Olajuwon says he, Jordan, Drexler could have been Rockets te

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Olajuwon says he, Jordan, Drexler could have been Rockets te

Postby rlee » Wed Jun 27, 2007 5:53 am

Draft deal stranger than '1984'
Olajuwon says he, Jordan, Drexler could have been Rockets teammates
Sam Smith
Chicagosports.com

It's one of the great urban legends in NBA draft annals, a scenario that would have changed league history and maybe the entire Michael Jordan legend -- possibly made it even greater. And subsequent NBA history might be defined more by Houston than Boston, Los Angeles or Chicago.

Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon playing together for their entire careers. How many championships would that have meant?

There are no precise parallels this year, though there are similarities with the franchise center, Greg Oden, the consensus No. 1 pick in Thursday's NBA draft. The best talent might be swingman Kevin Durant, the likely No. 2 pick.

In 1984, the consensus No. 1 pick was Olajuwon, the center on Houston's Phi Slamma Jammers. Jordan was the college player of the year at North Carolina, so he was hardly a secret. But no one imagined the heights to which he would rise.

Even then-Bulls general manager Rod Thorn warned on draft day that Jordan wasn't the kind of player you could rely upon to turn around a franchise. And it was no secret the Bulls were eager to get Olajuwon.

In fact, their manipulation was part of the reason the NBA went to a draft lottery the next year.

Back then, the teams with the poorest records in each conference flipped a coin for the No. 1 draft pick. The Bulls tried desperately to get into that flip, hoping they were due. They were in the coin flip in 1979 and lost: The Lakers got to take Magic Johnson and the Bulls got David Greenwood.

How would a reversal there have changed basketball history? The Bulls had Artis Gilmore, and Johnson had expressed an interest in playing with either Gilmore or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In 1984, the Bulls traded their best player, Reggie Theus, for backup big man Steve Johnson and second-round picks and went on to lose 27 of their last 33 after the trade (they were seven below .500 at the time) to finish 27-55.

The Rockets were every bit as creative. They had Ralph Sampson, No. 1 from the previous draft, but played him sparingly down the stretch and lost nine of their last 10.

The Bulls missed getting the worst record in the East by one game, and Houston got it in the West. With the apparent dumping of games to get a franchise center too obvious, the NBA changed the draft rules.

But now it got interesting.

Houston had the No. 1 pick and Portland was No. 2. The Pacers had the second pick, but had traded the rights in 1981 for center Tom Owens because they'd lost James Edwards as a free agent and needed a center. Portland, meanwhile, was loaded at the shooting-guard position with future Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and All-Star Jim Paxson.

The Blazers were looking to recreate their 1977 championship team with a Bill Walton-type center who could pass.

"Jack (Ramsay, the Trail Blazers' coach) took a lot of heat for that," recalled Bill Fitch, then Houston's coach. "But Sam Bowie ... if you asked (23) teams then, if anyone looked at his need, it was a Sam Bowie. Had Sam stayed healthy, he was a can't-miss. I had Sam later in New Jersey and he was as good a passing center as there was. Had Bowie stayed healthy, Jack had a chance to win championships with that team. He got hurt, Jordan came on.

"What Jack did was right," Fitch insisted. "All of us at the time would have done the same thing."

Thorn said then he wanted Olajuwon, and Jordan was his next choice. Some claimed it was Bowie, which Thorn denies.

But there was the other thing that has been long rumored. It has been something of an NBA fable, and Olajuwon even mentioned it in his autobiography, "Living the Dream."

Olajuwon claimed the Rockets had an offer from Portland -- which wanted the more talented high-post center (Bowie) -- to trade Sampson for the No. 2 draft pick and the chance to draft Jordan. It was the birth of the so-called "Twin Towers" era, and the Rockets did get to the NBA Finals in 1986, losing in six games to Boston. But it was clear Olajuwon was the superior low-post center and he was the sure keeper.

