SportsPulse: Although tanking may have been a good strategy in the past, the odds don’t really favor bad teams in the new NBA draft lottery format.
USA TODAY SportsLOS ANGELES — With the annual NBA Draft Lottery taking place Tuesday night in Chicago, here’s what many sports fans know: The team that wins the right to pick first in the league’s annual draft June 20 almost certainly will select Zion Williamson, the Duke star expected to radically alter the fortunes of his new team.Far less known are details about the so-called hopper and ping pong balls that will determine which of the NBA’s 14 lottery teams get the coveted No. 1 pick and on which Williamson’s future hinges.For starters, those are no ordinary ping pong balls that will ricochet at about 90 mph inside the clear cast acrylic hopper, said Tom Markert, president of Smartplay International, the company that leases the equipment to the NBA.“They’re three-star ping pong balls,’’ Markert said. “There’s single-star, two-star and three-star. That is the standard that is developed by the International Table Tennis Association. We import them directly from Taiwan.”The cheap ones are all out of China.’’Markert said the balls weigh approximately 2.5 grams, about the same weight as a penny. The so-called hopper in which the balls get blasted before coming to rest during each of the 14 “drawings” stands 18 inches tall and measures 11 1/2 inches in diameter.Truth be told, Markert prefers it be called a mixing chamber rather than a hopper.“Making it sound as hoity-toity as possible,’’ he said. All eyes will be on the three-star ping pong balls used in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery. (Photo: Kathy Willens, AP)But the equipment has been in production for 35 years, according to Markert, who said his company provides state-of-the-art equipment for clients that include Powerball, Mega Millions and the state lotteries in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So why wouldn’t the NBA opt for something slicker and more technologically advanced rather than the 35-year-old machine known as a “standard daily?”“Well, because it’s irrefutable,’’ Markert said of the NBA’s equipment choice. “I mean, the people that have conspiracy theories, you can imagine the doubt that they would have if (the NBA) used some computer random number generator. I mean, this is a very, very transparent process.’’Each year, Markert said, one of his technicians transports two of the machines to the NBA’s headquarters in New York. “We always have a primary and a backup machine available on site,’’ he said. “The drawing balls themselves are closely monitored. We do follow evidentiary rules as far as chain of custody.“After the balls are weighed and verified at our facility, they are sealed until they are delivered to the lottery themselves. The lottery always uses an auditor to supervise the drawing. To be honest, as far as their security precautions, once they are there, I can’t comment on that.’’So does Markert have a rooting interest in who gets the No. 1 pick?“I’d love to see him come to Philadelphia because I’m a diehard Sixers fan,’’ Markert said, “but I don’t think there’s much of a chance with that.’’Follow Josh Peter on Twitter @joshlpeter11AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide