Former Grizzlies GM Dick Versace on his past lottery experiences, as told to the Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Roland Tillery.

One of Versace’s memorable lottery experiences happened in 2002, when he saw how the Houston Rockets’ luck turned into center Yao Ming.

The Rockets won the No. 1 overall pick when one of their 89 assigned combinations was the first selected. When the league drew for the No. 2 pick, a combination assigned to the Rockets also came up.

That was discarded and the new numbers chosen belonged to the Chicago Bulls. Memphis won the fourth pick that year.

“I’m a suspicious person like everyone,” Versace said. “I’m looking at this situation and I’m saying ‘OK, how could they do it? How could they cheat? How could they fix it?’ I’m racking my brain.

“I’m one of those guys who will go to those very difficult, hard-to-figure-out movies and I always figure it out. But I’m looking at these Ping-Pong balls bouncing around and there’s no way.”

Versace says the NBA goes to great lengths to protect the integrity of the lottery.

He called “hogwash” the notion that the lottery is fixed to reward a team the league deems most worthy.

“I’ve been in that room three times,” Versace said of the closed-door lottery proceedings. “They take all your cell phones and you’re not allowed to leave the room. If you have to go to the bathroom, you’re escorted by a security guard so no information can leak out. … It’s a fair deal. It’s as fair as it can be. But it is still a lottery and luck is a big part of it.”