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Revisiting The 1984 Draft

The 1984 draft gave us four of the NBA’s greatest ever players including Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. They were gifts from the basketball Gods, all unique, all great in their own way.

In my previous article  I explored how the NBA has moved away from the notion that a dominant big is necessary to compete for a title . (Embed link to said article here)

The 1984 draft offered a good snapshot of the collective mindset of league executives at the time. Hakeem Olajuwon was the consensus first round pick, and the reasoning behind it was solid. The Rockets were drafting a seven-foot centre with huge athletism, ballerina like moves, a soft touch and he already had an NBA ready game.

Even today I would hesitate to criticise this selection. Hindsight is 20-20 and it is easy to sit behind a computer and type “Jordan is the greatest ever”. Houston passing him on has to be one of the most boneheaded moves by any NBA team.” But the fact of the matter is that Olajuwon was the safest pick.

The dream had a four year body of work behind him at Houston University that pointed to this. He was a sure-fire success if ever there was one. And it turned out he was, he led the Rockets to two titles in his time there.

Nobody knew how good Jordan would be. He had just won the NCAA title with North Carolina but Dean Smith, his coach was a strong believer in everyone getting there shots, and not simply relying on one player on the offensive end. This meant Jordan did not have the opportunity to take over games, as he would in the NBA.

Jordan had a strong supporting cast of Kenny “The Jet” Smith, Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty. Big man era or not, you cannot criticise Houston for missing on M.J.

The same cannot unfortunately be said for the Portland Trailblazers. Bill Walton had  led the franchise to the championship in 1977, and the Trailblazers higher ups surmised “We need another great center to lead us back to the promised land.”

Jordan was the next best player in the draft no doubt about it. Charles Barkley looked promising, but at the time was a 300-pound mamoth, listed at  six foot five. Teams harboured doubts over his attitude, weight and height. Yes he looked like he could play, but there were just too many question marks hanging over him.

More so than today, teams drafted by “need” in those days. If one were to cast an eye back to the Blazers team of the 1983/84 season, it immediately becomes clear that biggest position the team needed to upgrade at was the point guard position. Enter John Stockton who had an outstanding career at Gonzaga, and had been very impressive in tryouts for the 1984 Olympic Team.

One problem, teams did not draft point guards with the number two pick in the draft. “Centers win championships” remember? Even the great Magic Johnson had to wait until the 5th pick to hear his name called five years previously.

The Blazers already had Clyde Drexler, a player they had drafted the previous year, which was another way Portland deluded themselves into thinking that it was an OK thing to do to pass on M.J. Talent always wins out, and Drexler and Jordan would have found a way to win together. Trading Drexler for an upgrade at centre would also have been an option, as soon as the Trailblazers realised what they had with Jordan.

Ignoring the fact that Jordan had proven himself to have scary athleticism, the ability to score at the rim at will, the character to work to improve his game everyday, Portland went and drafted Sam Bowie. Bowie was never the pick here.

He simply was not effective enough in college to be a number two pick in a draft stacked with mesmerising talent. Everyone assumes/claims/argues/believes that Bowie was a college standout. Except he wasn’t very productive before he broke his shin and he wasn’t very productive after either. So why was he drafted so high?*

Size, potential and because he ‘looked the part of a basketball player’. Bowie was underwhelming in college in shooting efficiently and forcing turnovers. He was the worst first round post prospect at scoring and turning the ball over in the draft.

In other words idiocy won out, as the Blazers convinced themselves they were drafting the next Bill Walton. Standing tall and talentless at 7 foot 1, Bowie went on to have an injury riddled career, coming off the bench for numerous teams.

“I can still remember them taking a little mallet, and when they would hit me on my left tibia, and ‘I don’t feel anything,’ I would tell ’em. But deep down inside, it was hurting. If what I did was lying and what I did was wrong, at the end of the day, when you have loved ones that have some needs, I did what any of us would have done.” -Bowie

So it appears Bowie conned Portland, but you cannot really blame the player for a team drafting him. If my nose is broken and someone punches me in the nose and I say “Wow that didn’t hurt  a bit,” the person who threw the punch can take me to the doctors and get a medical opinion on whether it hurts or not. The Trailblazers do not get a pass simply because a player lied to them Players lie, most of them are far more concerned about themselves then the team.

