Five years ago, when his team had a 1.7% percent chance to win the NBA draft lottery, then-Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin wore a small pin on his lapel.
It belonged to his grandmother. Griffin called it the "angel on my shoulder" Monday via Twitter.
One day later, it worked again. Tuesday night Griffin's new team, the New Orleans Pelicans, defied the odds and landed the No. 1 overall pick in next month's NBA draft, clearing the way for the franchise to grab Zion Williamson and change course after an ugly spring.
Griffin carried something else with him to the draft lottery Tuesday in Chicago. Metairie resident Connie Halphen won the Pelicans’ "lucky charm sweepstakes," meaning Griffin would take Halphen's good-luck trinket — a 56-year-old wooden angel figurine.
“Divine intervention from your angel is meant to be!” Griffin said, referring to Halphen's angel. “Thank you for entrusting us with it!”
Whether it was Halphen’s own angel, Griffin’s own luck or sheer divine intervention, the Pelicans won the answer to the prayers of 14 NBA fan bases, landing the No. 1 pick for the June 20 draft at the Barclays Center in New York.
The Memphis Grizzlies will pick second. The New York Knicks were tied for the best odds in the NBA to land a top-four pick and the No. 1 overall pick — but instead, they landed the No. 3 pick Tuesday.
The Los Angeles Lakers jumped all the way up from the 11th-best odds to the No. 4 pick.
Playing the odds, the New Orleans Pelicans were slated to get the No. 7 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
“I think it’s just another positive event for us in what we hope will be several stacked together,” Griffin said Tuesday from the Hilton Chicago minutes after he celebrated on stage with perhaps the best news since the franchise landed the No. 1 pick in 2012 and took Anthony Davis.
The team hasn’t drafted higher than No. 6 in the six years since then.
“I think Mrs. (Gayle) Benson and her ownership group have invested in this very heavily," Griffin said. "My presence and my desire to be there had everything to do with this community, so I’m really excited for our fan base. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but this is a good start.”
Many assume this year’s No. 1 overall pick will be Williamson, the Duke freshman who took the college basketball landscape by storm this season. He is the above-the-title phenom in a star-studded freshman class that includes likely lottery picks R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish.
ESPN’s Maria Taylor did her best to unearth Griffin’s early plans with the team’s top pick — whether to draft Williamson, take draft’s consensus second-best player Ja Morant or trade away the pick in a blockbuster package — but the Pelicans' new executive vice president wouldn’t budge.
Taylor: “When I say ‘Zion,’ you say what?”
“We have a lot of work to do," he said. "This is a good start.”
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