Olajuwon wrote that the deal would have been Sampson for the No. 2 pick and Drexler.

"From 1984 until today (1996), the Rockets could have had a lineup with me, Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan, developing together, playing together, winning together. But the Rockets never made the move."

Ramsay said he never heard of such discussions and that general manager Stu Inman handled trade talks. Inman died recently. Fitch, who lives in Houston and New Mexico and remains one of the great coaches in league history, insists the Rockets were committed to keeping Olajuwon and Sampson.

"We had the makings of a good team, but the drug laws wiped us out," he said. "We lost Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins (in 1986-87) and John Lucas (for the 1986 playoffs). Sampson became a one-legged horse (from injury) and we traded him away. If we could have kept that same group, we'd have had something."

Fitch acknowledges Houston had some thoughts about Jordan.

"I had played against Dean Smith in the service -- we were friends," Fitch said. "He called me and said, 'I'm telling you, Bill, this guy is going to be the greatest.' Dean was that high on him. But we did not have the hindsight to know."

It's an airy dream to contemplate, Jordan and Olajuwon.
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Re: Olajuwon says he, Jordan, Drexler could have been Rocket

Postby Jon Scott » Wed Jun 27, 2007 5:15 pm

sam smith wrote:Thorn said then he wanted Olajuwon, and Jordan was his next choice. Some claimed it was Bowie, which Thorn denies.


Sorry, but I frankly don't believe Thorn in this. If you go back and look at analysis and newspaper archives from the time period, the Bulls were desperate for a center. They were considering trading their pick for someone like Tree Rollins or Jack Sikma, or offering Joe Barry Carroll.

This whole thing by Thorn is revisionist history IMO.

Jon

PS, as a Kentucky fan this whole thing with Sam Bowie has always rubbed me the wrong way, especially since Bowie is one of the nicest human beings anyone would be fortunate to meet (either inside basketball or out).

The thing about Bowie was that he was an extremely versatile and skilled big man. Those who doubt that IMO really never saw him play pre-injury.

Granted some could argue that the fact that he had been injured makes it a bad pick, and there is something to that, but the hope anyway at the time was that Bowie would have recovered enough to return to near his pre-injury play. (and in fact his initial play with the Blazers was promising).

FWIW, I wrote a number of years ago a short web page about this issue.

http://www.bigbluehistory.net/bb/bowie.html

One thing I was disappointed in Filip Bondy's recent book on the 1984 draft was that he didn't even note the details of the Bulls actively trying to land a big man at the time (which suggests that the Bulls likely would have taken Bowie if they had the opportunity, despite what Thorn now claims), even though my webpage has been on-line for nearly a decade (and provides references to the original articles.)

Also, Bondy continually calls the pick of Bowie the 'worst of all time' when in actuality he's not even close to being the worst. Even with Bowie's injuries, he ended up having a much longer and better career than numerous other top draft picks.

The ONLY reason IMO why people come back and now try to claim the Bowie pick was so bad was completely due to the fact that Michael Jordan exploded. Despite what some may claim today, I don't think anybody (expect maybe a few Tar Heel fanatics) ever truly expected Jordan to be as good as he ended up being.

I also agree about the Rockets blowing it, if anyone did. People want to bash Portland but if Houston hadn't fallen in love with the Twin Towers concept, they would have had a dynasty. And yes, there was talk at the time of a Houston trade. Again, all you have to do is go back and read the information at the time.
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Jordan

Postby JAB1234 » Thu Mar 19, 2009 3:28 am

Man, too bad Fitch didn't listen to Dean Smith. Imagine Jordan in Houston and Hakeem in Portland. That would have been double power to stop the evil Lakers.

