In 1956, the Celtics used a territorial pick to select Tom Heinsohn from Holy Cross in nearby Worcester, Mass. He went on to average 18.6 points and 8.8 rebounds, helping the Celtics to eight NBA championships in his nine-year career.
In 1979, the 31-51 Chicago Bulls called "heads" and the coin came up "tails," thereby giving the first pick to the 26-56 New Orleans Jazz. But the Jazz had to compensate the Lakers for having signed Los Angeles free agent Gail Goodrich and did so with three draft picks, including New Orleans' first round pick in 1979. This became the No. 1 pick after the coin toss, which in turn became Magic Johnson out of Michigan State.
The next season, led by their rookie guard, the Lakers became NBA champions for the second time since moving to Los Angeles. Oh yes, and the New Orleans Jazz became the Utah Jazz.
In 1985, the jackpot of the very first NBA draft lottery was 7-0 Georgetown center Patrick Ewing. All seven teams that didn't make the playoffs had an equal chance of landing the No.1 pick and thereby, Ewing. A lucky bounce of the ping pong balls made the New York Knicks the first draft lottery winner and then-general manager (and Hall of Famer) Dave DeBusschere rose from his seat with a celebratory fist pump.
New York selected Ewing with the first overall pick in the 1985 draft and Ewing went on to play 15 seasons for the Knicks, leading them to the playoffs 13 times.
In 1987, the Clippers finished with a league-worst 12-70 record, but didn't strike it lucky in the lottery and under the new rules, wound up with the fourth pick. The Spurs, who had the fourth-worst record at 28-54 struck gold with Navy center David Robinson at No. 1. Only one of the three worst teams that year wound up with one of the top three picks -- New Jersey, which picked Ohio State guard Dennis Hopson.
In 1988, again only one of the three worst teams wound up with one of the top three picks, but at least this time, the Clippers' lowest winning percentage paid off and L.A. won the draft lottery. The Clippers used the No. 1 pick on Kansas forward Danny Manning.
Since the draft went to two rounds, eight second-round picks have gone on to become All-Stars: Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek (1992), Pistons forward Dennis Rodman (1992), Lakers guard Cedric Ceballos (1995), Raptors center Antonio Davis (2001), Bucks guard Michael Redd (2004), Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas (2005), Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (2005) and Sonics forward Rashard Lewis (2005). In 2003, Detroit's Ben Wallace and Indiana's Brad Miller became the first undrafted players to make the All-Star team.
The Magic defied the new lottery odds by winning the No. 1 pick two years in a row. In 1992, the weighted system worked in their favor as they parlayed the second-worst record (21-61) into LSU center Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal helped Orlando make a 20-win improvement and the Magic just missed the playoffs at .500 in 1993. With just one chance out of 66, the Magic scored the No. 1 pick yet again and selected Michigan forward Chris Webber, trading him immediately to the Warriors for the draft rights to the No. 3 pick, Memphis guard Penny Hardaway and three future draft picks.
The Board of Governors approved a modification of the Lottery system in November of 1993 that, effective with the 1994 NBA Draft Lottery, increased the chances of the teams with the worst records in the league winning one of the top three picks in the draft while decreasing the lottery chances of the teams with the best records. The new system increased the chances of the team with the worst record drawing the first pick in the draft from 16.7 percent to 25 percent, while decreasing the chances of the team with the best record among lottery teams from 1.5 percent to 0.5 percent.
Under the system, 14 ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14 are placed in a drum. There are 1,001 possible combinations when four balls are drawn out of 14, without regard to their order of selection. Prior to the Lottery, 1,000 combinations are assigned to the Lottery teams based on their order of finish during the regular season. Four balls are drawn to the top to determine a four-digit combination. The team that has been assigned that combination will receive the number one pick. The four balls are placed back in the drum and the process is repeated to determine the number two and three picks. (Note: If the one unassigned combination is drawn, the balls are drawn to the top again.)