From the very start of the 1985-86 NCAA season, University of Louisville head coach Denny Crum knew that the freshman by the name of Pervis Ellison is exceptional, both on and off the court.
The 6’9” freshman with tremendous wingspan and agility dominated the 1986 NCAA Championship showdown vs. the Duke Blue Devils like no freshman in the rich history of NCAA did before, by delivering 25 points, 11 boards and a series of decisive clutch-time plays down the stretch.
While leading the Louisville Cardinals to their second NCAA Championship ever, Ellison was also voted for the 1986 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
Although he had NBA written all over his game, Ellison opted to stay in school for another three years. He kept Louisville respectable but was never again able to reproduce the 1986 championship success.
In the years preceding the 1989 NBA draft, especially after the 1988 Seoul Olympics, NBA superscout Marty Blake was cautious of Ellison’s overall upside, openly warning NBA teams and claiming that the European big man like Arvydas Sabonis and Vlade Divac not only have the legitimate NBA frame but they are overall more matured as players.
It turned up that Blake was right. Ellison, selected as the #1 overall pick by the Sacramento Kings in the 1989 NBA draft, had a subpar rookie season highlighted by the ‘bricks,’ turnovers, and missed dunks.
On the other hand, Divac, who was selected as the #26 pick overall by the Lakers, had played fewer minutes and had achieved almost similar numbers like Ellison.
While appearing in only 34 games during his rookie campaign with the Sacramento Kings Ellison averaged 8.0ppg on 44.0% shooting, 5.8rpg, 1.9apg, and 1.7bpg in 25.5 minutes per game.
Ellison’s rookie campaign with the Kings was so much so plagued by injuries that he had missed a total of 48 games, and his teammate Danny Ainge had even nicknamed him Out of Service Pervis.
At the same time 361 miles down south on the California map, in Los Angeles, Divac appeared in all 82 games, averaging 8.5ppg on 49.9% shooting, 6.2rpg, 0.9apg, and 1.4bpg in 19.6 minutes per outing.
It was another famous Louisville Cardinal, Washington Bullets, and head coach at the time Wes Unseld, who still saw the raw potential in the player with the tremendous wingspan and took his chances.
In the nation capitol, the 6’10” center who moved, and at times played like a guard, got a fresh start.
The Kings incumbent blended in well in the rotation, and eventually the starting five of the early 1990s Bullets, the team is known for the masterful performances of it’s prolific forward – Bernard King.
With King sidelined for the 1991-92 season, the Bullets new point guard All-Star Michael Adams, got explicit orders from Unseld on the sidelines to look more in the direction of Ellison.
That year Ellison thrived and shined at the center position, averaging 20.0 ppg, 11.2rpg, and 2.7 bpg.
Being able to match-up with some of the biggest big man names in the business and prove his worth Ellison also caught the fans attention and finished third in the 1992 NBA All-Star vote for Eastern Conference All-Star team, getting the total of 275,743 votes and finishing 3rd among EC centers.
With the ball in his hands more often, Ellison became more confident and played his best season as a pro. For his most memorable season, he has voted the NBA Most Improved Player for the 1991-92 season.
But during the upcoming seasons, problems with knee injuries continued to bother him. Eventually, Unseld’s fascination with the big man from his alma mater gradually took a downfall towards the end of the 1993-94 season, when both Ellison and Unseld parted their ways with the Washington Bullets.
Ellison then brought his game, and injuries, northwards, to Boston. There, Ellison continued his NBA journey as a relatively serviceable center for the Celtics from 1994-95 until 1999-2000 season.
But, after numerous knee injuries over the decade, during his last four seasons with the Cs (1996-2000), he compiled the unbelievably low total of only 69 appearances out of possible 246!
Goes to show, certain years the no.1 pick is far from a sure thing.