In truth, this was supposed to be a different article. It was supposed to be an article about the Cavs organization learning to hate losing and taking the appropriate lumps that come with an abundance of basketball hubris. It cannot be that article because the Cavs, despite their relative lack of luck on the basketball court or in front offices gone by, can do one thing extremely well: they can win a damned draft lottery with the best of ‘em.
Rewind to this time last year. The Cleveland contingent arrived headed by owner Dan Gilbert and his lucky horseshoe of a son, Nick. The younger Gilbert had represented the team in 2011 when its pick from the Clippers (slotted number 8 overall) landed at number one and secured the franchise its next star in Kyrie Irving. They were joined last year by local rapper Machine Gun Kelly and sports talk radio host Tony Rizzo, among others. When Adam Silver announced that the second overall pick was going to the Orlando Magic, the wine-and-gold-decked entourage exploded in whoops and claps, including Rizzo’s even-audible-on-television “Atta boy, Nicky!” The older Gilbert then followed up the lottery win by saying that this was the last time anyone would be seeing the Cavaliers at the lottery for a long time. Oh, how wrong he was.
This year, the Cavs chose a more subdued approach. I asked newly-minted GM David Griffin why the entourage was streamlined this year, lacking even a single Cleveland Browns player or local celebrity, and he punted it in the most gentlemanly way possible.
Griffin pointed me in the direction of Cavs business president Len Komoroski who, when asked if there was a reason the Cavs contingent was more subdued replied flatly, “No.”
Komoroski then indicated the collection of relative unknowns who accompanied himself and Griffin and offered, “We’re here.”
If the Cavs representatives were a little sensitive about entourage questions, you couldn’t really blame them. The perception of their 2013 lottery celebration was viewed by many as, at best, celebrating nothing and, at worst, celebrating losing.
In pro sports, winning games and championships is that thing at the top of the mountain. It’s the culmination of hard work. So for a team to celebrate a reward given based on how much the team loses is an indictment of the system. Does the NBA Draft Lottery reward losing? Basically. And should team owners and representatives feel shame or elation by getting higher picks than their competitors? Shame would seem disingenuous, but elation is even worse, a show that the on-court product is so lacking that the team’s big wins come from league-manufactured events.
The public abhors players who get comfortable with losing but what of an organization whose executives celebrate the result of losing? Perhaps the best we can hope for from a team representative on draft lottery night is a kind of restrained optimism for his team’s future.
That seemed the lesson that David Griffin took from his team’s 2013 show. The Cavs won the lottery for an unprecedented third time in four years. Griffin, when the win was announced, clapped enthusiastically, but there was no hooting or hollering from the audience. In fact, the most obvious sound was the air getting sucked out of the room as the Cavaliers were over-rewarded again for their very bad string of basketball.
For his part, though, Griffin seems to have learned the “big lesson” of sports. The only winning that should be celebrated happens on the court.