When he learned the Spurs might get Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich dropped his hamburger on the ground

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I attended the last NBA draft lottery in Secaucus, New Jersey, where the even was held 1994-2011. My memories are scattered, but a few stand out.

  • The Cavaliers – who had the largest contingent of representatives, including Bernie Kosar – won the No. 1 pick and celebrated with obnoxious and easily mockable enthusiasm.
  • Afterward, Henry Abbott gave me a ride to the train station (where I spent the night because my bus never arrived).
  • The food was great.

Most people attending – team representatives, league officials and media – spent a majority of the night in a big tent connected to the studio building, which was too small to accommodate all of us. In the tent, caterers served steak and other goodies, including chocolate-dipped pretzels.

When the lottery began, we were shuffled into the studio. It was cool to watch Adam Silver unveil the envelopes in person, but if you get past the spectacle, the tent was a better place to be.

So, I understand what Gregg Popovich was thinking during the 1997 Tim Duncan lottery.

Though the Spurs had a 21.60 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick – second only to the Celtics (27.51 percent) – Popovich says he didn’t get caught up in the Duncan-fueled excitement.

Popovich in Jan Hubbard’s The History of the Spurs, via Dan McCarney of Spurs Nation:

“We were in a big tent that was next to the studios and they called us to go sit in the stands. I didn’t go in because there was no way we had a chance to get the No. 1 pick. I just stayed in the tent where the food and the beer were. I’m the only guy in the tent. Everybody vacated.

“So I’m watching this little TV, eating a burger and drinking a beer and they get to the pick that was supposed to be us. But it was somebody else. I couldn’t believe it. I was so shocked that I literally dropped my hamburger on the ground. It was unbelievable. One of us was going to get Duncan.

“All these people come rushing in the tent, just rushing at me. They were congratulating me like I had done something. I didn’t do anything but eat a burger and they were rushing me telling me what a good job I had done.”

In case Popovich remained in a state of shock after the lottery, the heartbroken Celtics were ready to pounce. Thankfully, Popovich’s good friend, Don Nelson, had his back. McCarney:

M.L. Carr, Boston director of corporate development: “As soon as (the lottery) was over, I get a call (from Pitino) telling me to ask Pop if he’ll trade the No. 1 pick for the No. 3 and No. 6 picks. Pop was very gracious. He said he thought he’d probably hold onto the pick. Can you imagine having to make that request? We’d have had to give them the right to all future picks and he still probably wouldn’t have done it.” (Boston Globe)

Don Nelson, Dallas coach: “If Pop trades him, I’ll go down there and take my shotgun to his house.”

Can you imagine Don Nelson knocking on your door with a shotgun? That’d make you drop your hamburger all over again.

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