Behind the Scenes of the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery

“We’re going to get this ball rolling,” said Jamin Dershowitz, the NBA’s assistant general counsel, an unintentional pun that kicked off one of the league’s most elaborate—and perhaps a little absurd—postseason events. The NBA draft lottery has been around since 1985, back when David Stern, annoyed at a handful of teams openly losing to secure a better place in the draft order, pushed through a new system. It has evolved since then, from envelopes to ping pong balls, weighted odds to flatter ones, but for nearly four decades the lottery has been a big night on the NBA calendar.

Here’s how it works: Fourteen ping pong balls are slid into a plastic container and sent into motion by air pumped through the bottom. The balls—each one weighed, measured and certified by SmartPlay, a lottery integrity company and sealed in a zip tied case—are inserted one at a time by Peter Rosenbaum, a partner at Ernst & Young. There are 1,001 possible four-digit combinations, with the three teams with the worst record—Orlando, Houston and Detroit—getting 140 apiece. The drawing itself is carefully curated: each ball is vacuumed out at precise ten-second intervals, prompted by an NBA official standing on the opposite side of the room—with his back turned.

Here’s how it works: Fourteen ping pong balls are slid into a plastic container and sent into motion by air pumped through the bottom. The balls—each one weighed, measured and certified by SmartPlay, a lottery integrity company and sealed in a zip tied case—are inserted one at a time by Peter Rosenbaum, a partner at Ernst & Young. There are 1,001 possible four-digit combinations, with the three teams with the worst record—Orlando, Houston and Detroit—getting 140 apiece. The drawing itself is carefully curated: each ball is vacuumed out at precise ten-second intervals, prompted by an NBA official standing on the opposite side of the room—with his back turned.

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