CHICAGO — Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith was fascinated by the idea of being inside the NBA’s draft lottery drawing room.

“I’m just glad we didn’t fall below nine. At least we didn’t fall. We’re right where we expected to be and we’ve planned for this.” — Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith

“This is incredible isn’t it? Just being able to watch how everything happens in real time,” Smith said moments before walking into the room. “To be right where it happens.”

But first, Smith and the other 13 lottery team representatives and each of the 18 reporters in the room, along with the handful of NBA staff, had to put their electronics (phones, smart watches, anything that can record or transmit info) in a sealed bag that would stay outside the drawing room.

Smith of course had hopes that the Jazz would be awarded a top four pick in the draft, but the odds weren’t great and more than anything he was just hoping they wouldn’t fall below the No. 9 overall pick.

In the end, the Jazz’s pick stayed right where it was expected. They’ll have the ninth, 16th and 28th picks in the first round of the draft on June 22 and the No. 1 overall pick will go to the San Antonio Spurs.

How the draft lottery works

Before we get into the details from Tuesday night, you need to know how the lottery works.

The 14 teams that did not make the playoffs are entered into the draft lottery. On the night of the draft, 14 pingpong balls numbered 1 through 14 are placed in a lottery machine. There are 1,001 possible number combinations when four balls are drawn, without regard to the order they are drawn. Prior to the lottery, 1,000 of the 1,001 combinations are assigned to the 14 lottery teams.

The number of combinations assigned to each team are determined by reverse order of regular-season record. The three teams with the worst records are given 140 number combinations and then the combinations decrease along the way from the team with the fourth-worst record to the 14th.

The number of combinations assigned to each team in this year’s draft lottery were as follows: Detroit (140), Houston (140), San Antonio (140), Charlotte (125), Portland (105), Orlando (90), Indiana (75), Washington (60), Utah (45), Dallas (30), Chicago (20), Oklahoma City (15), Toronto (10) and New Orleans (5).

The team that was assigned the number combination that matches the first four balls drawn gets the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The team that was assigned the number combination that matches the next four balls drawn gets the No. 2 pick and this continues through the No. 3 and No. 4 pick.

The remaining lottery teams that did not get a top-four pick continue to pick in inverse order of their regular-season record.

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During the drawing, if a team’s number combination is drawn a second time after already being awarded a lottery pick, those balls are reset to draw for a different team. If the 1,001st combination, which was not assigned to a team, is drawn, the balls are reset for another draw.

The whole process is completed in a separate and private room just before the NBA broadcasts the results of the lottery. Inside the lottery drawing room, the NBA allows a small number of media members and representatives from each team, along with NBA staff and security.

After the top four draft picks are decided by the lottery, the results are put into envelopes and delivered to the ESPN broadcast stage, where the results are announced during a live broadcast. Video of the actual lottery itself is later shared by the NBA digitally, but the broadcast on ESPN is not the actual lottery process, only a reveal of the results of the lottery.

Inside the drawing room

Once inside, as light jazzy piano music played through speakers in a convention center room, Smith, dressed in a black Utah Jazz hoodie, black pants and white sneakers, took his seat in the second of three rows of tables and chairs set up for team representatives. He didn’t take any kind of good luck charm. He just wanted to be in the room.

In front of him was a pen, notepad and a packet that included all of the number combinations assigned to each team for the lottery.

He flipped through the pages of his packet to the one with the Jazz’s combinations. What he saw immediately was that of the Jazz’s 45 combinations, none of them contained the numbers 1 through 5. That was his guide as the pingpong balls were being drawn — any ball drawn with a number below 6 meant it wouldn’t be a Jazz number combination.

The piano music was turned off and everyone in the room was briefed on how the rest of the evening would proceed, and then the lottery drawing began. Smith crossed his feet underneath his chair and began tapping the toe of his right shoe against the floor.

But, it took just 30 seconds for Smith to realize that the Jazz would not be getting the No. 1 overall pick. After the first ball (14) was drawn, the second ball had the number 5 stamped on it. It couldn’t be a Jazz number combo. Smith leaned his elbows on the table in front of him and calmly covered his mouth with his hands.

The first number combination — 14, 5, 8, 2 — belonged to the Spurs. There was no audible reaction from Brian Wright, the Spurs general manager.

The second number combination — 7, 3, 5, 4 — belonged to the Charlotte Hornets and they were awarded the No. 2 overall pick. The third number combination — 11, 3, 5, 6 — gave Portland the No. 3 overall pick.

Smith put his right hand down by his side and was nervously rubbing his fingers together as he started to tap the toe of his shoe against the floor again.

