When Nick Gilbert came away with the fourth-overall pick in last year’s NBA lottery, he was disappointed. Just fifteen years old at the time, the son of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ majority owner felt that he had let down an entire fan base that so badly wanted to return to prominence. After all, it was this very dais that made him a nationally known name amongst NBA fans. The ‘beginners luck’ that had been such a gift one year earlier became a bit of a curse.
Fans of opposing teams, doing what they do, took shots at the teenager who suffers from neurofibromatosis, a nerve disorder that causes tumors to sprout on a whim. Kids at school, doing what they do, began to chop Gilbert down in what was his moment of vulnerability, telling him that he was “nothing special.” But it would be just one year later that the oldest son of the Cavaliers’ owner can not only proudly return to school, but can do so having officially christened with being his father’s good luck charm.
“It’s Nick Gilbert,” Dan Gilbert told WFNY via conference call on Tuesday night when asked about to what he attributes such odds-defying luck. “I’m going to have to start taking him to card games with me.”
Though losing vision in his right eye due to his illness, Nick had the foresight to know that once his dad’s team made it to the final three, that there was a very good chance one of those final two envelopes had a wine and gold Cavaliers logo inside of it. The Washington Wizards managed to leapfrog several teams, but to lock up the top spot, they would have had to essentially replicate what the Cavs did in 2011. But once the Orlando Magic logo appeared, having been pulled out of the No. 2 spot, it comes with little surprise that the crowd of individuals who went to support the Cavaliers on this very night would yell “Atta boy, Nickey. Atta boy.”
Certainly, Nick Gilbert will never see his name within an NBA box score. He won’t be counted on to sink a game-winner. He won’t be playing man defense against an opposition’s biggest scoring threat. At the very least, he will just roam the halls within the bowels of Quicken Loans Arena as he has in the past. But everywhere he goes, especially within Cleveland, rest assured that Nick Gilbert may never win another NBA Lottery again, and he is already a legend in the eyes of many. Certainly, there’s no skill involved when it comes to hunching over a team-addled podium while waiting for your name to be called. With Nick Gilbert, it’s about presence.
That the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Draft Lottery just two years ago had zero bearing on their chances this past Tuesday night. Certainly, the odds of winning the lottery once—especially with the slot that provided a 2.8 percent chance of doing so—was miraculous enough. The odds of the Cavaliers winning both lotteries with the slots through which they did was an even more miniscule 0.4 percent. But once the Cavaliers and their evidently all-too-rowdy contingent settled into Seacaucus, New Jersey, it was a bow-tied Nick Gilbert and a 15.6 chance of repeating similar fortune.
“In 2011, our odds were just 2-point-something percent with the spot that won,” said Gilbert. “They were a little more realistic this time, but we are still very, very excited.”
It is easy to assume that “excited” is just one line item on a laundry list of emotions. Gilbert comes off as being fiery and impatient at times, combative and impeding at others. But underneath all of the soundbites and unfortunate font choices is a man who continues to keep his eye on the ultimate prize.
As a recent New York Times profile laid out, Gilbert is a man who thinks big picture. He takes on reclamation projects, spurns growth, and motivates subordinates. Within the confines of a conference room on the executive levels of The Q, there is a clock that is similar to that of the national debt only it counts the time that has elapsed since the city of Cleveland last won a title in a major professional sport. A constant reminder, the focal point of every decision that is made.
Some of these decisions obviously carry more weight than others. Mid-level free agents may be considered interchangeable. Trading bench fodder for future draft selections kicks the proverbial can down the road. But when a team acquires the first-overall draft choice in any given year—regardless of what the consensus is when it comes to overall talent level—the Cavaliers are afforded the opportunity to take yet another step forward to making that clock reset.
The cannon is now squarely pointed in the direction if Cleveland’s general manager Chris Grant. Four draft picks, one of them being the largest of them all, and a boat load of cap space are all at his disposal. Both Dan and Nick Gilbert made it very apparent that they have no plans to return to Secaucus, New Jersey any time soon—especially not for an NBA Draft Lottery.
While Grant was addressing the media on Tuesday night, he allegedly received an email from a Gilbert address, but it was not from his boss. It was from Nick, the 16-year-old kid who was given another chance to go out on top when it comes to his days as a good luck charm. The contents were a playful exchange of the baton: “I did my job. Now you have to do yours.”
It is with those two lines that Nick Gilbert laid out that his time here was done. He can’t provide the help-side defense that this Cavaliers team so surely needs. He can’t be the guy to help Kyrie Irving shoulder the load on the offensive end. He can only stand in as a representative. The rest depends on how much you believe in intangibles like luck, karma and mere good fortune.
Dan Gilbert doesn’t quite know how much stock to put into all of the hardwood tarot cards, but the casino owner knows that, with the help of his son, he took a hand of cards that was largely stacked against him and turned it into the exact river card he needed to come out the victor. The size of the pot is all ancillary.
“I’m not sure how this happened twice,” said Gilbert, “but we’ll take it.”