From today’s point of view, it is clear to everyone that the pick Michael Jordan would have to take was the jackpot, just because he ultimately turned out to be the best player of all time. But even before the 1984 NBA draft, there were enough reasons to prefer him and not Sam Bowie.
First was the injury history of Bowie. He had to miss two college seasons because of recurring tibial problems and a stress fracture. He was also two years older than Jordan. So the Blazers took a risk, even though they had already lost their franchise center Bill Walton five years ago for similar reasons.
On his return, Bowie also had not shone at college, with 10.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in his final season, he put worse numbers than Mychal Thompson (16 and nine), the starting center of the Blazers the year before. The argument that Portland needed a center at the time did not work either.
In the NBA of the 80s, there was a saying: “Never take a flea if you can take a giant.” Means: When in doubt, always take the “big boys.” But what about Bowie’s injury vulnerability? The Big Man immediately explained in an interview on stage: “I’ve been to Portland, and they’ve given me a seven-hour medical check, they did not leave anything out and I was 100 percent successful.”
What happens if Portland decided to draft MJ? With Fat Lever, Jim Paxson, Thompson, and Clyde Drexler, they were already high-caliber team (after all, it was enough for the playoffs). Drexler, however, played the same position as Jordan.
How many titles would Jordan get if he did not spend the first few years of his career with an average Bulls team? How many epic playoff battles between Magic Johnson’s Lakers, Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets and Michael Jordan’s Blazers would be there in the ’80s and’ 90s?
Impossible to answer, of course, most of the history of the 80s and 90s would have to be rewritten. And there is an “eternal” question, what if the Blazers drafted basketball-obsessed Jordan, instead of the injury-plagued center, Sam Bowie?