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CHICAGO — Jim Pitman describes himself as a “numbers guy.” He has a degree in accounting and has spent the past 19 seasons as a Phoenix Suns executive president overseeing the team’s finances.
It should come as no surprise that entering Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery, he knew the math, perhaps better than most. He knew the Suns, thanks to an ugly 21-61 season, had a 25 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, the best odds in the league.
“I know there are probabilities involved and that there’s only so much I can do,” he told Bleacher Report.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t try to play with fate just a bit.
The Suns had selected Pitman to be their representative in the off-camera back room where lottery results are decided. It was a role Pitman took seriously. If there were any place where the results could be influenced, this—not the made-for-TV dais put together to react to already-determined order—was it.
And so, in his inner suit pocket, Pitman carried three lucky charms, all related to his previous lottery success.
There was a WNBA championship ring, which he won in his other role as general manager for the Phoenix Mercury; a photograph of Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, two former No. 1 picks who led the Mercury to that title, with a scribbled message from Taurasi (“I can’t exactly read it, something to do with the No. 1 picks and dreaming,” Pitman said); and a Russian league championship medal Griner recently won.
“I brought as much luck as I could bring,” Pitman said with a smile on his face. The decision had paid off.
The Suns had won the lottery, meaning they’ll have the first pick in June’s NBA draft.
Photo: Yaron Weitzman
Perhaps Phoenix selects Deandre Ayton, the mobile and explosive big man out of Arizona. Or maybe Luka Doncic, the versatile 19-year-old Slovenian.
Whoever the Suns choose, he will form what could be the final piece of a young core—alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson—that serves as the foundation for future Suns teams.
Landing a No. 1 pick is the sort of result that can change the trajectory of a franchise—and those who work in it. It can save jobs, push promotions and stuff pockets. So it’s no surprise that all involved, even number crunchers like Pitman, are open to any help they can get, no matter how irrational they seem.
“I wore my lucky underwear,” said Jackson, who represented the Suns on stage.
Strangely enough, he wasn’t the only team representative to bank on some help from undergarments.
“This is my red ribbon,” said actress Jami Gertz, who is married to Hawks owner Tony Ressler and represented the Hawks on the dais. She was reaching under her dress and pulling out a ribbon that was attached to her bra.
She learned the tradition, a Kabbalistic custom, from her mother.
“She’s a little superstitious,” Gertz said. “She’d tie a red ribbon to my bedpost or make me wear it on my bra to ward off the evil mojo so that we can have some good mojo.”
In the past, she’s tied a red ribbon around her children after they were born.
“The doctors looked at me like I’m crazy,” she said.
But the last time she used the ribbon was three years ago when her husband was trying to purchase the Hawks. It worked then—and, she was eager to point out, it worked Tuesday night as well, as the Hawks jumped a spot and landed the draft’s third pick.
“It doesn’t make tremendous sense, but you know what, we moved up,” she said. “And as my brother reminded me, Michael Jordan was picked third.”
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Of course, not all of the evening’s big winners can attribute their lottery success to such customs. The Kings, for example, eschewed the whole lucky-charm route.
“I woke up, played Call of Duty today … I was trying to get the rest of my guns chrome, and I came here,” said guard De’Aaron Fox, who represented the Kings.
Sacramento landed the draft’s second pick despite entering the evening with the seventh-best odds to finish No. 1, and despite Fox’s lack of respect for superstitions.
“Nothing different than normal things,” he added.
That wasn’t totally true. Earlier that evening, as he was putting on his navy suit and preparing to make his way to the downtown Chicago hotel where the lottery was taking place, Fox realized he had forgotten to pack a tie. His mother suggested he ask the hotel where he was staying, which gave him a solid black tie to wear for the night.
“I got it like 10 minutes before I left,” Fox said.
Informed of this story a few minutes later, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive had a thought.
“Maybe we should keep that tie,” he said.
It could be the start of a new tradition.
Yaron Weitzman covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Yaron on Twitter @YaronWeitzman, listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here and sign up for his newsletter here.