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How Sam Bowie tricked the Portland Trail Blazers to draft him ahead of Michael Jordan

Sam Bowie revealed he lied about his injury so the Portland Trail Blazers would draft him. It robbed the fans and the city a chance to draft a generational talent in Michael Jordan.
Kentucky Wildcats center Sam Bowie and North Carolina Tar Heels guard Michael Jordan

Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan

Sam Bowie played wonderfully during his third year in college, but his performance started to dip after suffering from shin and leg injuries. Instead of telling the truth about his health status, Bowie tricked the Portland Trail Blazers into drafting him over Michael Jordan.

“Deep inside, it was hurting”

The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Kentucky center Sam Bowie 2nd overall in the 1984 NBA Draft. It was a head-scratching move, given the next name to be drafted was Michael Jordan, who became one of the most dominant and successful basketball players of all time. So why did the Trail Blazers choose Bowie? After over 30 years, Sam decided to come out and admitted he tricked the medical staff into giving him the health clearance.

“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.”

Sam Bowie, Yahoo Sports

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Bowie did what was right for him during that time. If he revealed it was hurting him, there was a chance he wouldn’t have gotten drafted at all. His loved ones’ future was at stake, and if it meant lying about his injuries just to secure their future, then no one could blame him for it.

In his rookie year, Sam averaged 10 points per game, and it was disappointing, to say the least. He recorded his career high in points in the 1986-87 season with 16 points per game, but his momentum was stalled after sitting out the following season due to a leg injury. Meanwhile, MJ averaged 26.5 points during his rookie year and was named an All-Star. Jordan then became a legend and considered basketball’s GOAT.

Trail Blazers were duped

While the lie served Bowie good, the city of Portland and its fans were robbed of getting a once-in-a-lifetime player in Jordan. But, even if Sam revealed his health concerns then, was there a chance Portland would select MJ?

The Blazers already had a shooting guard in Clyde Drexler, who played all 82 games during his rookie year in 1983. Since they needed a big man then, they would have still selected a big man even if they didn’t draft Bowie.

Having Drexler and Jordan on the same team would create imbalance, but it was a nice fantasy for any front office. On the other hand, Sam Bowie is still ridiculed and used as an example of what to avoid in drafting talents. It’s unfair for him to be the poster boy of players ending up as busts because had he been healthy, we would be having a different conversation about him and MJ today.

But sometimes, in life, there are intended consequences for the decisions we make. For Bowie, he decided to secure his family’s future. His lies ended up costing Portland a few championships, and he will be remembered on the wrong side of history, but at the end of the day, he decided what many of us would have done, given the circumstances. 

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