As for both the #2 pick and Drexler going to Houston for Sampson, that wouldn't have been fair. Maybe just the #2 pick, but not Drexler as well.
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Postby wojoaderge » Thu Mar 19, 2009 4:22 pm

at that time, Steve Johnson was not a backup
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Postby Jon Scott » Thu Mar 19, 2009 5:39 pm

Keith Ellis wrote:Jon Scott's right about Rod Thorn's "revisionism," but those of us who saw Sam Bowie play pre-UK know he had a penchant for launching from long & settling for the high post. Sampson later fell into that trap w/ the Rockets. The "Twin Towers" concept has fully succeeded on just one team -- w/ Tim Duncan & David Robinson acting adultlike as co-Centers. Seven-foot Towers opting to offend outside often wind up damaged goods, it seems. Aside from Turpin/Bowie & Sampson/Olajuwon, Bill Cartwright & Patrick Ewing, when together, suffered serious injury problems that went away after they went separate ways.


Bowie didn't 'settle' for the high post. That was the offense that Joe Hall designed for him at Kentucky. Melvin Turpin played the pivot (and quite well I might add)*. Putting Bowie at the high post was a matchup nightmare for opposing teams as he could pass into Turpin and/or shoot while Turpin manned the middle and Kenny Walker roamed. Prior to UK using Bowie and Turpin in tandem, Bowie did play closer to the basket.

Jon

* and of course when I refer to 'pivot' I mean the modern day usage meaning near the block. Not the olden days where the 'pivot' was the top of the key.
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Re: Olajuwon says he, Jordan, Drexler could have been Rocket

Postby Matthew Maurer » Fri Mar 27, 2009 12:55 pm

Jon Scott wrote:
sam smith wrote:Sorry, but I frankly don't believe Thorn in this. If you go back and look at analysis and newspaper archives from the time period, the Bulls were desperate for a center. They were considering trading their pick for someone like Tree Rollins or Jack Sikma, or offering Joe Barry Carroll.

This whole thing by Thorn is revisionist history IMO.

Jon

PS, as a Kentucky fan this whole thing with Sam Bowie has always rubbed me the wrong way, especially since Bowie is one of the nicest human beings anyone would be fortunate to meet (either inside basketball or out).

The thing about Bowie was that he was an extremely versatile and skilled big man. Those who doubt that IMO really never saw him play pre-injury.

Granted some could argue that the fact that he had been injured makes it a bad pick, and there is something to that, but the hope anyway at the time was that Bowie would have recovered enough to return to near his pre-injury play. (and in fact his initial play with the Blazers was promising).

FWIW, I wrote a number of years ago a short web page about this issue.

http://www.bigbluehistory.net/bb/bowie.html

One thing I was disappointed in Filip Bondy's recent book on the 1984 draft was that he didn't even note the details of the Bulls actively trying to land a big man at the time (which suggests that the Bulls likely would have taken Bowie if they had the opportunity, despite what Thorn now claims), even though my webpage has been on-line for nearly a decade (and provides references to the original articles.)

Also, Bondy continually calls the pick of Bowie the 'worst of all time' when in actuality he's not even close to being the worst. Even with Bowie's injuries, he ended up having a much longer and better career than numerous other top draft picks.

The ONLY reason IMO why people come back and now try to claim the Bowie pick was so bad was completely due to the fact that Michael Jordan exploded. Despite what some may claim today, I don't think anybody (expect maybe a few Tar Heel fanatics) ever truly expected Jordan to be as good as he ended up being.

I also agree about the Rockets blowing it, if anyone did. People want to bash Portland but if Houston hadn't fallen in love with the Twin Towers concept, they would have had a dynasty. And yes, there was talk at the time of a Houston trade. Again, all you have to do is go back and read the information at the time.


Totally agree with you Jon! Thorn had no intention on drafting Jordan if Bowie was still available and thought about trading down to take Mel Turpin. Bowie would have been a great pick if not for the injury and had some solid years in New Jersey. But I agree Jon far from the worst even at his #2 pick and far from the worst ever.
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Postby Jon Scott » Thu Apr 16, 2009 2:15 am

Keith Ellis wrote:Agreed, Jon, yet Bowie even before he played for Joe B liked to launch from long. His heart didn't lie in keeping his back to the basket. When Bowie & Ralph Sampson came out of high school the latter was considered the New Kareem. Too bad Sampson never got a signature shot like the Sky Hook, or that Bowie didn't drive & draw fouls a la David Robinson, who also could play outside for stretches. I still say if Sampson hadn't had Hakeem on his team he would've been less likely to try to be a 7-4 small forward.

