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Where Superstition Happens: An Incomplete History Of NBA Draft Lottery Stunts

We're closing in on the NBA Draft lottery, and you know what that means: good luck charms! Read along as we highlight 10 of the most ridiculous gimmicks in NBA Draft Lottery history. Some seemed to work, others not so much.

For the most part, decision-makers in the sports world have complete control over their own decisions. They don't resort to any sort of voodoo or superstition, because they believe that with the right analysis, they can make the correct decision. In other words, they're the complete opposite of fans, who often believe in things like curses and omens and destiny.

But there is one event where those same decision-makers turn into crazed fans that try to create their own good luck. That event? The NBA Draft Lottery. Every year, several NBA personnel people gather together for what essentially amounts to a random drawing. It's not totally random, because there are weighted odds, but it's pretty close. Even the worst team in basketball has just a one in four chance of landing the top pick. 

So what happens, then, when you force a bunch of decision-makers to make public appearances at a drawing over which they have no control? You get superstitions! You get random good luck charms! You get NBA executives acting like crazy fans! And because these people aren't used to being superstitious, you get some pretty silly good luck charms. I'm talking about things that even the most ardent fans don't consider.

What are some of those good luck charms? Make the jump with us as we look back at ten of the most ridiculous successful and unsuccessful good luck charms in NBA Draft Lottery history. 



1.  1985: Dave DeBusschere and the lucky horseshoe that got Patrick Ewing.

Legend has it that the reason the Knicks won the inaugural NBA Draft Lottery in 1985 was because David Stern let it happen. This legend has lived on in Internet fame forever, thanks to the magic of YouTube.


But that legend is folklore. Here's the real truth: the Knicks won the lottery thanks to the presence of a lucky horseshoe. Specifically, the lucky horseshoe of On The Road Again, a winner of the pacing triple crown. According to a 2005 Newark Star-Ledger article by David Waldstein, the Knicks' PR man used to work at Yonkers Raceway, and he was able to borrow the horseshoe for the night.

Former Knicks director of communications John Cirillo worked at Yonkers Raceway and had asked driver Buddy Gilmour if he could borrow one of the pacer's shoes for the lottery.


 When he got to the Waldorf ballroom, which was filled with executives from the seven teams (no fans were in attendance), he showed the horseshoe to DeBusschere, who was dressed in a light blue/gray suit with a matching tie.

 "Dave was also a racing fan," Cirillo recalled. "What better good-luck charm could there be? I mean, this was the Patrick Ewing of trotters. Dave gave it a good rub before he went up on the stage."

That's a bad comparison, sir. On The Road Again actually won when it counted. Hey-O!

2.  1993: A cow magnet moves the Warriors up

The Golden State Warriors didn't get the top pick in 1993, but they did move up to the third selection despite having the seventh-best record that season. Why? Well, a fake cow magnet, of course. Via a 1993 San Francisco Chronicle article:

The Warriors armed Don Nelson with the aforementioned good-luck charm for yesterday's NBA draft lottery and mo-o-o-o- oved up (get it?) from their rightful No. 7 place in the draft to a lofty No. 3.

When the Warriors announced that coach/general manager Nelson would be relying on a cow magnet for luck, cynics fretted that Nellie, the naive farm boy, had bought one of those fake cow magnets sold by slick New York City street vendors.

If so, the joke was on them.         

Great lede, guys. Scott Ostler, you should be very proud of yourself. In the end, the Warriors ended up trading for the actual number one pick, Chris Webber. One season later, they traded Webber away. I guess those cynics were right about the cow magnet being bad luck.



3.  1996: A crystal basketball for AI

Former 76ers owner Pat Croce did a number of silly things when his team was in the lottery, but none was sillier that what he did in 1996. Via the New York Daily News:

Philadelphia owner Pat Croce in 1996 brought a miniature crystal basketball that came from Ireland. That year, the Sixers won the right to select Allen Iverson after they finished the season with the second-worst record.    

Legend has it that Iverson still has that crystal ball. He refused to pass it to anyone and has shot it into his nerf hoop about 5000 times.

4.  2005: The Bucks and their "big catch"

Lots of teams run contests that allow their fans to submit their good luck charms for their team to bring to the lottery. It's a nice little promotion and it's cool to get the fans involved. But sometimes, it actually works. Like in 2005, when the Milwaukee Bucks rose from the sixth spot to get the number one pick on the strength of ... a fishing lure, or something. Here's a picture:


The lure reportedly came from a 16-year old kid named Michael Millies. Here's how he described it:

My lucky charm is a fishing lure that i got from my grandpa called "Little Cleo" and it catches big big fish whenever I use it fishing. I've had it for nine years and haven't lost it yet - and i still catch big fish. When I use other lures, the fish that I catch are no where near as big as the ones I catch with Cleo.     

I can think of no better way to bring Andrew Bogut into the league than a fishing lure. It's quirky, and so is Bogut. A perfect fit.

5.  2009. Andy Roeser's ridiculous jacket

And, of course, no discussion of good luck charms that actually worked would be complete without mentioning the jacket Clippers presiden Andy Roeser wore last year, when the Clippers won the chance to select Blake GriffinVia Ball Don't Lie:


In case you're wondering, they're saving that #23 for LeBron this summer. I know, I know, LeBron's switching his jersey number to 6 next year, but the Clippers don't know that.


6.  1992. When keepin' it real, so to speak, goes very wrong

People may forget, because Mark Cuban has become such an institution as the requisite crazy owner in the NBA, but the Mavericks' previous owner, Donald Carter, was also a complete lunatic. The God-fearing Christian was basically the stereotypical Southern crazy, going everywhere with his famous Cowboy hat. 


