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Q&A: The man who was there when the Wolves' fate was sealed

Posted by: Michael Rand under Sports Updated: May 21, 2010 - 2:21 PM

 

Everyone knows the Wolves wound up with the No. 4 pick in the NBA draft via Tuesday's lottery. What you might not know is that a scapegoat exists! (OK, not really). Wolves PR man Michael Cristaldi was in the belly of the beast in New Jersey -- literally, the first man to know from the entire organization that there would be no shot at John Wall or Evan Turner, at least not as the order stands and/or barring some strange re-thinking on the part of NBA executives. Cristaldi was sequestered in the actual room where the numbered combinations were drawn. We were curious about that entire process, and Cristaldi was kind enough to answer our questions. We find this all fairly fascinating. Hopefully you will as well. Here we go:

RandBall: How as it decided that you would be the Wolves’ representative in the official lottery room where the drawing takes place?
Michael Cristaldi: Well, we only had two representatives from the team there - myself and David Kahn - and for some reason, they didn't want me on the stage for the televised portion. They asked if I wanted to be the team's witness in the lottery room. Seemed like a cool thing, so I agreed to do it.

RB: Can you describe the scene inside the room where the actual drawing takes place – what is the ping pong ball machine like, what was the security situation, who else was in the room, etc?
MC: It's a large conference room. Along the front wall is a large flat screen television built into a bookshelf. On the adjacent shelving are team basketballs with the year each franchise joined the NBA imprinted on them. Proud to report a "Timberwolves - 89" was displayed. A few feet in front of the bookcase is the ping pong ball machine - it's plastic, oblong in shape (vertically), maybe 2 1/2 - 3 feet tall, with a longer tube on one side that is used to drop the balls in. It sits on a small blue table that has the NBA logo on it. The right side of the wall has all the possible team lottery combinations displayed on large printed out boards. Throughout the room, there are photos of past lottery winners (executive types holding up their index finger) , top 5 draft picks (including KG shaking hands with the commissioner on draft night) and NBA action shots, including Michael Jordan's game winner in Utah. There is an NBAE TV camera in the front of the room filming it all and the back of the room has a table of food. The center of the room is lined with four rows of tables and each spot has a placard marking each team's seat. I'm first row center seat between New Jersey and Sacramento.

Starting at approximately 7 p.m. ET, the room was on lock-down. No one could enter or exit. Security took our cell phones, PDA's, etc and placed them in sealed envelopes. From my count, there were 3 security reps who stood by the doors to the room. Others in the room, along with the 14 team reps, included: members of the NBA's legal department who ran the lottery and explained the rules, a representative from the independent accounting firm assigned to deliver the envelopes to the TV studio, a representative from the ping pong ball machine company in case the machine malfunctioned, 4 select members of the media, security. In total, I'd guess close to 30 people in the room.

RB: Do you know immediately when the ping pong balls comes out what the draft order is, or do you have to wait to figure out the numbered combinations?
MC: They draw a four number combination (one ball at a time) and that is the team that gets the first pick. Then they put all the ping pong balls back into the machine and draw another four (one at a time) and that is the team that gets the second pick. Then, they do it one more time for the third pick. You have a pretty good idea when they come out ... we each had a listings of the combinations at our seat as well. A person from the league calls it out almost immediately.

RB: Though the No. 4 pick had the greatest individual statistical likelihood of coming up for the Wolves (31.85 percent), what was your immediate reaction?
MC: It's weird, you get a few butterflies when they dump the balls into the machine and you're sitting their watching them pop around. Then it happens so quick ... next thing you know the four ping pong balls are out. The first reaction was a bit of disappointment, but then I was just hoping we'd get No. 2.

RB: Can you say with 100 percent confidence that the process isn’t rigged? I mean, did you really have your eyes on the machine the entire time?
MC: Absolutely - with 100% confidence, it is not rigged. It would be impossible to do with that many people in the room. Had my eyes on that machine the entire time. In fact, two things became very clear to me while in the lottery room: No. 1, it is not rigged. No. 2, it is complete dumb luck. i knew the luck aspect going into it, but it becomes even more evident when you are in the room and five feet from the machine.

RB: Did you break the news to David Kahn, or were you sequestered in that room until after the lottery announcement on TV?

MC: I was sequestered in the room (for 90 minutes), so he found out the results on live TV. We talked about figuring out a way to get him the result - smoke signals or maybe a carrier pigeon or maybe digging a tunnel like in Shawshank Redemption - but thought the league might frown on that. Being sequestered was tough. I kept looking down for my phone ... felt like I should be getting texts from people. Then, I'd catch myself and realize that no one knows the result yet. It was interesting to watch the results on TV from the room and see the reaction of those on stage. For all Irene Pollin has been through this past season, it was great to see her reaction.


RB: Did the new billionaire Nets owner at least take everyone out and pay for drinks afterwards so you could all drown your sorrows?
MC: No, but wish he had ... I probably could have rung up a large tab that night.It also would have guaranteed great conversation.

RB: How many people have told you that you are bad luck since Tuesday?
MC: I'd guess 25, with a bunch of people telling me that's the last time they send me out to the draft lottery. As long as it remains in Secaucus and doesn't move to the Florida Keys, I'm OK with that.

RB: Some would say 13 Wolves years in the lottery without moving up (and, in fact, moving down seven times) in a way defies the odds in and of itself. Any thoughts on trying some reverse psychology next year, should the Wolves again find themselves in this lottery position?
MC: As usual, you are cutting edge on this blog. Think you may be on to something. This year we brought KFAN's Paul Allen with us as a human good luck charm and we encouraged our fans to have a bowl of Lucky Charms, maybe we should do the opposite. We could do a "We Want 6" campaign or encourage fans to send us their unlucky items? Or, better yet, here's hoping we're not back there next year.

 

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