Maureen Coyle, the NBA’s gregarious vice president of communications, tried to bring some levity to the moment.
With representatives of the teams participating in Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery slowly walking into the drawing room at the New York Hilton Midtown Hotel, many of whom were noticeably and understandably nervous, Coyle quipped, “Have fun.’’
John Black didn’t hesitate in firing back. The Los Angeles Lakers vice president of public relations cynically cracked, “This isn’t fun.’’
Indeed, for Black and other team representatives, the draft drawing was serious business. After all, the outcome could make or break a team’s chances of future success.
The Lakers entered the drawing with the second-best odds – 19.9 percent, second only to Philadelphia’s 25 percent – and Black’s worst nightmare was seeing the Lakers moving down instead of up in the draft’s pecking order. Especially when most NBA officials firmly believe there are two players – Louisiana State’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram – who are head-and-shoulders above their draft classmates.
So, just how nervous was Black?
“Very,’’ he said in a serious tone. “I’ve been in a lot of pressure-packed situations during my career like the Finals. I was here for this last year, too, and I have to say this is even worse.’’
But Black wasn’t by any means the only lottery representative on pins and needles. Julie Fie, the vice president of basketball operations for the Phoenix Suns who had the fourth-best odds of getting the No. 1 pick, conceded butterflies were running rampant in her stomach.
“I’m anxious,’’ Fie said. “And I’ve been to a number of these (draft lotteries) over the years.’’
Wyc Grousbeck, the managing partner of the Boston Celtics, acknowledged his blood pressure also headed north when he entered the drawing room.
Grousbeck said he fully understood the ramifications of the draft lottery and how it could impact the Celtics, who are striving to return to the glory days.
“I was a little edgy,’’ Grousbeck said. “You think of the possibility of going downward, going from three to six. The lottery means a lot. We’re trying to rebuild our team and where you’re picking is important.’’
But while Grousbeck, Fie and Black conceded their emotions were in overdrive, Art Wrubel seemed to be on cruise control. Wrubel, a co-owner of the 76ers, made it seem like the draft lottery was just another day at the office.
Wrubel said his even-keel disposition was a byproduct of knowing he didn’t have any control over the proceedings and, thus, he wasn’t going to fret over it.
“Was I nervous?’’ Wrubel said. “Not at all.’’
Wrubel then paused and quipped, “Why would I be nervous? I had a 10-year-old with me.’’
Wrubel was referring to Kylie Rubin, the 10-year-old daughter of 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin. Kylie sat to the left of Wrubel in the front row during the lottery drawing and, like Wrubel, seemed undaunted about the magnitude of the event.
Even when the 76ers hit the lottery with the winning ping-pong combination of 1-10-5-9, neither Rubin nor Wrubel went bonkers. They both simply smiled before giving each other a hug.
Asked why he didn’t show more emotion after winning the lottery, Wrubel said matter-of-factly, “When you get to the end zone, you’re supposed to quietly lay the football down.’’
Rubin, who found herself surrounded by media members after the drawing in the sequestered room – “I feel so famous,’’ she giggled – was actually more emotional when the Lakers wound up with the No. 2 overall selection. Rubin turned toward Black and the two excitedly exchanged high-fives.
At last, Black could exhale.
“You have no idea how relieved I am. No idea,’’ said Black, who then got a congratulatory hug from Fie.
Wrubel was also happy for Black and the Lakers, who are also in a major rebuilding mode and desperately need another impact player.
“He should be happy,’’ Wrubel said of Black. “They’re going to get a great pick.’’
And who will be the Lakers’ and 76ers’ picks when the draft is conducted June 23? Mum is the word. Even though he is an avid college basketball fan – “I follow it pretty closely. I know a couple of names,’’ Wrubel joked – he wasn’t about to tip his hand.
Cracked Wrubel: “We’re looking for the best kid out of the Ivy League.’’
Gery Woelfel covers the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA for the Racine Journal Times. Follow him on Twitter @gerywoelfel.