No one would blame anybody else for being nervous as the clock ticked toward 8 p.m. and the representatives of the 14 teams who missed the playoffs filed in to their seats to await the results of the franchise-changing NBA Draft Lottery to be revealed.
The Lottery had already happened in another room. Those who observed it sequestered away so as not to spoil the surprise for the television audience.
The actual Lottery was done fairly quickly and procedurally.
The numbers 14-1-13-6 were drawn in order and the results shouted out to a fist pump from Orlando Magic director of communications Joel Glass.
The Orlando Magic had won the NBA Draft Lottery and the first pick in the draft. But nobody knew it yet.
The nervousness and tension of so many Lottery losses were released in a moment as the Orlando Magic took home the first pick on NBA Draft Lottery night.
After a decade of struggling to find a franchise player and so many Lottery misses — in eight trips to the Lottery, the Magic had won a pick determined by the Lottery just once — they would have their chance. They would have their pick of the players in this upcoming NBA Draft.
But the proceeding is just so anticlimactic.
Everyone else had to wait with bated breath. The Magic made a late switch on the dais, subbing out president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman for coach Jamahl Mosley at the last second. Weltman said his track record in delivering lottery victories had not been good so far and Mosley said he was feeling lucky.
Not that they had any actual control how the ping pong balls in another room would bounce.
Inside Harry Buffalo in Downtown Orlando at a party hosted by The Sixth Man Show (and then becoming the team’s official Lottery watch party), the nerves were clear. They grew when the Sacramento Kings leaped into the top four.
As the picks drew closer to six, it became greater. There was simple relief and elation when the Magic cracked the top four, winning a pick from the NBA Draft Lottery for the first time in nine seasons:
That, of course, was only half the battle. The team still did not have its spot locked in. But it already felt like the Magic won.
As the Sacramento Kings came up fourth, the building got louder. When the Houston Rockets popped up second, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy. Was this really happening? Had all the pain of a decade of irrelevance finally found some worth?
Only time will tell on that front. But for one night, the Magic could count themselves winners. After years of bad luck, the tide had turned. Orlando will draft first in the 2022 NBA Draft.
With that everyone knew now. The pressure had given way to jubilation for Magic fans everywhere from those working for the team as the delegation to the Draft Lottery in Chicago to those packed into a downtown bar hoping for the future.
After a 22-60 season and a decade of searching for a star, the team has no excuses now but to find one and begin charting a path for its future. This is an incredible opportunity for a franchise hungry for a break to go their way.
"“Just elation, just excitement and happiness,” Weltman said after the Lottery. “Honestly we haven’t really caught a whole lot of breaks the last couple of years. The way this system is set up, you need breaks to build. Tonight we caught one and we’re just going to enjoy it.”"
There is no clear-cut No. 1 player in this draft.
Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren have emerged at least publicly as the top three players in this draft. Magic fans are already debating the pros and cons of them all. Camps are already starting to get made.
There is still more than a month to go before the NBA Draft actually takes place. There is still a lot of information to gather and time to get it. The Magic will go through their draft process and intrigue will grow with who they will pick (especially considering how closely the Magic’s front office guards information).
Weltman said the team will not limit itself and try to bring in as many prospects as they can. The way the draft prospects work now, the interviews are an important piece of the puzzle to fill in for the team. They will help complete the picture for a Magic team eager to get this pick right and add the right player to their young team.
There is conventional wisdom for sure. But the Magic will be honing in on what they want to know about these players as people and setting up more research they want to accomplish ahead of the Draft.
"“We’ll do our due diligence on as many prospects as we can,” Weltman said after the Lottery. “I think we’re building a roster full of young, high character, talented players and an organization that is sound throughout. A new practice facility coming in line in about a month that we’re all excited about. I think there is a general sense of momentum around the league for what we’re doing. I think there will be a lot of players who will be eager to visit us.”"
It will be an exciting month for the Magic. A month filled with opportunity more than anything else.
All those nerves from being out of control on Lottery night, waiting to see where fate places you, now goes into the work of controlling who the team will pick.
The world is now wide open for Weltman and his staff as they attack the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago They will have the pick to add to their young roster.
And while who they will pick remains a big mystery — one they will suss out and find the player they “fall in love with” over the next month — they will have their pick of them all. Weltman and his staff now have the responsibility to find the player that fits their bigger vision.
Really, at long last, the Magic can shape a pick to their vision rather than hoping they have the right player to fit.
"“We’re thinking big picture,” Weltman said after the Lottery. “We’re thinking character, we’re thinking fit, we’re thinking development and skill and all that matters toward winning. As our fans know, we’ll be patient. But we’re excited to be able to add another guy who will grow with our team, fit us in every possible way and get us to where we want to get which is to win a championship.”"
That dream feels closer than it has for the Magic in a very long time. That is the power of winning this thing and shedding the nervousness that fate will smile on you.
It is the Lottery. Such a small and inconsequential thing — although you can get hats now. It is not the moment everyone wants to celebrate in the end. That moment and plenty more moments will come.
But for tonight and this moment, the Magic won. They won big. And all that nervousness and pain and frustration from really a decade seemed to finally have its reward.
The right card came up this time. The right ping pong ball bounced the right way. The Magic finally won big.