The year was 1999.
And like any other quality basketball prospect at the time, Elton Brand had a keen interest in the NBA Draft lottery.
The consensus college National Player of the Year at Duke in ’99, Brand declared for the NBA Draft after playing just two years in college. That meant there was a high probability that he would become the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft.
Or did it?
From where Brand was sitting, joining the exclusive club of being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft wasn’t a slam dunk; even after he discovered that the Chicago Bulls — in dire need of an inside player during that time — had won the draft lottery.
“It was still iffy,” said Brand, now a free agent center with the Dallas Mavericks. “Myself, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Lamar Odom and Jonathan Bender went one, two, three, four and five [in the draft], but you’re not sure until it’s said and done.
“There were a lot of rumors, a lot of whispers, but until your name is called you don’t know for sure unless it’s maybe Tim Duncan or LeBron James. But even in [the 2003] draft Carmelo [Anthony] felt he should have been No. 1 [instead of James].”
The NBA Draft lottery, which is at 7 tonight at the ABC Times Square Studios, serves as the precursor to the draft. While the draft itself offered its anxious moments for Brand, so did the lottery.
Before he declared for the draft, Brand knew the Vancouver Grizzlies (8-42), Los Angeles Clippers (9-41) and Chicago Bulls (13-37) were at the bottom of the league standings. Brand knew he could land with whoever won.
The scenarios popped up in Brand’s head from time to time as he contemplated his future on the basketball court.
“You go through the process, first as a collegiate student-athlete, you’re thinking about coming out,” Brand said. “Once I applied for the draft and I find out I’m going to be a top three pick, I’m like, ‘OK, you want to take that opportunity when you’re at the draft, and you don’t really know until it’s done.’
“No one wants to show their hand, and it could be a trade or things like that. So you don’t know until you’re actually called — maybe a little bit before — but it’s nerve-wracking.”
Equally nerve-wracking for Brand was the lottery, particularly because the various ping pong balls decided where his NBA career would begin.
Brand, who would eventually play for the Bulls from 1999-2001, was quick to acknowledge that: “I could have gone to Vancouver [which ended up with the No. 2 pick].”
In the weeks leading up to the lottery, Brand had options. He could return to Duke for another season and risk an injury that could drop his draft stock, or leave school and be virtually guaranteed an income few ever achieve.
It was an easy decision.
“You can’t risk an injury,” he said. “You can’t risk people saying he doesn’t have ‘potential’ anymore, because ‘potential’ is a key word.
“When you’re young, that’s why they drafted you, because you’re young and you could be really great. Not because you played four years and they may think that’s your ceiling.”
Now 34, Brand will be watching tonight’s lottery with interest. The Mavs will be represented by Donnie Nelson (president of basketball operations) and Keith Grant (assistant general manager).
Regardless of how the ping pong balls bounce, the Mavs will walk away with no worse than the 14th pick.
“I think Donnie and those guys will do a good job,” he said. “And they’ll definitely get high enough to bring someone that can help the organization.”