Possibly the most significant sliding doors moment in NBA history happened on April 19, 1979, was determined with a coin flip. The no.1 pick in the draft used to be determined between the worst team of each conference. The Bulls had conducted a fan poll asking heads or tails. Heads won by an extensive margin. Tails would’ve brought Magic to Chicago.
Injuries and a coaching change in ’78/’79 caused the Bulls to collapse to a 31-51 record, dead last in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers had Kareem on their team, but were struggling and ended that season as the 5th team in the West. However, the Lakers had the New Orleans Jazz draft pick, so they ended up in the coin flip. As it turns out, being a gentleman pays out.
“Bill Sharman and I were on the call with the league. He was representing the Lakers at the time. The people in New York were asking us who wanted to call it. I immediately said we had this fan vote and, ‘Bill. if it’s OK with you, let me call it.‘ Bill said fine. So I called it heads. It came out tails.”Rod Thorn, via NBA.com
The Bulls drafted power forward David Greenwood from UCLA, who had a solid NBA career, but nowhere near Magic Johnson. This coin flip was crucial for the Lakers as well – Kareem was growing frustrated with the team and even hinted at retirement. Playing with Magic changed his mind.
Magic, who wasn’t thrilled with going to LA. Chicago was much closer to Lansing, Michigan, and had a competitive team. Johnson was determined to play as close to home as possible. After the draft, he went to dr. Buss to tell him he has no intention to stay in LA long-term and that he will sign with the Pistons as soon as possible.
If the Bulls had called tails, they would have had Magic Johnson, Artis Gilmore, and Reggie Theus with Jerry Sloan as the head coach. That would’ve been an instant contender in the East, and Magic vs. Bird would’ve been even more intense with more games played between the teams. But, we now know that Chicago most likely wouldn’t get to make the 3rd pick in the 1984 Draft.
It seems absurd to say you were lucky not to win the coin flip that would bring Magic to Chicago. Michael Jeffrey Jordan makes that coin flip loss the best one in Chicago history.