There have been many good NBA draft generations, but to this day the 1984 Draft is considered the most legendary of all time. That draft not only produced “The GOAT”, five Hall of Famer and seven later All-Stars. 1984 draft was above all rich in incredible stories, wrong decisions, and crazy turns. We turn back time and jump to the day of the historic Draft.
Marty Blake looked resolutely into the camera. “This draft is extremely well-staffed, it’s not often that six potential superstars take part,” the then-draft guru and sheer omnipotent superscout explained to the largely unsuspecting or disinterested television audience, as the afternoon of June 19, 1984, the TV broadcast of the NBA draft started. However, this fact did not mean that there was much interest in the event. In the NBA in 1984, the draft was a nondescript event. “We had to pay USA Network for the draft to be televised, so it was so hard to attract viewers at the time,” explained David Stern some years ago.
When the newly-elected Commissioner left the stage in New York City after his first draft, he would have guessed that this evening had probably influenced the history and structure of the National Basketball Association more than any other event in the history of the league. With Hakeem (then Akeem) Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton, the draft had not only paved the way for four future members of the Basketball Hall of Fame but also discovered the faces that the NBA had in the course of Stern’s globalization processes all over the world.
Already way ahead of this draft afternoon, it was clear who will be sent directly to Texas in the first place. The Nigerian Akeem “The Dream” Olajuwon held his first basketball in his hand at the age of 16, but a few years later the 213-centimeter-tall African already took half of the NCAA apart. The center unites size and defense with huge potential and unprecedented footwork. In short: Olajuwon was the absolute dream of every scout.
Surprisingly, Houston had the first pick. Fact that Olajuwon was named first was about as surprising as a jumper hit by Larry Bird. As soon as Houston won the coin toss, the present Rockets broadcaster Jim Foley opened his jacket and presented a T-shirt with the inscription “Akeem”. Owner Charles Thomas had already confirmed shortly afterward: “Yes, Akeem will be our pick”. The center brought everything to dominate the NBA in the coming years. Now, the Rockets draw consequently the local hero, who already shone for the Houston University. Stern does not seem to be surprised when he distributes his first handshake to the Nigerian.
But much more interesting was what’s going on behind the scenes at this time. The Rockets had already pulled in the year before with the first pick center Ralph Sampson, who immediately conjured a strong rookie season on the floor. Both the Draft following Blazers and the Bulls were keen on Sampson. The Rockets were about to hand over the Rookie of the Year to Portland at this time, in exchange for the second pick and a certain Clyde Drexler from the Blazers. The trade failed at the last second and the Rockets missed the chance to have a trio of Olajuwon, Drexler, and Jordan. Because one thing would be certain: Houston would have drawn Jordan second. So everything took its course. Portland was faced with the decision between shooting guard Michael Jordan, the College Player of the Year, who led the UNC Tar Heels to the NCAA Championship in 1982 and Center Sam Bowie, who had potential but had to suspend a full two seasons at college because of the foot injury.
Despite all the signs, the Trail Blazers wanted to draft a center. And so the visibly nervous new NBA boss Stern, who smoothly forgot to pronounce the team name of the franchise from Portland, sounds the name, Sam Bowie. In the NBA of the 80s, “Never take a flea if you can take a giant”. That means: When in doubt, always take the big boys. But what about Bowie’s vulnerability? The Big Man immediately explains in an interview on stage: “I’ve been to Portland and they have given me a seven-hour medical test, they have not left anything out and I’ve been 100 percent successful.”
While Bowie was still booed by the audience and the commentators were reluctant to speak of a “calculable risk and a player with stamina,” Jordan’s selection was inflicted with the pure enthusiasm. The audience cheered, the commentators in New York were talking about a “great player and the legitimate successor of Julius Erving.” The Chicago Bulls were about to have a bright future with Jordan in its roster.
Jordan himself was not present. He’s staying with Team USA at the training camp in Bloomington and had previously said he would not stop training just to attend the draft. When the fifth pick was called, there was some unrest by the audience. Philly got a small, stocky power forward with the heart of a bull: Charles Barkley. His most famous quote from college was: “I do not eat so much, but all the time.” An overweight power forward not even two meters tall? Barkley seemed to be an even riskier move than Bowie in second place. After all, the 76ers were well-positioned even without the Big Man, which was not that big.
Utah chose John Stockton at 16th place. There was silence for some time followed by mumbling. Neither the local audience nor the commentators on the microphone had any information about this totally surprising pick. Stockton was not even present in New York, he was watching the broadcast in front of his own TV instead. Nobody could get a picture of him, some were saying that Utah has wasted their own pick. Stockton himself had to laugh a little at home. “The best thing about this draft was watching the unsuspecting commentators go through their notes to find out anything about me,” said Stockton, who will later become the all-time leader in the assists and steals. Shortly thereafter, the first round was over and the television broadcast was terminated.
There were also some interesting facts about the 1984 NBA draft. With the 131st pick, the Nets secured the rights to the Brazilian Oscar Schmidt, who was already 26 years old at the time of the draft and had 24.1 points on average at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Schmidt was allowed to play in the Nets jersey, he also received a contract offer, which he refused, however, so that he could continue to play for Brazil’s national team. The Bulls also secured the rights to Carl Lewis at the 208th place, one of the greatest athletes of all time. Of course, the multiple Olympic champions never played an NBA game.