The San Antonio Spurs hit the jackpot Sunday.
The Spurs won the National Basketball Assn. draft lottery and announced that they will use the first pick in next month’s NBA draft to select David Robinson, Navy’s 7-0 center.
“It’s the greatest thing that could have happened to us,” said Bob Bass, the Spurs’ general manager. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll take Robinson. We’ll do whatever it takes to sign him.
“We’ve never had a center like Robinson before. We need a center and he’s the best in the country. It’s hard to compare anyone to (Laker center) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but I would have to compare him with franchise players like (Houston’s) Akeem Olajuwon and (New York’s) Patrick Ewing.”
Meanwhile, the Clippers’ run of bad luck couldn’t have been worse as they wound up with the No. 4 pick behind San Antonio, Phoenix and New Jersey. The lottery determined the order in which the league’s seven worst teams will select in the draft on June 22.
The New York Knicks finished fifth in the lottery, followed by Sacramento and Cleveland. However, Seattle will get New York’s lottery pick because of a trade which sent Seattle guard Gerald Henderson to New York last winter.
The Clippers were guaranteed of having no worse than the fourth pick in the lottery because they had the worst record in the NBA this season, and that’s exactly what they wound up with.
“I’m disappointed,” said Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor, who represented the club here. “I wanted to pick first because we would have had more options. I still feel that we’ll get a good player. But I wish we could have picked higher.
“I hope this is the last time we will have to be here at this lottery.”
The Clippers, who didn’t have a No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the 1986 draft, will have three first-round picks this season as a result of trades with Houston and Detroit. They’ll have their own lottery selection, Houston’s No. 13 pick and Detroit’s No. 19.
“Our biggest need is on the front line,” Baylor said. “I think we need a backup center and another small forward to back up Michael Cage.
“We have three first-round picks, and I think we can get three rookies who can make the team even though they might not start.”
Clipper President Alan Rothenberg, speaking from his Beverly Hills home, said: “If we weren’t going to pick No. 1, there probably isn’t a lot of difference between No. 2, 3 and 4 from what the scouts tell us. I hope the No. 4 this year turns out to be as good as the last two fourth picks, (Indiana’s) Chuck Person and (Seattle’s) Xavier McDaniel, who were both Rookie of the Year. We need help everywhere, but a lot will depend on what the teams in front of us do.”
Rothenberg also criticized the lottery concept, now in its third year.
“I voted against the lottery when they put it in three years ago, and I haven’t changed. I think the concept is ridiculous. It’s good show business.”
The Spurs’ problems with Robinson are just beginning.
The Spurs may have won the right to draft Robinson, but they aren’t close to signing him.
Robinson, who will be commissioned as a Naval officer next week, won’t be available for two years because of his service commitment. And there isn’t a Navy base in San Antonio.
“We’ve waited 14 years for a No. 1 pick, what’s two more?” Bass said. “Our franchise is in a critical situation (attendance is sagging), and we need to do something to bring the fans back. The fans came out when we won five (division) titles with (George) Gervin, and I’m hoping that they will come back. This has got me fired up and I hope it gets the team fired up.”
Under current league rules, the Spurs would lose Robinson unless they sign him within one year after the 1987 NBA draft.
If he is unsigned, Robinson would go back into the draft, and would become a free agent if he’s still unsigned after two years.
However, there are indications that the NBA may change the rules because of Robinson’s unique situation.
“We have an armed forces rule that says if someone is in the service then the club that drafts him retains his rights until his service obligation is over,” said Russ Granik, NBA executive vice president. “However that rule hasn’t been used in the last 10 years.
“We’ll study this more in the next few weeks. We’ve never had a case like this where a guy is legally prohibited from playing, and I can’t say what we’re going to do.”
The Spurs, who finished with the fourth-worst record in the NBA (28-54), pulled out all the stops to change their luck in the lottery.
Bass even had a human lucky charm with him.
Bass was accompanied to the lottery by Robert Pachecano, a postal worker from San Antonio who won a lucky charm contest sponsored by a San Antonio newspaper and radio station and got a free trip to New York.
Pachecano’s lucky charm was a red-chameleon bolo-string tie. “Legend has it that any shipwrecked man who found the red chameleon was guaranteed survival,” Pachecano said. “And I felt that it would bring luck to the Spurs.
“This charm has been lucky for me. On my way to enter the contest I found a $20 bill on the ground.”
Bass said: “I was so nervous that I couldn’t look at the lottery picks. My heart was beating so fast that it was unbelievable. I used to be a lucky person, but I haven’t been very lucky in the last three to four years. I thought about asking him to give the red chameleon to me, but we decided that he would keep it and use mental telepathy to me.”
Other than the Spurs, the Phoenix Suns may have helped themselves the most in the lottery.
The Suns, who had the seventh-worst record in the NBA, wound up with the No. 2 pick, a jump of five places from where they would have drafted based solely on their record.
“At least I won’t have to answer questions about Robinson for 30 days. The lottery worked well for me,” Jerry Colangelo, Phoenix general manager said. “We went from seventh to second. Let’s face it, when you go from No. 2 to No. 7 you’ve got your choice of a lot of good players. It’s up to us to pick the right guy.”