1984 NBA Draft

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1984 NBA Draft

Postby rlee » Sun Jun 21, 2009 6:27 pm

A quarter-century later, Jack Ramsay still catches grief for passing over Michael Jordan

by Dave D'Alessandro
Newark Star-Ledger

Once a year or so, during some NBA function that may bring the two together for an excruciating moment, Michael Jordan will immediately be drawn to the magisterial presence of Jack Ramsay and shake the hand of his fellow Hall of Famer.

Then he will use the rest of the time to ridicule Ramsay for a decision that has long since dodged reason's grasp.

"He never misses the opportunity to remind me of that single oversight all those years ago," the legendary Dr. Jack recalled the other day. "And I've said to him, 'Michael, we couldn't draft you -- we had players at your position. Had we known what you would be, we would have taken you and traded for a center.'

"But Michael has a great talent for remembering slights of any kind."

The great coach paused, and let out an exasperated sigh that seemed to last 25 years.

"Ahhh," Ramsay said, "the vagaries of the flip of a coin."

Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the greatest draft in NBA history -- and perhaps its greatest blunder, which was a direct result of that coin flip.

On June 19, 1984, after the Houston Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon with the first selection, Ramsay's Portland Trail Blazers had -- among others -- Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton to choose from.

Instead, the Blazers took a good college center with appalling luck -- the perpetually gimpy Sam Bowie, who in 10 years would score about as many points (5,564) as Jordan scored in his first two full seasons.

Jordan, of course, fell into the hands of Chicago Bulls general manager Rod Thorn with the No. 3 pick, and the rest is history. His Airness, Olajuwon, Barkley and Stockton combined to capture seven MVP awards, 23 first-team All-NBA honors, 47 All-Star Game appearances, 12 visits to the NBA Finals, and the attention of the entire planet.

"You have four of the top 25 players who ever played the game, which makes it a heck of a draft," Thorn said. "There have been other good ones, maybe some with more depth. But for great players, I don't think any other one really compares.

"And we got the best guy, because Portland really needed a center."

Had that coin turned up another way a few weeks earlier in the office of the new NBA commissioner, David Stern, Portland would have chosen first and taken Olajuwon. Houston would have taken Jordan with the No. 2 pick. Thorn's pick, he readily admits, would have been Sam Perkins.

That much is documented by all parties. No one knows where Bowie would have ended up, because with his medical history at the University of Kentucky -- where he missed two seasons -- nobody but Portland GM Stu Inman seemed confident he would stay upright for long.

"He came to Portland and had a complete physical," Ramsay said. "I trusted the doctor, Bob Cook, who was highly respected among orthopedists. So when he said Bowie was physically okay, that cleared the barrier for his selection."

"Jack and Stu already had two great players at Jordan's position," said Houston coach Bill Fitch, referring to the Blazers' Jim Paxson and Clyde Drexler. "They would have had a championship team if they had a center. Anyone would have done the same exact thing."

But that may not have been the entire story.

Another factor was the influence of Bobby Knight, who coached Jordan during Olympic tryouts in those months prior to the draft. The Indiana coach was very close to Inman, who died in 2007.

"Stu and Bobby were best friends, and Stu sat in on all those Olympic meetings," Thorn recalled. "I think because Bobby felt Michael was too selfish, that Portland didn't like him as much as we did."

Ramsay, who says he "didn't do much college scouting in those days," doesn't discount it.

"I remember Bobby talking about Jordan," he said. "And he wasn't demeaning, but in so many words, he'd say things like, 'Yeah, he has to play a team game,' and he would threaten to bench him during scrimmages."

Was Inman influenced by that?

"Well, they were pretty close friends," Ramsay replied.

Fitch, for one, doesn't believe it. "Pete Newell used to say, 'You turn Knight off when it comes to the pro game,' -- and Pete was Bobby's best friend," the former Rockets coach said.

"But look, Dean Smith was the only one who knew what Jordan was going to become. No one knew Jordan would be this good. And if Bowie stayed healthy, he'd have made All-NBA teams. He'd have made Portland a winner. Ramsay would have had another trophy."

Indeed, it did not become apparent until Year 3 that Portland's risk would turn infamous. Jordan himself missed most of his second season with a broken foot. Bowie made the All-Rookie team, and as the league's No. 3 shot-blocker, was one of the league's most promising young big men -- until Nov. 7, 1986, when he elevated for a jumper at Portland Memorial Coliseum and heard a sickening crack. As he looked down to survey the damage, he observed that his right shinbone was all but sticking through the skin.

