Riggin’ for Wiggins

December 1st, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

NBA teams are losing on purpose to get the top spot in the draft lottery. Is it a winning strategy – or a system that’s flawed?

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Heading into the 2013-14 NBA season, several NBA franchises are reportedly betting on what they hope will be a winning strategy: losing.

As Slate’s Jack Hamilton recently wrote, “billions of dollars’ worth of NBA franchises have rewritten their business models to win by losing in the hope of earning the top spot in the league’s draft lottery.” In the history of the NBA, which stipulates that draft-eligible players must be 19 years old and one year removed from their high school class, “never has its farcical nature been as exposed as in the case of next year’s draft,” Hamilton asserted.

Who are they so desperate to get? Among a few others, 18-year-old Andrew Wiggins, a 6’8” guard who became only the second freshman ever to earn preseason All-American honors, and whose recruiting notes, SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford reports, read like an autobiography or something “that will be on an ESPN 30 for 30 one day.”

With the incoming freshman class the best in the seven years since the inception of the so-called “one and done” rule, teams that aren’t currently very competitive are hoping that a losing strategy will help them secure one of the young stars. Of course, the NBA draft doesn’t automatically give the worst team the top pick; it just gives them a greater chance of winning the lottery.

As one anonymous NBA exec told ESPN, “Our team isn’t good enough to win and we know it. So this season we want to develop and evaluate our young players, let them learn from their mistakes – and get us in position to grab a great player. The best way for us to do that is lose a lot of games. This draft is loaded […] Sometimes my job is to understand the value of losing.”

In the meantime, Slate notes, the multi-billion dollar industry that is professional basketball is revolving around the incredible – unpaid – talent of young kids, playing for free on national television. Wiggins won’t earn a cent from playing college ball. Meanwhile, note many critics of the current structure, you can already buy an official NCAA-licensed Wiggins replica jersey for $55, but he won’t get a dime of the reported $100 million endorsement Adidas is reportedly preparing for him until he declares himself a pro.

Is the “riggin’ for Wiggins” strategy capitalism at its best or exploitation at its worst? Weigh in.