I liked Turpin, too, but that 3-for-33 second half vs GeorgeTown told us all we needed to know about the Twin Towers' dogged determination.


Well, I can't let that last comment go unchallenged.

The second half of the UK-Georgetown game will go down as one of the all-time mysteries to me.

What many people seem to forget is that Kentucky had control of the game in the first half. They were leading 29-22 at halftime (after shooting 50% from the field) and Patrick Ewing had struggled against the Twin Towers, picking up 3 fouls in the first half.

One more foul for Ewing early in the 2nd half and Georgetown would have been in a world of hurt. Instead, Ewing doesn't pick up any for the remainder of the game and Kentucky couldn't seem to hit anything, even relatively easy shots.

Here's the boxscore from that game FWIW.

http://www.bigbluehistory.net/bb/statis ... etown.html

BTW, It took me about 15 years before I could stomach watching that game again. Georgetown was good but they weren't THAT good. Kentucky just went into a shooting slump at the worst time of the year to do so (the Final Four).

As far as citing that 2nd half as defining Bowie and Turpin's determination. That's absurd and uncalled for in my opinion.

When I think of Bowie's determination, I don't think of a half of a game where he shot poorly, I think of the numerous times he was severely injured, yet went through long and painful rehabilitation to return to play the game.

Mind you this was during a time when Bowie could have easily quit. Unlike someone like Allen Iverson, Bowie after his first few years in the NBA was set financially. He didn't NEED to come back, yet he felt he owed it to himself, the fans and the Blazer organization to do so. I will never question Bowie's determination.

As for Turpin, that's a different story. He was a very good college player who could have been a reliable pro, but had an eating disorder which never was properly addressed. He literally ate himself out of the league, which was a shame.

Jon
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Postby Jon Scott » Thu Apr 16, 2009 2:58 am

Keith Ellis wrote:Thanks for the boxscore-link, Jon. What a backcourt Big Blue had. Weren't Jim Master & Roger Harden both Mr BasketBalls in Indiana & Illinois? James Blackmon shoulda Mr BasketBalled over Steve Alford in '83.

Bowie ranks right up there w/ Bernard King & Grant Hill (maybe Bill Walton?) for extending careers above & beyond the call of normality. But the Twin Towers were Two, & Turpin is the example I was referring to regarding the pair's collective "dogged determination."

That was some game. As an Akeem fan, I remember thinking Houston would be better off w/ Olajuwon facing Ewing instead of the Towers.

Going Big Ten on you, but remember how Iowa also had a Twin Towers at this time in Payne & Stokes? They didn't get so far.


Yeah, Master and Harden were both Indiana Mr. Basketballs. I thought James Blackmon should have won also, but around that time politics seemed to take precedence more than normal as anyone signing with UK was put down a notch as compared to someone signing with IU or Purdue. (the culmination BTW, was when Shawn Kemp didn't win Mr. Basketball in favor of Woody Austin).

But in hindsight I can't complain too much about it. Alford proved himself at the collegiate level while Blackmon seemed to regress.

I still remember, however, how excited I was watching Blackmon's second game where UK and Indiana faced off on national TV. Alford scored more points as a starter, but Blackmon was the difference, coming off the bench. Joe Hall isolated Blackmon at the top of the key and let him attack, Alford and the rest of the Indiana team couldn't do anything to stop him. I thought Blackmon was destined to be an All-American but it was not to be.

