CHICAGO – Without even having to ask him, Neil Herskowitz knows what’s going on in Michael Finley’s mind today. After all, Herskowitz was in the same position last year this time.
Last year Herskowitz represented the Dallas Mavericks on the dais at the NBA Draft Lottery. It’s the same job Finley has when the Draft Lottery will be held tonight at 6:30 CT from the Palmer House Hilton Hotel.
Herskowitz believes Finley – he’s the Mavs vice-president of basketball operations — will have no problems handling his role tonight as the Mavs hope to land the top pick in the June 21 NBA Draft.
“I think Fin is a very experienced guy,” Herskowitz said. “Obviously he played in the league (for 15 years) and he’s been in a lot of big situations on the court, so I think for him this is kind of an extension of that.
“It’s an important moment, but Fin’s been involved in a lot of important moments. So I think he’s the perfect guy to be involved in this.”
At this time last year, Herskowitz said he simple was “taking it all in” when the Draft Lottery was held in New York. As the Mavs’ assistant equipment manager, this was an experience of a lifetime for Herskowitz.
“I think I said it last year and I’ll say it again this year, it’s certainly an honor to be involved and to be here representing the team,” Herskowitz said. “At the same time it’s not the event that we want to be at.
“But it’s necessary for the future of the team and the franchise to be here and build up the roster and hopefully get the next Mavericks player that’ll be around for a really long time and be a great player on the court and a great person off the court. So it’s part of that process. We recognize that, but at the same time it means that we’re not where we want to be just yet, and we want to get back to the top level and this is part of that.”
Although Herskowitz is not on the dais this year, he and assistant general manager Keith Grant will be sequestered in a banquet room representing the Mavs where the actually lottery will occur. In that room – which includes representatives from the teams involved in the lottery, NBA personnel and security personnel – ping-pong balls will be bouncing in a machine and the results will be revealed on ESPN prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I’ll be in the back room with Keith Grant, so certainly kind of what I said about Fin I can say the same thing about Keith Grant,” Herskowitz said. “He’s a guy that’s been around doing this job almost as long as I’ve been alive.
“Just that in of itself, the experience that he brings, his knowledge of the operation is great. You know the on the court stuff, but obviously the other operational aspect that he’s very gifted at, he’s just one of those guys that you’re always glad to have on your side. Nothing is really going to come up that he hasn’t seen before or been involved with before.”
From a personal standpoint, Herskowitz is overjoyed that the Mavs trusted him two years in a row with two of the biggest days in their franchise history. But not too long ago, Herskowitz didn’t think any of this was even possible.
A few years ago Herskowitz was suffering from cystic fibrosis and could barely breathe. He got so weak that he had to get around from point A to B on a scooter.
Then in October of 2015, Herskowitz had a life-changing moment when he underwent a double lung transplant which ultimately saved his life.
“I was thinking about that the other night,” Herskowitz said. “I think for me from the personal side of it this just means that everything that we worked for with the surgery and just having all those people by my side, it’s kind of neat to be here in a sense that there was a time not too long ago – three, four, five years ago – that being in Chicago for the Draft Lottery might as well have been the dark side of the moon or Jupiter.
“I had about as good a chance doing that as I would have coming here. At least that’s how it felt in my life, so to be here and experience it and see things and get things first-hand is really special to me.”
And when Herskowitz says “first-hand,” he really means it. He’ll be part of a group isolated in a banquet room who will get the results of the Draft Lottery first-hand.
However, their cell phones and other communication devices will be taken away from them until the hour-long lottery is shown on live TV on ESPN.
“You’re quarantined to some extent for a brief period, but that’s part of it,” Herskowitz said. “It’s kind of a unique experience in a sense that not many people are fortunate to be able to see that side of it.
“So it’s cool to be part of the process and kind of neat to see the behind the scenes aspect of it.”