It didn't seem like it was going to be the Bulls day that Tuesday in 2008 in Secaucus for the NBA Draft Lottery. Nobody really wanted to drag out to New Jersey to sit on a stage and get the ninth, perhaps 10th pick in the NBA draft. That seemed the Bulls fate after a disastrous 33-49 season, a 16-game decline and missing the playoffs after a nice run of three straight appearances following the long post-championship drought.
"I was sent because the odds of us getting the first pick in the draft or anything of consequence were remote, a 1.7 percent chance," recalls former Bulls vice president Steve Schanwald. "Nobody wanted to go."
And then in the pre-drawing introductions during the ESPN national TV broadcast, surrounded by legends representing their teams like Larry Bird, Dwyane Wade, Mitch Richmond, Kevin Durant and even entertainer Jay-Z, ESPN's Doris Burke introduced the Bulls then top business executive as the chief of basketball operations, you know, Stan Schanwald.
"My moment of glory permanently, irretrievably ruined," laughs Schanwald now. "I'm Stan Schanwald."
You could see Schanwald subtly roll his eyes in restraint while not correcting Burke.
No conspiracy this time, for sure. Nobody even knew who the Bulls sent, or maybe if they even sent anyone. Steve Who?
Still, Schanwald figured he had to play the part.
He was accompanied that day by Bulls media relations manager Brandon Faber, who went on to direct media for the Blackhawks and now the Chicago Bears. The actual lottery drawing-the winner, by the way, was numbers 11-9-7-13 for the Bulls-takes place about an hour before the TV show. But it's in a sealed room with no outside access. Each team sends a staff member as a representative. Joey Reinsdorf, the son of Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf, will be inside the room as the Bulls observer Tuesday.
"(The late general manager Jerry) Krause had those two lucky pennies when he won the lottery (in 1999). That's the year we got Elton Brand," reminded Schanwald.
That was the only other year the Bulls moved up to No. 1 in the lottery. But they had the third best odds back then. Krause's father, Paul, had once told him in a symbolic message that if he carried two pennies with him he'd always be worth something. Krause always did.
"What I did," said Schanwald, "was I asked everybody in the office for pictures of their kids. I carried that in my pocket. I'm sitting there with Jay-Z, Freddie (Hoiberg, now Bulls coach then working for Minnesota), Dwyane Wade and I'm thinking, 'Who doesn't belong in this picture?"
Then NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver read the list of picks one by one starting at No. 14 with Golden State and in descending order to Portland, Sacramento, Indiana, New Jersey, and then 9; Charlotte?
Schanwald pumped his fist.
It meant the Bulls had beaten the odds. It meant they moved at least into the top three in the draft.
Silver read the order down to No. 4. And then after a commercial pause, it was Wade, Hoiberg and Schanwald.
Hoiberg was carrying a lucky stuffed animal Teddy bear. He was gripping it with two hands and let go one hand as Silver announced Minnesota third. Wade was expressionless with his hands in his pockets as Silver announced Miami second. Hoiberg immediately turned to shake Schanwald's hand.
The Bulls won the lottery! The Bulls won the lottery!
Schanwald raised his hands and pumped two fists. Then he prepared for the moment. He'd mentioned in the break to ask Burke if the Bulls happened to get No. 1, could she call him Steve for the post drawing interview.
"I knew then we were going to get another solid piece of the puzzle," said Schanwald.
He'd also prepared for all the eventualities, like any good executive.
"We did have our entire sales staff standing by to take phone calls just in case the extraordinary happened and we came away with a top three pick," said Schanwald. "When Doris came up to interview me she was very apologetic and sheepish for having called me Stan. She asked who we would pick and, of course, I had no authority and didn't know who John Paxson wanted. So I said I had no idea and John Paxson would do his work. But we had operators standing by. The phones were ringing off the hook.
"I was absolutely euphoric," Schanwald recalled. "It's not every day in my life I'm all of a sudden surrounded by a mob of photographers and reporters shouting questions. I remember then they ushered me back to a room and told me John Paxson was on the phone waiting to talk to me. So I picked up the phone and the first thing John Paxson says to me is, 'Hello, Stan.'
"We felt we were really on our way back," Schanwald added. "And for three years there we were."
We made the decision to rebuild the team and we are very happy we went in that direction - Michael Reinsdorf
Tuesday, it will be Michael Reinsdorf on stage for the announcement with Joey in the sequestered room. Team president Michael says Joey is his good luck contribution.
"The Bulls are important to our family and my relationship with my kids is important to me, and Joey really enjoys these types of things," said Michael. "So I thought, ‘Let’s go all in and see if we can bring a little luck.’ Joey helped influence the Bulls’ decision to push to bring the All-Star game here (NBA selected Chicago to host the event in 2020), and he goes to Northwestern and last year they made the NCAA Tournament for the first time, so maybe he’s on a roll."
"I used to be very superstitious back in the day," Michael related. "During the build up to and throughout the championship years, I often wore a lucky shirt or would sit in the same seat. I think everyone in the family was superstitious. I remember game six against Portland (and) we’re down 15 points going into the fourth quarter. My dad gets up and went to the old governors (dining) room to watch in there. When we started to come back, I ran into the governors room and said to come back out and he said, ‘Not a chance.’ He wasn’t going to change our luck. But it’s been awhile since I’ve done that."
Michael said the Bulls had talked internally about having Sister Jean from Loyola represent the team on the dais. But league rules require team personnel or related.
"Obviously, if we are lucky enough—We have an 18.3 percent chance to jump into the top three—we’ll get a special type of player," said Michael Reinsdorf. "There’s always more risk as you move down in the draft. So a move into the top three would be exciting and it allows you more flexibility. You see what Boston did with the first pick last year getting (Jayson) Tatum and maybe a lottery pick this year or next year.
"We made the decision to rebuild the team and we are very happy we went in that direction," said Michael. "We feel Lauri Markkanen is going to be a very special player. Kris Dunn surely showed he is going to be a player you have to reckon with. He made a major advancement this year. Zach (LaVine) with a limited role was (excellent). When we had all three guys together, you could see the potential and now you add a strong player in this year’s draft. My preference is not to be in the lottery again next year, but I understand that part of rebuilding does result in being in the lottery. Right now our concern is to get ready for this year’s draft and enable next year’s team to take the next step up from where we were this year."
So, Joey, you'll be with the bouncing balls.
"For the lottery," said Joey Reinsdorf, "I will be bringing a picture of my family and keeping it in my pocket. They are always by my side when I have the most luck, such as getting accepted into Northwestern. I am also hoping that my family will bring good luck to the Bulls.
"I will also be setting an alarm at 11:11 a.m. to remind me to make a wish," Joey added. "Unfortunately I can't say what I will be wishing for; otherwise, it won't come true. I understand that the right balls being picked is not in my control, but it never hurts to add the extra effort."