Here's the boxscore for that game.

http://www.bigbluehistory.net/bb/Statis ... diana.html

Also, to your comment about Hakeem in 1984. Kentucky had already beaten Houston earlier that season. (in a made-for-TV game prior to the Super Bowl)

http://www.bigbluehistory.net/bb/Statis ... uston.html

FWIW, I still think that was the last great college basketball season. No season since that time has had so many great teams with so many dominant big men.

Jon
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Postby Mike Goodman » Thu Apr 16, 2009 12:55 pm

Back in 1984, an NBA 'early entry' was a player who skipped his senior year. And so, the league since then got younger and younger players, until they put their foot down a couple of years ago. Otherwise, professional teams would literally be rearing children to be players.

Keith, are you saying players other than bigs get too many of the rebounds these days? Or that big men should do less scoring, passing, etc, so that they can concentrate on rebounding?
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Re: Olajuwon says he, Jordan, Drexler could have been Rocket

Postby JAB1234 » Thu Apr 07, 2011 7:34 pm

Quote "The Bulls tried desperately to get into that flip, hoping they were due. They were in the coin flip in 1979 and lost: The Lakers got to take Magic Johnson and the Bulls got David Greenwood.

How would a reversal there have changed basketball history? The Bulls had Artis Gilmore, and Johnson had expressed an interest in playing with either Gilmore or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar." Quote


Getting off-track here for a minute, this is what I thought about Magic. I heard from other sources that he would have went back to school if the Bulls got the #1 pick that year, but I knew that I had read sources somewhere saying that Magic would play with Gilmore.
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Re: Olajuwon says he, Jordan, Drexler could have been Rocket

Postby Jon Scott » Fri Dec 21, 2012 4:03 am

I dug this thread back up to mention that ESPN tonight showed a very good documentary on Sam Bowie titled "Going Big"

Here's a link:

http://www.ukathletics.com/blog/2012/12/espns-film-on-sam-bowie-going-big-to-debut-thursday.html

There's a lot of good footage, not only from the pros and college but going back to high school including HS All-Star games etc. with many of the top players from that era.

I'm sure you can probably catch it on replay or online.

Jon
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Re: Olajuwon says he, Jordan, Drexler could have been Rocket

Postby tpakrac » Sun Jan 06, 2013 6:09 pm

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nba-ball- ... --nba.html

Sam Bowie reveals that he lied to Portland about feeling leg pain before the infamous 1984 NBA draft

By Kelly Dwyer | Ball Don't Lie – Tue, Dec 11, 2012 4:20 PM EST

The sad tale of Sam Bowie has been told and re-told many times in the 28 years since the Portland Trail Blazers selected him second overall in the 1984 NBA draft, but for the first time in quite a while we've actually been given a new wrinkle to his story. Bowie, who constantly battled foot and leg problems throughout his star-crossed (but not star-making) career, played in only 511 out of a possible 820 games in his 10-year run. He never made an All-Star team, and never was given the chance to follow through on the potential that his long frame, smooth touch, smart instincts and good athleticism created for him.

Now, some 17 years after his last NBA game, Bowie revealed in an ESPN documentary that his NBA career began with the center needlessly keeping quiet about how much pain he was in during the days leading up to Portland's selection of the former Kentucky center. A selection that, famously, came one spot before the Chicago Bulls took Michael Jordan with the third overall pick.

From the documentary "Going Big," which airs Dec. 20 on ESPNU:

"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."


ESPN graciously allowed us a sneak peak at the docu, and though we haven't had time to work through the whole thing, a few significant factors pop up.

For one, Bowie's time in high school in Lebanon, Pa., may have been a peak as a healthy performer, but in watching the big man it's clear even then that he was uneasy at times while dealing with aches and pains, or needed to be taught and trained to work through the game in a way that didn't put undue stress on his legs and feet. Watching video of Bowie from that era is to see all the hallmarks of Sam at his best — all alley-oop dunks and slick passing — but it's uncomfortable at times to watch him work up and down the court.

