Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
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There is no truer experience for a Process Truster than the first time you have to explain the Lottery Party to another human being. If you’re lucky, they’re at least familiar with the NBA draft, and maybe even the idea that the draft ordering isn’t entirely pre-determined. If not, you’re left explaining a seven-layer cake of an idea that will almost certainly leave the other person more confused than when they started, and making a mental note not to ask you about your weird basketball things again.
The Sam Hinkie era has led to all sorts of strange manifestations of Sixers fandom, but only the Lottery Party is where the freaks really run free. It’s the purest display of Process energy you could ever ask for; if you ever wanted to know whether or not a basketball figure was truly One of Us, just show their face on the lottery party television and let the crowd render simultaneous (and somehow entirely unanimous) judgment. When Vlade Divac entered into Process Lore as a result of the infamous pickswap trade of summer ‘15, it seemed only so because the then-Buffalo Wild Wings crowd prophesied it to be so a year earlier, when he was uniformly cheered for seemingly no reason. We may not have known why, but the Lottery Party knew.
The memories speak for themselves: A remote Mike jumping over his couch, a very unremote Mike being jumped on by Ike Reese, Robert Covington being cheered, Howard Eskin being booed, proposals and marriages and parodies and more chants than a Wrestling pay-per-view. It’s communal both in a macro and micro sense; you’ll always remember the roar of the entire complex the night Mark Tatum took out a team logo that wasn’t the Sixers’ for the No. 2 pick in 2016 -- meaning we were getting the No. 1, and ultimately Ben Simmons -- but you’ll really never forget the specific people you were there with and turned to hug first. (“Better than sex!” proclaimed David Lipshutz, father of Jason.)
The Simmons moment was the greatest moment in Lottery Party history -- our Super Bowl victory -- but it’s not my favorite. That would still be last year, when the Sixers were undramatically unveiled as the 10th pick (via the Lakers), and I turned to my confused non-Sixers-fan brother and went, “Well, that’s it.” After hours of build up, the Sixers got the pick they were 87% likely to get, the Deputy Commissioner immediately moved on, and the night was basically over. All that for this? Of course -- just like how this year we’re hinging the entire affair on a resounding 1% chance of us landing No. 1 via Sacramento. It’s the Lottery Party. If you still think it’s all about the results at this point, well, we may have just have to start this whole thing over again then.
Spike has proclaimed that this year will be the final Lottery Party. Maybe he genuinely believes that it will be. And maybe it even should be. Maybe as ultimately inconsequential as this year’s 1% chance is, it’s still necessary to maintain the event’s vitality. Maybe once the Sixers officially run out of lottery chances, and are only a playoff team forever, it becomes insincere, patronizing and even fate-tempting to continue to play act like we’re still in the throes of the tanking years.
But part of me simply can’t believe that this fandom will ever have to go a season without the Lottery Party as an annual event. Canceling the Lottery Party is like canceling the first day of spring; after five years it feels less like a man-made event than a day that just automatically shows up on the calendar every year. The Process is more religion than club at this point anyway; just because it’s been a minute since Moses led the Jews through the desert doesn’t mean we stop observing Passover. What else are we going to get together to celebrate, anyway? Championships? Like that could ever feel the same.
The Lottery Party will undoubtedly live on somehow, in some form. But regardless, next Tuesday is definitely the end of an era: an era of pickswaps, of protections, of taking the longest view in the room. The view gets shorter every year now; not only because Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie isn’t the one doing the surveying anymore, but because the actual eventual goal keeps getting closer -- now just 10 wins away, and possibly nine or even eight this time next week. It’s where we always wanted to be.
But it doesn’t replace or obscure the importance of where we’ve been -- the days when Chu Chu Maduabum roamed the Earth. No one but the Process Trusters could plan to spend a night when their team might potentially play kick off their first conference finals appearance in 18 years by getting nostalgic for the era when the team was lucky to win 18 games. But no one is like the Process Trusters, period: No one’s been through what we’ve been through, loved like we’ve loved, celebrated like we’ve celebrated. The Lottery Party is everything that Sixers fans have to share with each other, and everything that no other fanbase will ever be able to share with us. And even if we’ll never be able to explain why to anyone who isn’t already there, we won’t want to be anywhere else on Tuesday night.