The NBA draft lottery show, an annual half-hour geekfest coming at you live every year at this time from beautiful downtown Secaucus, N.J., is the goofiest, dorkiest event on the major North American sports calendar.
It made its annual run Tuesday night, the Chicago Bulls winning the lottery and getting the first pick, most likely a choice between point guard Derrick Rose of Memphis and forward Michael Beasley of Kansas State. It says here the Bulls should take Rose. Beasley could be a great player but Rose could be a great point guard, and when you've got a chance to grab one of those, you grab him.
Representatives of the 14 non-playoff teams, a mix of owners, general managers, star players and, this year, a Sacramento Kings fan and New Jersey Nets part-owner Jay-Z, gather in a cheesy TV studio at an NBA satellite office. There's no audience, no showbiz. It looks like a lottery show, one of those deals that come on at three minutes before the hour on Saturday night and some weatherman announces the state Lotto results.
There are awkward silences during interviews. Before they get to go sit down behind their podiums and await the thrilling removal of the placards from the big envelopes, the team reps mostly stand around with their hands in their pockets, trying not to look awkward and mostly failing.
One of them, and only one, always has some unusual good-luck charm. This time around, former Minnesota Timberwolves sharpshooter Fred Hoiberg, now a team exec, is toting a teddy bear that belongs to a preteen Wolves fan and friend of Hoiberg's who has serious health problems and has taken the bear into more than 100 surgeries.
There's an uncomfortable pause, a vibrating silence, after announcer Doris Burke describes the bear, and then, finally, a little light goes on over Hoiberg's head and he reaches down, grabs the bear and places it on the podium in front of him.
I don't know why the NBA, which is pretty good at creating spectacle, doesn't do this at halftime of a playoff game, or at an ESPN Zone somewhere or something. But I'm glad it doesn't. There are enough sports-related shows and events -- including the NBA draft itself, coming up next month -- populated by dudes jockeying to get their mugs on camera so they can go, "Woooooo!!!"
So NBA hench-commissioner Adam Silver begins pulling the team-logo placards out of the envelopes amid the overwhelming silence and TV-studio ambient buzz. The dominant sound, in fact, is the scraping of the placards against the inside of the envelopes as he pulls each one out. Is this great TV or what!
"The 14th pick goes to ... the Golden State Warriors," he deadpans, and so on down the line. After the countdown reaches the fourth pick there's a commercial break, to build the excitement for the top three, which are the true lottery picks. Only the top three draft positions are drawn for. After that, everyone falls in line, so the worst team can pick no later than fourth.
After the break the final three are lined up, waiting. There's Hoiberg, who's holding the bear in front of him, Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, the worst team in the league and therefore the one with the best chance at the top pick, and Steve Schanwald, executive vice president, business operations, for the Chicago Bulls, who's dwarfed by the other two.
They sent an executive V.P. "Schanwald oversees areas that include Ticket Sales, Sponsorship Sales, Game Entertainment, Promotions, Media Services, Community Relations, Publications, Advertising and Broadcasting," his bio reads. I mean, this is the guy America wants to see. What's Dwyane Wade doing in the picture?
Silver draws the T-Wolves card for the No. 3 pick. Hoiberg slumps a little and lowers the bear. He looks like he just busted at the $1 blackjack table. Now it's just like Miss America: Silver's going to announce the winner by announcing the runner-up. And with no fanfare or drama: It's the Heat.
Schanwald whoops, leaps in the air, dashes across the studio, jumps up on Larry Bird's podium and pounds his chest repeatedly.
Just kidding. He gives a big sigh and shakes the hands of the other two men as the 11 losers offer a tepid round of applause. Burke, her shoes clump-clumping on the studio floor, steps up to congratulate him and ask him who the Bulls plan to take. He demurs, saying it's general manager John Paxson's decision "but either way, I think we're going to get a great player."
"The only other thing I want to say," he adds, "is that operators are standing by now at 312-455-4000 for your season ticket order."
Which is probably funnier than anything Dwyane Wade was going to say. Where can I get a Steve Schanwald jersey?