There's a fractured shin in college that went undiagnosed for months. Then there's the admission that he hid pain from Portland doctors before the draft. And then on draft night, with Houston already having selected Hakeem Olajuwon first overall and Jordan off at Team USA's training camp in preparation for the 1984 Olympics, the Blazers made what was considered the obvious choice. With an All-Star small forward in Jim Paxson already on the roster, and a promising young shooting guard in Clyde Drexler set to take in a minutes increase at shooting guard, they chose Bowie.

And Bowie, speaking in 2012, relayed that even while sitting amongst his draft class on that night, he knew that something was wrong. That, "deep down inside I physically wasn't what these guys were."

His rookie season went swimmingly. Not to the tune of Jordan's 28.2 points per game and Rookie of the Year award, but as part of a more talented Portland collective featuring Drexler, Paxson, Kiki Vandeweghe and Mychal Thompson that shared the ball and won 42 games despite a very young roster. On top of that, Portland ranked seventh in offense and eighth in defensive efficiency that season, and probably should have won more games. The team's Expected Won/Loss Record of 49-33 details as much.

And yet Bowie was in pain, though he pointed out in the documentary that he "never told any of the Portland Trail Blazer personnel that it ever bothered me." By this time, nobody was claiming that Bowie was a better player than Jordan — but especially in that era, taking an All-Star level big man over an All-NBA guard was always the way to go. And, in the cruelest of ironies, it should be reminded that Jordan went out with what was nearly a season and career-ending broken foot just one week into his second campaign. Weeks before Bowie's troubles set in.

When the troubles did set in, they set in to frightening amounts. A broken left leg in his second season, a rare NBA injury, and a broken right leg in his third season — with the second coming on a relatively innocuous play. Bowie revealed in the documentary that he suffered a hairline fracture in his right tibia during his fourth season just while walking around in a pregame shootaround of a preseason game. The years between the spring of 1985 and February of 1989 were lost, and the NBA was a different league by the time Bowie returned.

Somewhat triumphantly, after a trade to New Jersey, Bowie worked as a serviceable center with the Nets from 1989 until 1993, showcasing those all-around skills but also playing with the sort of hesitancy that only three broken legs could create, while dealing with turnover mistakes that most players worked through in their early and mid-20s. Bowie didn't really get to have those early to mid-20s, though. By the time he was dealt to the Lakers in 1993, Jordan had won three championships and retired. By the time Sam retired two years later, Jordan had returned and was on his way to three more.

The new news and upcoming documentary should shift the narrative, if only for a while. The ancient "Bowie over Jordan?" tale has been batted around for too long. Before Jordan, guards alone did not win titles — even Jerry West and Oscar Robertson needed All-NBA centers to join their sides before they could win a title, and the makeup of the NBA for decades rested as a result of that orthodoxy. Portland's Jim Paxson was a 26-year-old two-time All-Star who had averaged over 21 points per game for the two seasons prior to Bowie's arrival. Everyone knew, even after a season that saw him average just 7.7 points per game as rookie, that Clyde Drexler was going to turn into "Clyde Drexler."

Nobody knew that Michael Jordan was going to become "Michael Jordan." This discussion needs to be shelved.

What needs to be discussed is transparency. With the advent of rookie scale contracts, no player should be sloughing off injury issues just to angle for a place in the draft. Nor should they as a professional, with a team full of physicians already there to help. Whether it's potentially the tragic time bomb of a head injury or an initially manageable pain that leads eventually to a career-ending series of stress fractures, everything needs to be discussed.

And, as we've seen with the Golden State Warriors as they deliberately misled their fans with Andrew Bogut's injury, or curious times in Chicago or Washington and even with the Los Angeles Lakers as these teams act mousey and dubiously positive in the wake of injury news, that news needs to get out. The real news. Not the news that teams think the Plebs that fill their stands need to hear.

It can prevent heartache, and it can prevent a career gone sour. All you have to do is respond honestly to the weight of that mallet.
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