If Portland had passed on Bowie as they should, but still wished to take a big to plug a hole in their team, they could have had their pick from Barkley, Michael Cage, Sam Perkins, and Otis Thorpe who were all more productive than Bowie in college and all went on to have very productive NBA careers.

Heres a scary thought for any Bulls fans reading this article. The Bulls really liked Mr. Bowie too, and if Portland had selected lets say Charles Barkley, there is every chance that they would have passed on the future phenom Michael Jordan and drafted Sam Bowie.

I’ll move on, but not before leaving you with quote which is sure to cause many the Chicago natives blood to run cold. After drafting Jordan, GM Rob Thorn said:  ” I only wish he were 7-1. We expect we’ll have an easier time signing him than we have had in signing other draft choices.”

Thorn is openly saying that he wishes that Bowie had fell to them at the three spot. Alas, the basketball God’s had other ideas for the Windy City.

This special draft produced 4 of the greatest 50 players, but also many other very talented individuals.

Alvin Robertson, the 4th pick by the San Antonio Spurs would enjoy considerable success, being named to four all star teams, winning the defensive player of the year in 1986, and being one of four players ever to register a quadruple double ( 20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals.)

Otis Thorpe won an NBA championship with “The Dream” and the Rockets in 1994, and also participated in one all star game.

Kevin Willis became an NBA champion as a Spur in 2003, and was also named to an all star team. Sam Perkins was the 4th player to hear his name called on that fateful night, while never reaching the heights of M.J, Charles, Hakeem or Stockton, he had a very good career. He tied an NBA record by hitting eight straight three’s without a miss.

Oscar Schmidt, is the greatest international player never to ply his trade in the battleground that is the NBA, this writer believes. Up to this point, it was a widely held belief that international players could not play in the NBA, and thus NBA GM’S stayed away from trying to entice them over.

He is unofficially considered to be the all-time leading scorer in the history of basketball, with 49,737 career points scored. No you did not misread that.

Such foolhardiness meant that Oscar was not drafted until the 6th round, after he chose to declare. Oscar considered it an extraordinary insult to be drafted in the 6th round. Although he was mightily impressive in practice with the New Jersey Nets, Oscar renounced the opportunity to play in the NBA, packed his bags and returned to Italy  where he could maintain his amateur status and continue to represent Brazil at international level.

Schmidt was a 6-foot-9 scoring machine at small forward in the Larry Bird mold, able to shred defenses without beating many opponents in a race or a jumping contest. He was an all-time great shooter and he was smart. It is a tragedy that he never got the opportunity to showcase his unbelievable offensive talents in the greatest basketball league on earth.

To a young Kobe Bryant, he was what Larry Bird was to most kids in America growing up in the 80’s*

No game testified to Oscar’s greatness more so than the 1989 Pan-Am games. Brazil faced off against the USA in the final. Schmidt, still stung by being picked in the 6th round put on a performance for the ages against the players NBA teams thought he could not hang with.”

Down 14 at the half, Oscar put Brazil on his back, caught fire and virtually won the game on his own scoring 46 points on the way to a memorable comeback.

Conor O’Mahony, Pundit Arena.


 

*At the time, the NBA draft had a farcical 10 rounds, with 228 players selected. Carl Lewis, one of the greatest track athletes ever was th 208th pick in the 10th round by the Chicago Bulls. Lewis would never play a game in the NBA.  Rick Carlisle, current head coach of the Dallas Mavericks was selected in the 3rd round by the Boston Celtics. To Carlisle’s credit he made the team and was a reserve on the triumphant Celtics team of ’84.

*The Mikey Sheehy of 80’s basketball (I know only you Gaelic Football fans will get this, thats why it’s a footnote!)

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