The real action of the NBA draft lottery took place about an hour before what you saw Tuesday night on TV. After being told to surrender his cell phone, Wolves communications vice president Brad Ruiter was among the small group of people who witnessed the ping-pong balls being drawn for the NBA draft lottery. Ruiter wrote about what happened away from the cameras. (And, yes, he brought a good-luck charm.)
I had a really good feeling about things from the moment I woke up Tuesday morning. I can’t explain why, I’m a Minnesota native so I’ve seen and endured past lottery disappointments. Something just felt different, it felt like a good day.
The NBA hosts a reception for all invited guests to the Lottery. I spent most of the reception visiting with our owner, Glen Taylor, and his wife, Becky. Small talk about family, growing up on farms (which we both did) and small town life.
At 6:15 p.m., about 90 minutes before the ESPN telecast, two representatives from the NBA arrived to walk me to the lottery room, which is essentially a meeting room on the lower level of the Hilton where the lottery was held. Inside the room there were about 50 people, including one representative from each team in the lottery, NBA representatives and select media members. All people in the room are sequestered until the conclusion of the televised portion of the lottery.
The actual method of drawing the ping pong balls is much different than most people realize. There are 14 ping pong balls, numbered 1 through 14. If you take all the possible combinations of numbers for 14 ping pong balls, there are 1,001 different outcomes. The Timberwolves received 250 of those combinations.
There are 286 combinations where the ping pong ball with number "1" is one of the four balls drawn. In essence, the ping pong ball with "1" pops up, we have over an 85 percent chance that we own one of the winning combinations.
At 6:30 p.m., all the team representatives are instructed to surrender their cell phones and mobile devices and take their assigned seats in the room. After explaining the process, the 14 ping pong balls are lowered into the drawing machine. The team holding the combination of the first four numbers drawn receives the first overall pick. The balls are all lowered back into the machine, and the process is repeated two more times for the second and third picks.
The first ball pops up. It’s "1." Deep down, I knew already at that point, we had it.
The next ball came up: "3" I scoured the list to be sure, but it was official – we indeed had it.
The last two ping pong balls were meaningless. Any combination belonged to us.
Final combination: 1-3-7-6. And with that, NBA Senior Vice President Kiki Vandeweghe looked at me and said, “Congratulations to the Minnesota Timberwolves, you own the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.”.
The next two combinations were drawn, and ironically one of our combinations came up again for the third pick. If that occurs, the result is canceled and the drawing is redone until a combination comes up that doesn’t involve a team that has already been slotted.
The next hour or so were surreal. I talked to the media that were gathered, accepted congratulations, and began to realize how happy everyone in our organization and our long-enduring fans were going be in about an hour.
Many people asked if I had brought a ‘good luck charm.’ Right before leaving for the airport that morning, I grabbed the birth certificates of my awesome kids, Griffin, 11, and Meredith, 9, and had them in my pocket in the lottery room the whole night.
As we watched the ESPN telecast in the lottery room, it hit me again that literally no one else knew what was going to happen. At the conclusion of the telecast, we were released from the room, given our cell phones, and I made my way up to the ballroom to coordinate some media interviews for Mr. Taylor and to celebrate with the rest of the Wolves contingent.
As I approached Mr. Taylor, he said to me, “See, the farm boys did it!”
The whole experience was something I’ll never forget. As amazing and fun as it was, I hope I’m not back at the lottery often – we’re ready to start playing basketball in May again instead of watching it.