It seems fitting that the first NBA draft lottery I’m covering for NBC Sports Chicago will be held in Secaucus, N.J., on Thursday night.
That’s where the Chicago Tribune flew me, year after year, as I served as that newspaper’s beat writer for the wandering-in-the-wilderness seasons that followed the dynasty. For a while, league executives jokingly referred to me as the Helen Thomas of the draft lottery, a nod to the celebrated journalist who covered 10 presidential administrations and typically asked the first question at White House press briefings.
Exit 16E of the New Jersey Turnpike, I know it well.
But now, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the NBA to conduct its draft lottery virtually, it’s headed back to its roots, housed in the NBA Entertainment studios in the nondescript, New Jersey town.
The two-year break the draft lottery took to try a new location? It landed in Chicago. You can’t make this stuff up, and I can’t escape it.
Neither, lately, can the Bulls, who own a 7.5 percent chance at winning the No. 1 overall pick, a 32 percent chance at a top-four pick and a 19.7 percent chance to remain in their pre-lottery slot of No. 7.
This is the fourth time in five years the Bulls have landed in the draft lottery. The one year they didn’t, in 2017, they traded Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves for the draft rights to a lottery pick in Lauri Markkanen, among other pieces.
This pales in comparison to the six straight years they landed in the lottery from 1999 to 2004. Those trips produced Elton Brand in 1999 as general manager Jerry Krause used his lucky penny to move from third to first; Marcus Fizer in 2000 as the Bulls dropped from second to fourth; Eddy Curry in 2001 as the Bulls dropped from first to fourth; Jay Williams in 2002 as the Bulls stayed at second; Kirk Hinrich in 2003 as the Bulls stayed at seventh; and Ben Gordon in 2004 as the Bulls dropped from second to third.
Of course, the most celebrated trip came in 2008. The lone year the Bulls missed the playoffs over an 11-season run produced the most spectacular outcome.
The Bulls cashed in 1.7 percent odds to vault from ninth to the No. 1 overall pick. Two months later, Derrick Rose stayed home, embarking on a meteoric rise that included Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards before knee injuries hit.
In another example of stuff you can’t make up: Steve Schanwald, then the team’s executive vice president of business operations, stood on the Secaucus stage with future Bull Dwyane Wade, representing the Heat, and future Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, representing the Timberwolves. Those were the last three teams with a shot at the No. 1 pick.
When the Bulls shockingly won, Schanwald, in a stroke of marketing savvy, gave out the Bulls’ phone number for season-ticket orders on live TV.
Krause routinely represented the Bulls at the lottery. Paxson tried it once, didn’t like it and ceded to Schanwald. Butler once sat on the dais in New York. Team president Michael Reinsdorf and team ambassador Horace Grant represented the franchise the last two years in Chicago.
This year, it will be Artūras Karnišovas’ turn. The new executive vice president of basketball operations told the Mully & Haugh Show on WSCR-AM 670 that he chose to do so to represent the new direction of the franchise before laughingly adding he has no control over the outcome.
Neither did Paxson in 2008. In fact, with the Bulls’ pre-lottery odds so low, he wasn’t even watching the TV broadcast as he worked in his home office in the Chicago suburbs.
That lottery came up roses for the Bulls.