NBA teams once complained about weight of numbers or logos on lottery ping-pong balls

AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove
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Most NBA lottery conspiracy theories rely on silly reasoning. Representatives of each involved team monitor the actual drawing, which the league also shows publicly after the made-for-TV reveal. Fixing the lottery would require getting unevenly weighted ping-pong balls into the hopper unbeknownst to every team (except one) and the collaboration or ignorance of the security firm charged with maintaining the event’s integrity.

But what about accidentally favoring some teams over others?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Other lottery nostalgia, going back to the very first drawing and its infamous conspiracy theory: Steve Mills, the current Knicks president, worked for the league in the 1980s and 1990s, and said Tuesday that he set up the room where the so-called “frozen envelope” drawing happened (granting the Knicks the right to draft Patrick Ewing). A half-decade later, the league switched from envelopes to ping-pong balls. Mills and Joel Litvin, the NBA’s former president of league operations, were in charge of testing out the new balls, they both recalled.

They started by numbering them. Some teams complained that balls with double-digit numbers would weigh more, perhaps impacting the odds somehow. Mills and Litvin switched to team logos. Teams objected that a logo-based system might bring the same issue. Never let a team executive tell you fans are nuttier about conspiracy theories than they are.

Apparently, the league settled on different-colored ping-pong balls:

Now, the league draws four of 14 numbered ping-pong balls for each of the top three picks. Each lottery team gets four-number combinations. So, no team has any specific balls in the hopper.

But I don’t blame teams for being paranoid during the previous setup (or even this setup). Millions of dollars and jobs are on the line.

The lottery is absurd – in part because it’s so important.