The 14 ping pong balls behind the No. 1 pick


The Houston Rockets are already guaranteed to win a top-five pick in the 2022 NBA draft lottery, but their exact fate — and that of the other 13 lottery teams — rests with the 14 ping pong balls that will be drawn from a cast acrylic mixing chamber on Tuesday night.

NBA executives aren’t waltzing into a sporting goods store to purchase ping pong balls for the lottery, which will take place at 7 p.m. in Chicago. In fact, you can’t find these balls anywhere else because they are specially made by Smartplay International, the company that has leased lottery equipment to the NBA since 1997.

As high-stakes drawings go, there is immense responsibility in overseeing the process that determines which NBA team will land the coveted No. 1 pick, said Tom Markert, president of Smartplay International.

“You think about everything that’s involved with the NBA and you’re talking not only about people’s passion, but there’s also a lot of money involved, too,” Markert said. “So people want to make sure that it’s a very fair process.”

Smartplay provides lottery drawing machines and drawing balls for the majority of the world’s lotteries, including Powerball, Mega Millions, the National Lottery in the United Kingdom and the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The WNBA and NHL are clients, too.

“So what we bring to the table is the credibility that we will provide the drawing balls that are absolutely the closest tolerance balls,” Markert said. “Literally, we weigh them out to the 1000th of a gram and we measure them. And then on top of that, the NBA actually uses a company called Gaming Labs to provide third-party verification that the balls are within specification, and that specification is more or less the industry standard in the lottery industry for machines that can determine at times billions of dollars in prize money.”

The exacting operation begins long before NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces the lottery results onstage in Chicago. Smartplay has a supplier that manufactures the drawing balls, in molds owned by the company, to specifications of three-star balls — considered competition-grade by the International Table Tennis Association.

Each ball measures approximately 38 millimeters in diameter and weighs 2.5 grams. The maximum variation between the heaviest and lightest ball is .15 grams, about the same weight as an inch of hair.

Once the balls are sorted and weighed to ensure uniformity, they are covered with paint and a clear coating, then numbered 1-14. At the lottery, they are placed into a completely clear standard daily mixing chamber that stands 55 inches tall and is 11.5 inches in diameter. Before selection, the balls are blasted around by a centrifugal blower that moves the air at a velocity of 90 mph.

Every detail has been tested numerous times by third parties to optimize randomness, which, as it turns out, is somewhat of an exact science.

NBA DRAFT LOTTERY

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Chicago

TV: ESPN

ODDS

Team

No. 1 pick

No. 2 pick

No. 3 pick

No. 4 pick

No. 5 pick

No. 6 pick

1. Houston

14.0%

13.4%

12.7%

12.0%

47.9%

N/A

2. Orlando

14.0%

13.4%

12.7%

11.9%

27.8%

20.1%

3. Detroit

14.0%

13.4%

12.7%

11.9%

14.8%

26.0%

4. Oklahoma City

11.5%

11.4%

11.2%

11.0%

7.4%

27.1%

5. Indianapolis

11.5%

11.4%

11.2%

11.0%

2.2%

18.2%

6. Portland

9.0%

9.2%

9.4%

9.6%

N/A

8.6%

7. Sacramento

7.5%

7.8%

8.1%

8.5%

N/A

N/A

8. LA Lakers

4.5%

4.8%

5.2%

5.7%

N/A

N/A

9. San Antonio

4.5%

4.8%

5.2%

5.7%

N/A

N/A

10. Washington

4.5%

4.8%

5.2%

5.7%

N/A

N/A

11. New York

1.8%

2.0%

2.2%

2.5%

N/A

N/A

12. LA Clippers

1.7%

1.9%

2.1%

2.4%

N/A

N/A

13. Charlotte

1.0%

1.1%

1.2%

1.4%

N/A

N/A

14. Cleveland

0.5%

0.6%

0.6%

0.7%

N/A

N/A


“At the end of the day, we take balls that are essentially the same size and essentially the same weight and we apply the same forces of physics distributed among the matrix so the result is random,” Markert said.

There are 1,001 possible combinations when four balls are drawn out of 14, without regard to their order of selection. Before the NBA lottery, 1,000 of those 1,001 combinations will be assigned to the 14 participating lottery teams based on records (the one unassigned combination is skipped if drawn).

The three teams with the worst records — the Rockets, the Magic and the Pistons — each have a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick and a 52.1 percent chance at a top-four selection.

Smartplay, which is headquartered in New Jersey, delivers the mixing chamber to the NBA along with a backup machine in case of malfunction. The drawing balls take a more circuitous route, following an evidentiary chain of custody that sees them weighed, measured and sealed once by Smartplay and once by Gaming Laboratories International. The balls are checked again in front of witnesses on the day of the lottery.

The process may seem old school or unnecessarily cloak-and-dagger, but Markert said it’s all in the name of transparency.

“I originally went to school for technical theater and mechanical engineering,” Markert said. “And, you know, if you think about it, there’s a little bit of theater involved with what I do. And there’s a lot of mechanical engineering.”

The 14 balls are mixed for 20 seconds before the first ball is drawn and the three subsequent balls are drawn at 10-second intervals to determine the four-number combination for the first pick. The process repeats for the second through fourth picks.

Tatum announces the results in reverse order. The team whose logo is in the last envelope opened will have the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, which will be held on Thursday, June 23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Markert, a Philadelphia 76ers fan, enjoys the spectacle of the draft lottery and its ability to alter franchises for years to come.

“I love the NBA for a number of reasons, and now, obviously, there’s always going to be powerhouse teams but there’s the opportunity for teams to suddenly get good,” he said. “It can turn around, and it wasn’t that long ago that the 76ers were really in the basement. And now they’re in contention again.”

For fans of NBA teams involved in the lottery, Markert urges them to “trust the process” — in more ways than one.

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twitter.com/danielle_lerner





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Matt Lucas

Writer by day and an aspiring Artist by night. Creative thinking is what I'm all about. Lottos are one of my passions and I'm happy to be contributing to Lottery Papa News

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