NBA Has Laughably Low-Tech Backup Plan If Ping-Pong Ball Machine Breaks During Draft Lottery

NBA Has Laughably Low-Tech Backup For Lottery Ping-Pong Ball Machine

Getty Image


  • The NBA isn’t taking any chances when it comes to ensuring the draft lottery goes off without a hitch
  • The league has multiple backup plans in place if the ping-pong ball machine it uses to determine the order malfunctions—including one very low-tech solution
  • Read more basketball stories here

On Tuesday, the NBA treated fans to what tends to be one of the more unnecessarily dramatic spectacles in sports when it held the lottery that determines which of the previous season’s most underwhelming teams will be rewarded with the ultimate consolation prize: the first overall pick in the NBA Draft.

It would obviously be foolish to discount the importance of that particular selection, as there are certain situations where landing it can have a monumental impact when it comes to a franchise reversing its fortunes. The most obvious was Cleveland earning the right to snag a generational talent in the form of LeBron James in 2003, but it’s safe to say he was a bit of an anomaly; you only need to take a quick glance at a list of top picks over the years to realize how much of a crapshoot it can be.

We’ll now have to wait and see if the Magic will be able to capitalize after landing the No. 1 spot on Tuesday after Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum did his best Maury Povich impression by firming up the order of the first 14 picks in the upcoming NBA Draft courtesy of the envelopes containing team logos as opposed to paternity tests.

That news didn’t come as a huge shock, as Orlando was a statistical favorite to land near the top courtesy of the weighted process the NBA uses to determine the order of the selections. As you may know, that process harnesses the use of a machine filled with ping-pong balls more commonly associated with the actual lottery, which is the centerpiece of a slightly less polished presentation.

ESPN‘s Zach Lowe got a firsthand look at what went down on Tuesday and published his observations in an article featuring some surprising revelations. That includes a section about the multiple fail-safes the NBA has in place if the ping-pong ball machine malfunctions—including a hilariously basic last resort:

The NBA has a backup lottery machine if the first one fails. They have a second backup in the event the venue loses power: an official NBA basketball with a hole cut into the top of it.

With no power, they would stick the 14 ping-pong balls inside the basketball and have an official draw them by hand…On Tuesday morning, the NBA went to retrieve the ball-with-a-hole-in-it. They found it, but there was a problem: It was a Spalding. The NBA switched from Spalding to Wilson this season. Officials scrambled to find a Wilson ball, and then sliced a hole in the top of it.

It seems a bit strange that the league is so incredibly intent on relying on ping-pong balls in a day and age when it could hire a teenager to code a program capable of spitting out the results in a second.

However, it’s easy to understand why it’d rather stick with what’s worked as opposed to inviting conspiracy theorists to lob accusations of hacking or tampering its way—and even easier to understand when you consider people are still talking about the “rigged” envelope that led to the Knicks drafting Patrick Ewing with the first pick more than 35 years later.

Connor O'Toole avatar
Connor Toole is the Deputy Editor at BroBible. He is a New England native who went to Boston College and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. Frequently described as "freakishly tall," he once used his 6'10" frame to sneak in the NBA Draft and convince people he was a member of the Utah Jazz.