CHICAGO — San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once remarked how the franchise had already received all the luck it could possibly ask for. The two previous years they ended up with the No.1 overall pick in the draft, they walked away with a player who would end up in the Hall of Fame.
But the Spurs got yet another lucky lottery bounce on Tuesday, winning the 2023 NBA draft lottery and the right to select French super-prospect Victor Wembanyama with the No. 1 overall pick.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” Spurs owner Peter J. Holt said Tuesday night at Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center. “Our future was already bright, now it’s going to be through the moon.”
San Antonio owns the No.1 pick in the draft for the third time in franchise history. The two other times, the team selected Tim Duncan in 1997 and David Robinson in 1987.
The Spurs, along with the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets, entered the night tied for the highest lottery odds at 14% and cashed in on a potentially franchise changing selection.
As he sat on the stage Tuesday night, Holt had an open sight line of the envelopes being unveiled. By the time the Charlotte Hornets were revealed to have the No. 2 pick, Holt was pounding the lectern in front of him and letting out a celebratory yell.
“I’m a believer that good things happen to great people,” Holt said. “We’re surrounded by amazing people that try to be of service and help others and build things that are great. So you’re going to attract some amazing things. That’s what happened tonight.”
The Hornets will draft second, followed by the Portland Trail Blazers and Rockets. The Pistons, who finished a league-worst 17-65, will pick fifth, marking the fifth straight season the team with the worst record in the league will not select first overall.
Wembanyama, 19, is the consensus top draft pick and has become the most anticipated NBA prospect since LeBron James entered the league in 2003. At 7-foot-5, he is considered a generational talent for his height and ability to create his own shot off the dribble, shoot step-back 3s and use an 8-foot wingspan to protect the rim.
Paolo Banchero, last year’s No. 1 overall selection, did not become the clear top pick by the Orlando Magic until hours before the draft last June. Wembanyama has been expected to be the top selection for months.
“People talk about generational talent, and they only think on-court skill, but it’s bigger than that,” Spurs general manager Brian Wright said Tuesday night. “His ability to be a great teammate, his ability to think the game, unique challenges, you see him doing things that you wouldn’t even have guessed someone could do. His approach, his professionalism.
“When you use the word generational talent, it extends beyond your ability to put the ball in the basket. And he’s unique in so many ways.”
Wright had been sequestered in the room where the lottery took place for an hour before the results were revealed on stage and said his anxiety had been chasing him all day leading up to the event. He said he woke up at 5 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep and that he hadn’t eaten anything in the lead-up to the event. He would not reveal the good-luck charm he kept inside his blazer — Holt had a golden key in his pocket that he joked he’d rubbed all the varnish off of by the end of the night — but Wright said he had a secret handshake with his 9-year-old son for good fortunate.
“Just an incredible day,” Wright said. “For the franchise. For the fans. For the entire organization. We’re incredibly excited about the future.”
Wembanyama seems almost certain to go to a franchise with a history of great French players. Tony Parker won four titles with the Spurs and won Finals MVP honors in 2007, and Boris Diaw played on the 2014 championship team.
“We wouldn’t need to hire a translator,” Wright said with a laugh. “We’ve had some great French players come through. What they’ve meant to basketball in that country and obviously what Victor could mean to basketball in that country and basketball globally around the world, it’s exciting. Having that connectivity is great for our organization. I think it’ll be great for him to get assimilated and accumulated to what we do and just being a part of the fabric of the community.”
Wembanyama will also have the opportunity to be coached by Popovich, who broke the all-time record for most regular season wins in March 2022. Popovich, who turns 75 in January, had already coached 557 games, won two NBA championships and was a year away from winning his third by the time Wembanyama was born on Jan. 4, 2004.
“Coaches are teachers, and we’ve been fortunate as an organization to have one of the greatest teachers, regardless of sport, of all time,” Wright said. “We all learn from him each and every day. For all our players, that’s an incredible opportunity. And I know they don’t take it for granted.”
The draft will take place June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The full 2023 draft lottery order:
1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Charlotte Hornets
3. Portland Trail Blazers
4. Houston Rockets
5. Detroit Pistons
9. Utah Jazz
10. Dallas Mavericks
11. Orlando Magic
13. Toronto Raptors