Numbers 13 and 14 were drawn, but then the number 1 was drawn and Smith’s toe stopped tapping. The final number, 11, was drawn and it was announced that the combo belonged to San Antonio, so the pingpong balls would be redrawn.

Then Charlotte had another four-number combination pop up. Another redraw. Smith finally leaned back in his seat. Then, incredibly, San Antonio had a third number combination drawn. There would be another redraw. Smith leaned forward, hoping against hope that this redraw would give the Jazz a top pick.

First the number 7 popped out of the lottery machine, then 14. Smith flipped the page of his packet and nodded and blinked before looking up at the lottery machine. Then the number 4 popped out of the machine and Smith pursed his lips and shook his head. The final number drawn was 1 and the Houston Rockets were awarded the fourth pick in the draft.

There was a murmur of congratulations directed toward Wright and then everyone in the room had to just wait until the broadcast was over before collecting their sealed bags of belongings and heading up an escalator to the broadcast room.

“I’m just glad we didn’t fall below nine,” Smith told the Deseret News. “At least we didn’t fall. We’re right where we expected to be and we’ve planned for this.”

He admitted to having hopes and for everything being a little nerve-wracking, but he was surprised at how fast everything happened.

The Jazz have been preparing for the draft for the last year and have done extensive homework on all of the eligible prospects. Understanding that their lottery pick was likely to be right around No. 9, and knowing they also have two other first-round picks, they’ve keyed in on players expected to fall to those areas of the draft and are excited about the coming days, when they will interview players at the combine, also held in Chicago.

“It’s not always about where you draft, but how you draft,” Smith said. “That’s a Danny (Ainge) line, and he’s right. There are a lot of good players available and we’re happy with No. 9.”

Meanwhile, in the broadcast room

As the envelopes with the results of the lottery were being delivered to the ESPN stage, Jazz coach Will Hardy and general manager Justin Zanik watched as guard Collin Sexton walked on stage to represent the Jazz during the broadcast.

Just as Smith was hoping the Jazz wouldn’t fall back from the No. 9 spot, so were Hardy and Zanik.

“That’s the part of the draft no one ever talks about,” Hardy said. “Everybody’s like, ‘Well, you have a 20% chance to jump into the top four,’ which is great. But there is also a chance that you end up sliding back, which is not good.”

During the broadcast, the results are revealed in inverse order — the team with the 14th pick, then 13th and so on.

“So once the Mavericks got the No. 10 spot, it was like, ‘OK. At least nothing’s happened that’s ruined our night,’” Hardy said with a laugh. “Look, we had the ninth-best odds and we got the ninth pick. So, we got what we deserved.”

After everyone from the Jazz in attendance found out what pick they had, they were thinking the same thing everyone else was — where is Victor Wembanyama going? The French phenom is more than a consensus No. 1 pick. He’s considered to be a generational talent that could change the course of a franchise.

As soon as it was announced that Charlotte had the No. 2 overall pick, Spurs owner Peter J. Holt stood up and yelled, “Let’s go! Woo!” from the broadcast stage in excitement.

“Well, Collin failed us tonight,” Hardy, always one to make a joke, said with a laugh. “I’m just kidding.”

“It’s not always about where you draft, but how you draft. That’s a Danny (Ainge) line, and he’s right. There are a lot of good players available and we’re happy with No. 9.” — Jazz owner Ryan Smith

Sexton didn’t get to be the one doing the smiling and jumping up and down for joy, but at least there was some emotion displayed.

“There was a tension and vibe in the room and Peter did what everyone in his position would have felt,” Hardy said. “Anybody who got that pick would have felt that way. It’s a cool moment. There’s gonna be a lot of pressure on that kid (Wembanyama) in the league. That’s a hard thing to be called this generational talent to be called the best prospect, maybe of all time.”

After more than a decade on the Spurs coaching staff, Hardy said there was some happiness for his former team. But at the same time, he immediately felt that competitive juices flowing.

“Can’t wait for the Spurs and Victor to come play in the Delta Center,” he said with a smile.

With three of the top four picks being awarded to Western Conference teams, the feeling of competition was palpable, even on lottery night.

“You see three of the four go to the West and it’s like, OK. Here we go,” Zanik said, cocking his head to the side with a wry smile. “It’s the lottery and there’s a lot of luck involved and San Antonio and the West have had a lot of luck. But, we’re ready to go.”

They have to be. Shortly after the results were broadcast, Wembanyama posted to Twitter, “Today was a good day.” He’s likely to have many good days in the NBA and everyone has to be ready for it.

People look at the draft lottery order during the NBA basketball draft lottery in Chicago, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. | Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press