Lottery Look-Back

May 29, 2012
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Nick Gilbert
There’s no precedent that says the Cavaliers can’t win the Lottery for the second straight season. It’s been done before, and by a team with less of a chance than Cleveland has heading into Wednesday night.

Actually, if there’s any precedent, it’s that the team with the league’s third-worst record has won the Lottery more than anyone else. Or to go one step farther, any number of strange scenarios can unfold in Times Square.

Last year’s Lottery was proof positive.

The Cavaliers organization went through an extremely difficult 11-month stretch leading up to that night. Following the highly-publicized exodus of the team’s star player, the Wine and Gold went on to lose 63 games in 2010-11 – 26 of those consecutively. But as that season wound down, Chris Grant pulled off a trade that would eventually change the team’s trajectory – swapping Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for Baron Davis and the Clippers’ unprotected first rounder.

The key word in that deal – as it turned out – was “unprotected.”

Baron Davis put together a nice run for the Cavaliers, but by May, it was the Clips’ pick that piqued the interest of fans and the front office. There was only a 2.8 percent chance of landing the top pick via the L.A. trade. But combined with their own odds – 19.9 percent – the Cavaliers felt good about their overall chances in Secaucus.

Cleveland had secured a pair of lottery picks before – Trajan Langdon and Andre Miller in 1999. But the stakes were exponentially greater this time around, and the franchise was trying to bounce back from the sucker punch that put it back in that position.

That night, at the NBAE Studios on New Jersey, Nick Gilbert – now a household name, at least in Cleveland – was to be the Cavaliers representative. Wearing a smart pair of specs and his now-infamous bowtie, Nick was easily the youngest representative on the 12-person panel (which included current players [Greg Monroe, Detroit], former players [Kevin Johnson, Sacramento] and front office personnel [David Kahn, Minnesota; Kevin O’Connor, Utah].)

As each team passed, the pressure and excitement mounted. After the Raptors were awarded the fifth overall pick, the Cavaliers won the right to choose No. 4 – with their own pick. That meant, of course, that the Wine and Gold would win one of the top three picks. And while the event took a commercial break, the three finalists – represented by Nick Gilbert, Kahn and O’Connor – lined up center stage for the final announcement.

The Cavaliers were already sitting pretty when they landed the No. 4 slot, but the beautiful part was only moments away. And when Deputy NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Minnesota would have the No. 2 selection, the Cavaliers’ contingent – led by Dan Gilbert, his son, Grant, and a trio of Browns greats – Bernie Kosar, Josh Cribbs and Joe Haden – burst into cheering, applause and several rounds of high-fives.

Nick famously thrust his fist into the air when the announcement was made. The 14-year-old scion of the team’s owner was not only the Cavaliers representative that night; he was also the 2011 National Children’s Tumor Foundation Ambassador.

Nick was born with neurofibromatosis, a nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow anywhere in the body at any time, and has courageously battle the disease his entire life. Appropriately, May 17th – the day Nick and the Cavaliers won the 2011 Lottery – was World NF Awareness Day.

Dan Gilbert and his group celebrated their good fortune as the presumptive No. 1 pick (and New Jersey resident) looked on. Just over a month later, Cleveland would select the eventual NBA Rookie of the Year, pairing him with the No. 4 selection, Texas forward Tristan Thompson.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” said Gilbert later that night. “Obviously, shocking events took place last summer for not just myself, but a lot of people in Ohio. It was a slow, long and painful haul to get through it, and maybe this will be the final straw of getting over the hump and getting to the other side and having a lot hope for the future.”

The future of the Cavaliers began that night in New Jersey. The Cavaliers locked up two of the top four picks in the Draft and the team is back on its upward trajectory. In the process, Nick Gilbert not only achieved celebrity status but raised money and awareness for a noble cause.

On Wednesday night, May 30, Nick and Co. will make the trip across the Hudson and gear up for another memorable night at the Draft Lottery.