“David Stern rigged the 85′ draft so the Knicks landed Patrick Ewing to secure a $173 million TV deal”: How the NBA may have conspired to feed its biggest market with the 1st overall pick

Ashish Priyadarshi
|Published 07/06/2022

Patrick Ewing ended up being one of the greatest centers of his era, and perhaps the greatest Knick ever, but him landing in New York may have involved a conspiracy.

The 1985 NBA Draft goes down as one of the most controversial drafts of all time. It was the first draft where the lottery system was introduced as NBA commissioner David Stern attempted to curb the league’s tanking problem.

Back then, the lowest seed in each conference would have a coin flip to decide who would pick first and second, and the rest of the draft was filled in inverse order of each team’s standings.

With the 1985 draft approaching, the number one pick held immense value as it meant rights to pick Patrick Ewing, the best player in the draft. In a center dominated era, everyone wanted Ewing. At Georgetown, Ewing was a complete beast, taking the school to three NCAA Finals. Seven teams had a 14.3% chance at landing Ewing, including the Knicks, and that’s where the drama starts.

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David Stern may have rigged the lottery so Patrick Ewing landed him a shiny new TV deal

Things were looking dark for the NBA before the 1985 draft. Viewership was dipping and the league had a very serious drug problem on its hand. Their $91.9 million TV deal was also set to expire.

With such a highly coveted prospect like Patrick Ewing coming into play, there was a way the NBA could salvage something. However, Ewing needed to be in the right place. New York is the mecca of basketball. Madison Square Garden is the most iconic stadium in the NBA, and the city had all the buzz it needed to make the NBA a watchable product again.

That is, if they had something to cheer for. Ewing would be the perfect fit in New York for the NBA, and so a wild series of events emerged on draft night which have led people to assume the draft was rigged.

The lottery was conducted in a very different way than it is now. Envelopes containing the teams inside were placed in a large ball which was spun around for the draw. When the envelopes were placed inside the ball, one of them was hit alongside the edge of the ball, creasing the corner.

Many people believe this was done intentionally so that David Stern would know exactly which eenvelope was New York’s and pick that one first. There were also rumors about how New York’s envelope may have been frozen before hand as an extra way to ensure the correct one was picked for the first overall pick.

Additionally, the accounting firm which was running the lottery, Ernst and Whitney, was the auditing firm for Gulf and Western who owned the New York Knicks. The person placing the envelopes inside the ball, Jack Wagner, was an employee from Ernst and Whitney.

All these events set across the backdrop of the expiring TV deal meant that conspiracy theories ran wild. The Knicks ended up with the first pick and chose Patrick Ewing as you all know, and David Stern and the NBA secured a 4-year, $173 million deal with CBS for network broadcasting rights.

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About the author
Ashish Priyadarshi

Ashish Priyadarshi

Ashish Priyadarshi is The SportsRush's content manager and editor. Ashish freelanced for 1 year in the NFL division before taking on an editorial role in the company. He then tacked on managing content while adding on a writing role in the NBA division. Ashish has been closely following the NFL and NBA since the 2012 season when the Patriots lost the Super Bowl and Derrick Rose was at the height of his powers. Since then, Ashish has focused on honing his knowledge for both leagues in, even writing crossover pieces. In his free time, Ashish is an avid basketball player, he loves to watch movies and TV shows, immersing himself in the cinematic world. Ashish studies computer science and data science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and would love to mesh his love for sports with his technical skills.

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