It Was the Best of Nights, It Was the Worst of Nights: 2017 RTRS Lottery Party Recap
Only upon explaining the Rights to Ricky Sanchez Lottery Party to people who have no idea what it is makes you realize just how absurd it is. Being a fan of the Sixers and Sam Hinkie and a Truster of The Process for the last four years has, for a lot of people, meant a slow but complete indoctrination into a community governed by hyperbole, optimism, and hyperbolic optimism. That indoctrination is so complete that “I’m going to a party to watch some cards gets turned around to see how some ping pong balls bounced which determined the order in which 14 NBA teams will draft 19–22 year old athletes” only seems weird when you actually verbalize it and see the effect the concept has on normal people’s faces.
When your team is playing for the draft and taking “championship or bust” team building to its logical conclusion, though, nothing is more important than those ping pong balls, and in the absence of enjoyable, competitive games, a fun, positive community is what makes the season bearable. And so, you fill Xfinity Live! to capacity and shout favorable outcomes into existence. You wear all black to celebrate the death of the Process, Irish wake-style. You cheer as a banner adorned with an ousted, longest view in the room-having general manager’s face is raised to the rafters.
One and four and the pick swap. That was the best case scenario — that the Kings would win the lottery and be forced to swap picks with the Sixers because of Sam Hinkie’s swindling of Vlade Divak and Vivek Ranadive, and the Lakers would drop out of the top 3 and be forced to hand over their own pick because of Sam Hinkie’s swindling of the Milwaukee Bucks. That was also what everyone was saying when asked for a prediction, masking their dread of the worst case in the sort of semi-false bravado that can only be attained through thousands of arguments and backed by true belief. Beyond that, the real predictions were all over the place — 2 and 4, 3 and 5 with the pick swap, etc., all backed by nothing but gut feeling, just filling the time with speculation and drinks before the show started and the box housing Shroder’s cat was opened.
The leader of this madness is Rights to Ricky Sanchez host and WIP station director Spike Eskin. The man has a professional wrestler’s flare for crowd work, and given the crowd he was working with, well, things got weird:
That was followed by the banner raising. The banner will hang in the rafters of Xfinity for years to come, a reminder of the man and the night celebrating the night:
The sponsor of the RTRS (which makes no profit and donates all proceeds to RAINN, an anti-sexual assault foundation), jeweler LL Pavorsky, donated an engagement ring to be given away as a drawing prize, under the condition that the winners make the biggest decision of their shared life and get engaged at the party, in front of a group of rabid, chanting, black-clad idiots. Of course there were multiple people who agreed to this. Of course. The lucky winners actually flew up from Orlando to watch the madness, and they walked away with a $7,500 engagement ring and a wedding to plan.
For the rest of the attendees, though, the most important part of the night was still to come. The collective tension when the cards start turning is hard to describe. It’s like… if you packed all of Whiplash into three minutes. The problem with living and dying with a team is that, most often, you die. No matter how long and how loudly you bluster about one and four and the pick swap, you know in the Sam Hinkie-rational-numbers-and-probability part of your brain that, you know, probably not. So when the Kings pick came up, and it wasn’t the Kings… all that tension had to come out somehow. An explosion was only fitting. Oh, and Jojo liked it too:
The announcements are made quickly, so the crowd was still celebrating when the Kings showed up at five and the Lakers didn’t show up at four. The pick didn’t convey, but they’d made it to the commercial break between the fourth through fourteenth picks, which is always the goal. When the break was over, it was announced that the Sixers would be picking third, and the air went out of the room a bit. Anecdotally, it seemed like “just the third pick” was about the least common prediction. It’s a weird spot — there’s a consensus top three, but the second and third players in that top are a tier or two below presumptive first overall selection Markelle Fultz, and each have significant drawbacks.
The guy most people have going to the Sixers, Josh Jackson, is an uber-athlete with an advanced handle and passing skills for his position who should be a lockdown one-on-one defender from his first day in the league. His shot also likely needs to rebuilt from the ground up. It’s not as bad as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s body-facing-in-four-different-directions shooting form, but it’s bad, which makes him a tough fit with Ben Simmons.
Lonzo Ball, meanwhile, is a great (some would say transcendent) passer and potentially a great if wonky-looking shooter, but he can’t defend anyone, would have trouble blowing by any NBA wing defender with his meh athleticism and rudimentary handle, and comes dragging some LaVar Ball-sized personal baggage (baggage that might clash with fellow flamboyant personality-haver Joel Embiid, who must be protected at all costs).
Add to that conundrum the facts that the Lakers stealth-tanked their way ahead of the Sixers while facing about 3% of the media criticism the Sixers did (and managed to keep their 2019 first in the process) and that the Celtics grabbed number one because a Russian oligarch who had seen ten games of basketball in his entire life asked Billy King to win him a championship immediately (which somehow makes Danny Ainge a great GM) and there was just a lot of stuff to feel a lot of ways about.
So, despite the pick swap coming into play and Sam Hinkie being validated in a way that not even Sixers owner and confirmed coward Josh Harris could deny, it was a bittersweet night.
Despite this (by all reasonable expectations ridiculous) disappointment, by the end of the night, most people agreed that the results were Fine to Good. This is not last year, when ending up outside the top two would have essentially meant a disastrous holding pattern for a rebuilding team. Whoever is there at three should have a really good chance to make an impact in the league, which isn’t something you could have said confidently in 2016. Moving up and finally solidifying the date of the Lakers pick also probably opens up some trade options, though beyond the obvious Jimmy Butler-Paul George chatter I’m not an insider or impartial enough to really even speculate, nor do I trust Collars Colangelo to do anything good with what he’s bumblingly nepotismed his way into.
With no more active ideology to defend and argue about, all that’s left is basketball, which with the particular combined quirks of this draft class and the Sixers roster (and medical staff) is honestly tough to even picture. There’s plenty of time to stress about that stuff, though. A lifetime, really. For now, its best to just remember that Sam Hinkie is the difference between a third-tier prospect and a second-tier prospect, which in the NBA Draft can make all the difference in the world. Fuck the Colangelo family, fuck Josh Harris, Hinkie forever. The Process is dead. Long live the Process.