bitter shame hath spoil’d the sweet world’s taste

Prior to the penultimate round of the NBA playoffs kicking off, a matter of only negligibly less importance took place in Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center. Mere steps from the closest stop off the CTA’s green line, the future of the NBA began to reveal itself. Several sweaty executives, a handful of younger NBA players and the odd nostalgia act rolled in as representatives of the fourteen teams eligible for lottery picks in this offseason’s draft.

The prize at hand? What we’ve known for two years, at least, if not longer: French prospect Victor Wembenyama, a 7’3” stir-fry of Kevin Durant, Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony Davis, if the scouting reports and highlights are to be trusted. Behind him, Scoot Henderson, along with several other players of varying overt Christian influence. But Wemby was the target, even for the teams with barely 1% chance of getting him. Twenty years after LeBron James’ draft lottery, a prospect of perhaps even greater repute has entered the chat.

If it aspires to the 24/7, 365-days attention that the NFL draws, there are worse ways to do it than through the lottery: the promise of an unknown future as determined by both visionary cunning and most recent record. If you don’t have the long-term, don’t worry: you can do what the Portland Trail Blazers did and sit everyone important[1], only to fall to third – though, fortunately, in a top-heavy draft.

It may seem unfair that a guy from France is now, serendipitously, going to end up in south-central Texas. Though the Spurs seem like an ideal lily upon which to land now, and they do retain Gregg Popovich, the Spurs are, as far as the Spurs go, in crisis. They can’t live like this; they simply won’t do it. The San Antonio Spurs are becoming antagonists in their own novel, the one you thought you liked but without much reason other than that everything seemed effortless, and you admired that.

(An aside, for a moment: that trek to Oklahoma featured two people you may know, my oldest, not older, brother, and our Good Friend Of The Cards Kevin Price – we saw Pop get tossed from a game in the second quarter – but an otherwise pretty decent basketball game featuring MVP-a little down the line-runner up-Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and current Boston Celtic/proud Bucknell alumnus Mike Muscala. Did the Spurs tank for this? Was the wine worth it?)

Another aside, this one outside of parentheticals and not anything you would be reading for the first time: abolish the NBA draft, please. While the lottery is nice, and the draft itself reason to start paying attention to trade exceptions, anyone eligible for the NBA should be a free agent at this point. Sure, big money teams like the Lakers, Knicks and Bulls may have an advantage; at the same time, apart from the Lakers (and even including them but for LeBron wanting to be there), what has that ever done for them? Is the league’s mission to grow the game, as it says? It now has the world’s second-most popular sport, by at least one measure. That feels like an environment that should allow its workers to ply their trade where they want.

If it isn’t canon already, let’s make this known: the last two times the San Antonio Spurs won the draft lottery were in 1987, for a guy who had some military service ahead of him but would no doubt be a generationally-great center[2], and a decade later, 1997, for a swimmer committed to Wake Forest[3] who decided to take up basketball when Hurricane Hugo in the US Virgin Islands made swimming inconvenient.

The Spurs don’t tend to make mistakes in this sort of thing. They also have a fortuitous way of landing exactly where they need to be in the years they want to do that. I’m not saying Mark Tatum had it out for the Spurs; I am saying that no deputy commissioner has ever had it out for the Charlotte Hornets.

It’s not particularly likely that the highest-touted prospect since LeBron flames out long before LeBron ever could, but, by the same token, it’s as likely that Victor Wembenyama plays 20+ years and is the one to shatter all of LeBron’s records. As we watch the present of basketball face off against its literally mortal enemies in both conference finals[4], the possibilities of the future become ever endless, as always. No reason to try anything new now – that will become us soon enough. The lottery curse has been cast.

[1] Dame, who didn’t seem to want to be seated for the remaining games

[2] David Robinson

[3] Tim Duncan

[4] Celtics-Heat, a primordial battle of fading styles and new traditions; Nuggets-Lakers, a brute force event that asks of everyone involved, “What do you believe?”


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