By then, Jordan was on his way to averaging 37.1 points per game and changing the game forever.

Just 10 months earlier -- midway through the 1985-86 season -- Bowie seemed destined for heartbreak. The left leg, which had forced him to miss two collegiate seasons, had another stress fracture, leading to a second bone graft operation.

From there, Bowie would play only 25 games in the next 3 1/2 years. Remarkably, 20 of those games were during the 1988-89 season, and the Nets figured Bowie's 412 minutes were enough to trade away the greatest player in their NBA history for him.

So on June 24, 1989, Buck Williams was shipped out to Portland for Bowie and the first-round pick that became Mookie Blaylock. Bowie, who did not return calls to contribute to this story, averaged 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds over four years in Jersey -- three under Fitch, one under Chuck Daly -- and stayed relatively healthy after going under the knife five times.

"Sam was always a little bitter, I felt -- he knew what he could have been if he hadn't had the injuries," Fitch said. "I've had four centers who were Hall of Famers" -- Robert Parish, Nate Thurmond, Dave Cowens and Hakeem Olajuwon -- "and Sam was the best passer of any of those guys. If he was with a team like the Lakers right now, he'd be perfect."

"I don't know if Bowie would have been a great player, but he had a good all-around game," Thorn said. "An All-Star? Maybe once or twice. But a great player, I don't think so."

Ramsay, whose title aspirations would be forestalled by Bowie's chronic injuries, was done in Portland by the summer of 1986.

"Sam was a great guy, but not a great center," Ramsay said. "It wasn't like we were getting Bill Walton."

Or Michael Jordan.


Even 25 years later, the 1984 NBA Draft is unmatched for its talent, depth, accomplishment, and star power -- and that's with Sam Bowie being selected second by Portland.

1. Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston, 12, 1
3. Michael Jordan, Chicago, 14, 5
4. Sam Perkins, Dallas, 0, 0
5. Charles Barkley, Philadelphia, 11, 1
7. Alvin Robertson, San Antonio, 4, 0
9. Otis Thorpe, Kansas City, 1, 0
11. Kevin Willis, Atlanta, 1, 0
16. John Stockton, Utah, 10, 0
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Postby Chuck Durante » Mon Jun 22, 2009 1:19 am

Jon Scott's article nicely rebuts this alleged "blunder."


Any draftnik who invested in Microsoft in 1986 is entitled to call the Bowie selection a blunder. Anyone else should read Jon's article.
Chuck Durante
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Sorry about self-promotion

Postby Need To Argue » Mon Jun 22, 2009 10:39 pm

I too have stated many times that Portland did the right thing. I give many reasons in "Need To Argue...", but one big one is that at that point in their careers- Drexler was better. Also Paxson was excellent. They needed a center desperately. All the other talk is revisionist history.

I also give reasons why MJ was not the greatest of all.
Sorry about the self-promote.
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Re: 1984 NBA Draft

Postby JAB1234 » Thu Apr 07, 2011 6:38 pm

I read Bill Simmons' book, and he made an interesting point. He said that what the Blazers really need at the time was a rebounder, not a center. What they should have done was trade people like Calvin Natt and Jim Paxson to the Clippers for Terry Cummings or something like that.
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Reviewing the 1984 NBA Draft

Postby rlee » Thu Oct 11, 2012 3:50 pm

http://www.opposingviews.com/i/sports/s ... ewind-1984

By TheBestBasketballBlog

So we’ve come to the draft that so many basketball fans consider to be the best of all time. 1984, after all, was the year when Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and John Stockton were drafted. These men are now in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and having said that, they will all be exempt from my Draft Rewind’s discussion of “The Best.” Besides, there’s no question about it. In terms of statistics, intangibles, overall impact and championship rings, Michael Jordan wasthe Best of the 1984 Draft. And his fellow Hall of Famers from the class of ’84 have won their share of individual awards through the years.

Also, to give you a spoiler, we’re not considering Sam Bowie as “The Bust”, even if the Blazers selected him right before His Airness. Let’s give the guy a break, no pun intended – he was injury-prone in college and in the pros, but he had several good years as a starting center. Yes, he was a bit of a bust, in my opinion, but there were a few other Top 10 picks in ’84 who had more disappointing careers.

So we shall leave you with the complete Draft list from Basketball Reference…and my choices for The Best, The Bust, The Steal, and more interesting NBA Draft trivia.


