With the benefit of hindsight, we could assume that the Chicago Bulls front office didn't rattle their brains before picking Michael Jordan as their third selection in the 1984 NBA Draft. That athleticism, explosive first step, and ability to hang in the air should be enough to consider the front office that, yes, Jordan is the next big thing. But the reality is, the Bulls were initially at odds in picking the North Carolina standout. They weren't head over heels over Jordan's basketball talents.
"He was kind of thin"
According to the then-Bulls general manager Rod Thorn, the team wasn't too keen on picking Jordan right then and there. Jordan's seemingly lanky stature was seen as a liability. Also, Thorn and his crew weren't convinced of Jordan's shooting ability.
"Back then, the knock on Michael was that he couldn't shoot the ball," Thorn recalled. "For a long time, that first season, he just drove the ball to the basket and he didn't need a shot. But Michael was so smart, he learned from taking some mighty licks. So he said, 'I gotta get a jump shot,' and he got one. But when we looked at him for the draft, he was 195 pounds and 6-6, so he was kind of thin. So the biggest thing about him was, can he make a shot? We wondered what kind of shooter he'd be," Thorn said, per the NY Daily News.
Thorn also shared their headspace coming into the draft. Hakeem Olajuwon was the consensus no. 1 pick then. So he knew there was zero chance they would snag the Nigerian stalwart. If the Portland Trail Blazers had taken Jordan, then Thorn shared they would've taken Sam Perkins over Charles Barkley.
From the looks of it, the Bulls were inches away from being the laughing stock of the 1984 NBA Draft alongside the Portland Trail Blazers. Imagine passing up on Jordan and Barkley — two of the best players in basketball history.
But the benefit of the doubt should still be given to Thorn and the Bulls. Let's note that they were from a different era. Back then, snagging the best big man was the right move. Guards weren't much of a priority. As a matter of fact, Jordan was the only guard at the top of the 1984 Draft Class.
Apart from this, NBA teams didn't have the benefit of looking closely at the prospects. All Thorn had was a connection to the legendary Dean Smith — Jordan's head coach in North Carolina. Thorn's concerns over Jordan's lack of a reliable stroke slowly subsided after Smith's assurance, as well as his regular trips to watch Jordan's college tapes.
"Back then, you didn't work guys out," he said. "We never worked Michael out. But I was very good friends with Dean, and every year, I'd go down to North Carolina for two or three days and he would let me watch tapes of all the ACC players. That's how I scouted the entire league. Dean thought Michael would be a really good pro - a better pro player than a college player," Thorn said.
Thorn's story makes one think of the secret formula to getting the most out of your draft campaign. Sticking out your ear to the zeitgeist certainly plays an element. Doing your research and heeding the expert's advice also helps. And just like most things in life, luck also plays a key role.