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A 66-1 horse came in at the NBA draft lottery on Sunday. Should they close the betting windows? Jack McCloskey, general manager of the Minnesota Timber-wolves, says yes. After the T-Wolves drew the fifth pick in the June 30 college draft despite having the league's second-worst season record, 19-63, McCloskey grumbled, "We'll get a good player, but it won't be the guy we wanted." What a swell way to begin a relationship with Calbert Cheaney or J.R. Ryder, who figure to be the best players still available when Minnesota makes its selection.
Yes, Jack, you can curse the good fortune of the Orlando Magic, which had a 41-41 record and barely missed the playoffs. Under the lottery's weighted system, the Magic had only one of the 66 Ping-Pong balls used to determine the first three picks, yet Orlando got the top choice for the second year in a row. And, yes, it was a bad day for doormats like the Dallas Mavericks (who had the worst record, 11-71—and 11 balls—but will pick only fourth) and yourselves. But there are only so many ways to set up a draft. Does anyone really want to go back to a system in which all teams picked in inverse order of their records, an arrangement that invited tanking in late-season games?
Besides, getting a high draft choice doesn't guarantee success. Look at the No. 1 picks who've gone bust—LaRue Martin and Kent Benson come to mind. Whether the Magic drafts Chris Webber and teams him with last year's No. 1, Shaquille O'Neal, or trades down for, say, another pick and a veteran player (a deal with the Golden State Warriors, who have the third selection, is possible), the Magic will have to clear an awful lot of space under the salary cap.
And how about John Nash's idea? By rights, Nash, general manager of the Washington Bullets, should be as upset as McCloskey, having drawn only the sixth pick even though the Bullets had the NBA's third-worst record. But Nash suggests opening up the draft so that even the elite teams get a shot at No. 1. "Something bothers me about the principle that just because you're bad, you should get the best player," he says.
The U.S. Olympic Committee is to be commended for increasing the bonus money it awards Americans who win Olympic medals. Although the sums—$15,000 for gold, $10,000 for silver and $7,500 for bronze—pale next to the loot paid out in other countries (for example, each of Spain's 13 gold medalists in Barcelona got an $80,000 bonus from the national sports federation and a $1 million pension from a bank), they represent a big leap forward for the USOC, which previously gave $2,500 to those who placed in the top eight at the Games.
One cavil: The USOC's largesse doesn't benefit college athletes, who are barred by NCAA rules from accepting money; it's time the NCAA relaxed its rigid stance and allowed collegians to put Olympic bonuses in trust funds. Another: USOC officials are fretting about the p.r. fallout of paying bonuses to Dream Teamers, tennis pros and other well-heeled Olympians. They should lighten up. One expects that the Michael Jordans and Jennifer Capriatis will be savvy enough to give their 15 grand to charity without any coaxing.