THE TOP PICK – Hakeem Olajuwon (HOU, C, 7’0”-230, Houston) – He’s got two NBA rings, numerous All-NBA, All-Defensive Team and All-Star Game appearances and an MVP award from the 1993-94 season. With the exception of DikembeMutombo, there wasn’t a better defensive center than Olajuwon in the ‘90s. And he happened to be a very good scorer too, topping out at 27.8 ppg in ’93-94.

THE BEST NOT TO MAKE THE DREAM TEAM and/or HOF – Kevin Willis (ATL, C/F, 7’0”-220, Michigan St., #11) – Admit it, there were times when you thought this guy would play until he was past 50. Well, he played till he was 44, and for the first 11 years of his career, Willis was one of the NBA’s premier rebounders and inside scorers. As he grew older, he stuck around as a quality role player, which reduced his career averages significantly. Still, he has a slight edge over the other top candidates for this honor, Otis Thorpe (see below for some Draft trivia on Thorpe and the Kansas City Kings) and Sam Perkins, on account of his 22-year NBA career (1984-05, 2006-07). Yes, that’s right – most 2006 and 2007 draftees weren’t born yet when Willis played his first NBA game.

THE BUST – Lancaster Gordon (LAC, SG, 6’3”-185, Louisville, #8) – The Clippers, drafting for the first time as an L.A.-based team, dropped the ball with this one. (Then again, the last quality SG in this draft, Alvin Robertson, was picked at #7 by the Spurs, right before Gordon.) The highlight of Gordon’s four-year NBA career was a 33-point effort off the bench in 1987, in a no-bearing game pitting the hapless Clippers versus the Playoffs-bound Portland Trail Blazers. Gordon averaged 5.2 ppg in those four seasons, a fraction of what a certain Michael Jeffrey Jordan averaged in 15 years.

The late Mel Turpin (WAS, C, 6’11”-280, Kentucky, #6) takes second “honors” here. Weight problems led to a disappointing pro career for the man known as “Dinner Bell Mel” and “The Mealman.”

THE STEAL – Jerome Kersey (POR, F, 6’7”-210, Longwood, #46) – A strong defender who was capable of playing both forward positions, Kersey was selected out of tiny Longwood College in Virginia. He played a key role on some very good Blazers teams, and even if he bounced around a bit (5 teams over his last 6 seasons) late in his career, he deserves recognition as another example of small-college success in the NBA.


Otis Thorpe (#9, Kansas City) was the last first-rounder ever drafted by the Kansas City Kings before they moved to Sacramento. He was also the last Kansas City King to retire, when he ended his NBA career in 2001. In 17 seasons, he averaged 14.0 ppg and 8.2 rpg.
Twin brothers Vern and Victor Fleming were both drafted early in ’84 – Vern at #18 by the New Jersey Nets and Victor at #26 by the Portland Trail Blazers. Vern enjoyed a 12-year NBA career for several teams, while Victor never played in the big leagues.
Gary Plummer – no, not the NFL linebacker – was Golden State’s 2nd round pick at #45. A 6’9” power forward, he played in the 1984-85 NBA season for the Warriors, and only returned to the NBA eight years later, suiting up for Denver in 1992-93. And these weren’t mere cameo appearances on an NBA roster – Plummer played 60 or more games in both his NBA stints.
Ron Anderson (#27, Cleveland) was all of 26 years old when he played his first NBA game in 1984.
Bobby Parks (#58, Atlanta) never played in the NBA, but achieved legendary status as one of the best Americans to play in the Philippine Basketball Association. His son, Bobby Ray Jr., was a Rivals Top 150 high school player who is currently starring for National University in the Philippines.
Current Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was selected in the third round by Boston, and was mainly used by the Celtics as a third-stringer. Obviously, he’s had a lot more success as an NBA head coach.
Legendary Brazilian forward Oscar Schmidt was drafted by the New Jersey Nets 131st overall, in the sixth round. Many still wonder at what he could’ve achieved had he signed with an NBA team.
Ending this trivia section on a sad note, last overall pick Dan Trant (#228, BOS) was one of the victims of the 9/11 tragedy of 2011. He was working as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald when the tragedy struck.
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Re: 1984 NBA Draft

Postby meej » Fri Oct 12, 2012 8:53 pm

I always understood that Lancaster Gordon was nominally a point guard (even though he came from a college team that did not stick to classic positions).

Gary Plummer played in Spain. Málaga, I think.
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