Anyway, in the early 90s, the Mavericks always underachieved at the draft lottery. Despite finishing with 11 and 13 wins in consecutive years, not to mention several other years where they weren't good, the Mavericks never got a #1 pick. Maybe Carter had something to do with that. According to a 1994 Dallas Morning News article, Carter showed up to the 1992 draft with ... well, I'm just going to let the article speak for itself.

During the years, Mavericks owner Donald Carter seemingly has exhausted all good-luck charm attempts.  Two years ago, he attended the lottery wearing a 10-gallon hat and carrying a lucky stone.

Perhaps Carter's generous nature got the best of him that year.

"He's wearing this cowboy hat with coyote teeth on the brim," Orlando general manager Pat Williams remembered.  "Coyote teeth.

They're very expensive.  And he's rubbing a little stone.  I asked him what it was, and he said it was a lucky stone.

"He even let me rub it myself.  It had these little bumps.  I asked him what they were, and he said it was the word Shaquille' spelled out in Braille."

See, Mavericks fans? As crazy as Mark Cuban might be, could you ever see him doing something like that? The Mavericks, who had the third-best odds in 1992, slipped to fourth and were forced to settle for Jamal Mashburn.

7.  1995: The Washington Bullets' walk of shame

The Washington franchise hasn't exactly had much success with lottery good luck charms, as Dan Steinberg detailed today. They've failed in some pretty embarrassing ways. But none was more ridiculous than the 1995 publicity stunt to have their mascot engage in some sort of pilgrimage to Secaucus. Via the New York Daily News.

Just how far will teams go to experience that feeling? The Washington Bullets' mascot, Hoops, walked 290 miles from the D.C. metropolitan area to Secaucus in a 10-day trek back in 1995. Hoops, though, found no luck as the then-Bullets got the fourth pick that year.    

With that fourth pick, the Bullets selected Rasheed Wallace. Rumor has it the Celtics, having learned of the Bullets' publicity stunt in 1995, tried to make Wallace himself walk from Boston to the November 22, 2009 road game against the Knicks. They figured that was the only way he'd get in shape. 

Relax, Sheed. We're just kidding.


8.  1998: Mr. Potato Head leads to White Chocolate

Like many teams, the Sacramento Kings held a contest to see which good luck charm general manager Geoff Petrie should bring to the 1998 Draft. A 1998 Miami Herald article reveals the winner of the sweepstakes was something you wouldn't expect. 

In Sacramento, radio station KHTK held a contest aimed at finding the best good-luck charm for Petrie to take to the lottery, which will be broadcast during halftime of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls.

After careful consideration, it was determined that Petrie would bring a Mr. Potato Head.

Mr. Potato Head? Really? When has Mr. Potato Head been good luck? And honestly, what does Mr. Potato Head have to do with the NBA Draft? I don't recall Mr. Potato Head being a good athlete. Buzz Lightyear would have been a much better choice.

Predictably, the Kings didn't get the top pick, and instead used their pick to select Jason Williams

Speaking of 1998, here's what then-Celtics GM Chris Wallace brought with him, according to a 1998 Boston Herald article.

For the record, Celtics general manager Chris Wallace's good-luck charms for yesterday's NBA draft lottery were a pair of half-smoked cigars from Red Auerbach.

And, for the record, Auerbach's nostalgic contributions did nothing to improve the Celtics' fortunes.

Oh well, at least that one made sense. Mr. Potato Head? I'm still shaking my head.


9.  2007: The holy spirit frowns on the Timberwolves

The 2007 NBA Draft lottery is where good luck charms got really out of control. Portland won the lottery, thanks in large part to the ladybug pendant Kevin Pritchard's daughter gave him to hold. Memphis GM Jerry West brought his lucky golf trophy (even though he probably could have brought many lucky NBA trophies), then complained about how awful the lottery process is when the Grizzlies fell from first to fourth. The Celtics brought Tommy Heinsohn, which was bad luck all by itself.

But nothing tops what the Minnesota Timberwolves did. Needing some sort of divine miracle to move up to the top spot, the Timberwolves went to the tiny French town of Lourdes, where the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared in 1958, and brought some holy water. The St. Paul Pioneer Press has the zinger here.

The Timberwolves have their religious imagery all mixed up.

Instead of arming Randy Foye with holy water from Lourdes and sending him to the NBA draft lottery in Secaucus, N.J., they should have given him a small statue of St. Jude -- the patron saint of hopeless causes.

"Or St. Dymphna," said the Rev. Peter A. Laird, vice rector at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity.

St. Dymphna is the patron saint of mental disorders.

Clearly, Father Laird follows the Timberwolves.

The holy water, from the site in France where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1858, supposedly has remarkable healing powers.

The Timberwolves must have known that Greg Oden would one day need that water to overcome all his injuries. That's my only explanation for this one.

10.  2009: The Knicks bring Mr. October, not Mr. May

Finally, because it's the lottery, we have to mock the Knicks one time. Last year, the Knicks' representative was Allan Houston, which is fine because he's the living embodiment of Knicks' mediocrity. (Too harsh? Probably). But Houston needed a good luck charm, so he decided to bring none other than former Yankees legend Reggie Jackson.  

Knicks legend and current Assistant to the President of Basketball Operations Allan Houston represented the Knicks on the dais, and brought along a special lucky charm -- Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.

"It was his suggestion," said Houston, who attended an event along with Jackson earlier in the day. "He said, ‘Bring Mr October!' I said, ‘That's a great idea!'"

Mr. October? Hey, Allan, the draft lottery is in May, not October. Where was Dave Winfield when you needed him?

George Bush has a message for you, Allan.



But those are just 10. I'm sure there are countless other ridiculous stunts out there that either a) missed the cut or b) we missed entirely. That's where you, the reader, come in. What silly stuff did we miss? Let us know.