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Sports Conspiracies with Cole: The 1985 NBA Draft

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In the second installment of Sports Conspiracies with Cole, the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery and the that led to the Knicks drafting Patrick Ewing at number one is looked into. If you missed the first investigation, click Here. Unlike the investigation of the flu game, I am only going to layout the case for the argument of the rigged draft.

Coming into the 1985 NBA Draft, Patrick Ewing was the consensus first pick of the draft coming out of Georgetown. He was dubbed as a generational talent and a ‘once in a decade’ type talent. At the time, the New York Knicks were in dire need for a starting center. Pair that with the NBA’s desperation for a good team in New York, and you have a conspiracy theory on your hands!

Why the Draft Was Rigged

The New York Knicks

The seven teams that did not make the NBA playoffs all had the same probability (14.3%) of striking gold with Ewing. The Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Seattle Supersonics, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, and the Sacramento Kings all had an equal chance as the Knicks. But what made the New York Knicks different from the rest was a big market and Madison Square Garden (MSG).

The Knicks came off of there worst season in 20 years and struggled to fill MSG on a nightly basis. Was there a better spot for Ewing? No.

The Money for the NBA

The NBA’s four year, $91.9 million dollar TV deal with CBS was set to expire at the end of the season. To be truthful here, was Ewing going to any of the teams outside the Knicks going to move the TV needle? Absolutely not. In fact, the New York Times wrote this before the lottery: “There is a strong feeling among league officials and television advertising executives that the NBA will benefit most if [Ewing] winds up in a Knicks uniform.”

Stan Kasten

For those of you unfamiliar with Sam Kasten, he was the Atlanta Hawks’ general manager at the time, was on the record of believing Ewing was going to the Knicks well before the college season even ended!

“I was sitting with a couple of NBA guys,” says Kasten, “and I remember one high-ranking- team executive, who I will not name, was a million percent convinced of what was going to happen. ‘[Ewing’s] going to the Knicks,’ he kept saying. ‘He’s going to the Knicks. It’s all arranged.’ ”

– Stan Kasten watching Ewing at a college tournament in Hawaii

David Stern

Former NBA commissioner David Stern had his fingers on the pulse and knew exactly what the people wanted. At the time, the NBA Draft was not as big as it is now. Stern was a huge piece in making the NBA Draft the spectacle we see today. One of his first acts, he instituted the lottery system. Not only did he institute it, but he decided to televise it. Once again, fingers on the pulse.

Now we know that the lottery is basically glorifying picking names from a hat. But implementing it with the year that Patrick Ewing was entering the league made it feel like so much more.

Why Envelopes?

Why not use ping pong balls? I mean they would have rolled better in the giant circular container that they used. Sure the logos looked bigger and better on the envelopes. But, the ping pong balls would have added a more lottery-esque feeling to the draft LOTTERY.

I ask this question for one reason and one reason only. The envelopes would allow Stern to find the so-called Knicks’ envelope that much easier.

Post-Lottery Reactions

The NBA Ratings

Stern told the press after the lottery, ” The interest was great. People are talking about the lottery instead of drugs, unauthorized franchise moves or anything else negative.” On top of that, the NBA’s overnight ratings saw a huge jump.

The years following this lottery, fans would tune in to see if something odd like that would happen once more.

New York

In the hours following the lottery, Madison Square Garden’s ticket office fielded over 1000 calls.

“Basketball is back in New York City, my friends!”

– pat o’brien following the knicks receiving the 1st pick in the 1985 nba draft

The Draft Night Jersey

Patrick Ewing Draft Lottery
(theathletic.co.uk)

Many theorists like to talk about how the VP of New York Knicks Operations, Dave DeBusschere (right) already had a number 33 jersey set to go for Ewing at that first draft lottery.

The Two Main Theories

The ‘Creased Envelope’ Theory

Some have claimed that when the fourth envelope was inserted, it banged off the side of the container which created a creased corner. According to the theory, as the container was being spun, Stern was watching the envelopes closely, following the creased corner. So when Stern reached in, and selected the bent envelope that contained the New York Knicks logo.

The ‘Frozen Envelope’ Theory

There is speculation that the envelope containing the New York Knicks logo was put in a refrigerator prior to the Draft Lottery. By refrigerating this envelope, it would make it easier for Stern to pick out the envelope that was colder than the others, thus picking the Knicks envelope.

In Conclusion

Frozen envelope or creased envelope, I do not care! This draft has all the feelings of a rigged draft. Between the lack of money and ratings, the disinterest in the NBA Draft, reactions to the lottery, and what was almost a perfect fit between Patrick Ewing and the Knicks, it all feels fixed. But I am no expert.

We are just scratching the surface on what is one of the most popular sports conspiracies of all time. If you want to dive deeper, there are countless videos breaking down the highly contested 1985 NBA Draft Lottery.

What do you all think? Vote on Twitter! Was the draft rigged? Or was it destiny for Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks? We will never know for sure….


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Cole Raines
I'm a student, college athlete, and a sports junkie. I will be covering the NBA and the MLB.
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/raines-radio/id1487373873?uo=4
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