtime Thunder player turned special assistant, get the good news onstage.
“Luck favors the persistent,” said Presti, whose Thunder also owns this year’s 12th, 30th and 34th selections. “This is the first step. These things change franchises.”