Why The NBA Draft Lottery is NOT Rigged

Conspiracy theories are all the rage these days. More and more people than ever buy into the wacky conspiracies that are incessantly spewed from Alex Jones, Donald Trump and Glenn Beck’s mouths. As a scientist, I’m well versed in what the scientific method is and understand the best method of inquiry is to seek empirical and measurable evidence to explore a hypothesis. Questioning things is not wrong. Questioning things and then proceeding to seek  ridiculous bits of quasi-evidence to confirm the crazy thoughts in your heads, and favoring poor evidence over strong evidence (or no evidence at all) is wrong. These guys will tell you that NASA is a program that is set up to kill thousands of astronauts, that President Obama is a Muslim from Kenya and that the Boston Marathon Bombings were carried out by Saudi Nationalists and/or covered up by the US government without a strand of concrete evidence all to further push their oft-hilarious agendas. They’re master manipulators; they can construe flimsy arguments with passionate tirades, wild stretches of the imagination all the while knowing their audiences are full of gullibility.

Those people are wackos who most are willing to just right off as such. Disclaimer: I apologize to anyone reading this that is a fan of either of those three and feels I am being harsh towards them; I did not mean to insult them, rather I intended to insult you.

Glenn Beck viewing party

But when it comes to the world of sports, these conspiracies are much more widely accepted and far less taboo. Perhaps it’s simply because the stakes are minuscule in scale to those and the idea that people would conspire to achieve something in the sports world feels much more innocent. The complications that arise if sports-related conspiracy theories are true are far less terrifying — in fact, they’d really only merely be disappointing and upsetting. The consequences of “Michael Jordan was secretly suspended by the NBA for gambling problems, and this is why he went and played baseball” are far less harmless than what the 9/11 truthers believe. Sports conspiracy theories are fun. Debating whether or not Curt Schilling had blood or ketchup on his sock is innocuous, as is debating whether or not Delonte West porked LeBron’s mom and thus ran him out of town.

But there are more serious allegations out there and it feels like most of them gravitate towards the NBA. The NBA is full of fans who feel that David Stern is some sort of puppet-master-god-voodoo-shaman-thing who can literally influence every aspect of the NBA. People debate, before games even start, who “Stern will let win”. Arguments about “who Stern will let reach the Finals” are in season and super-trendy right now (I kind of hope we get Memphis vs. Indy so they can shut up, at least for a few months). There are a substantial amount of fans that I interact with every day that feel Stern has his hands on everything. Unfortunately, this leads most fans to become unable to objectively watch a game and assess officials, and the rigging conspiracy theorists fall into a downward viscous cycle. They let confirmation bias run rampant.

Whether or not games are rigged is a topic for another day. I think most people have their minds made up and believe what they want to believe.

But when it comes to the draft there is some more concrete evidence out there that can be a bit persuading.

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Let’s start with the basics.

First, don’t bring up the 1985 draft. That system of drawing envelopes is so outrageously archaic and outdated that it really has nothing to do with this discussion. Maybe it WAS rigged but that’s irrelevant to a conversation discussing whether or not the lottery that takes place this week will be too. I’m less interested in arguing that there is no incentive or desire to rig the thing, I’m going to argue that it’s just highly improbable that it’s even possible.

Here’s how the current NBA Draft Lottery works.

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