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The Man Behind the Biggest Draft Blunder In NBA History

The 1984 NBA Draft SeriesOne of, if not the, biggest drafting blunders in NBA history belongs to the Portland Trailblazers.  They selected the  7’1 Sam Bowie out of Kentucky ahead of Michael Jordan.  Ok, everyone knows that already.  But do you know who exactly was responsible for making that pick?  Or what that person’s criterion was for making such a horrendous error in judgment?

Meet Stu Inman 
In 1984 Stu Inman was director of personnel and was in charge of scouting and drafting for the Portland Trailblazers.  Inman was widely recognized around the league as a basketball genius, a savvy executive with a deep understanding of the game, especially evaluating players.  Other teams would literally track Stu Inman’s scouting activities and use rumors about which players he was interested in to gain confidence in their own personnel decisions.  With such high NBA prestige it’s clear why Portland left the future of the franchise in Inman’s hands.   He was charged with ensuring the #2 pick in the ’84 draft was used to springboard the Trailblazers into long-term championship success.

Having lost the coin flip to Houston, Inman knew Olajuwon, the clear choice for the number one pick, would be going to the Rockets, but there was no clear choice on which player to take at number 2.  Little did he know that, in retrospect, the choice was quite simple, and his decision would go down as arguably the greatest gaffe in NBA history.  Not only that, but Inman’s well-respected career would be tarnished by one draft pick while the impact on the franchise would prove devastating.Stu Inman (left) offers up a little NBA Draft perspective in the war room with assistant coach Jimmy Lynam (middle) and head coach Dr. Jack Ramsay (right).

So how did Stu Inman come to this earth-shattering and eventual pro basketball-changing decision? 

Consider the reasons for choosing Bowie that actually made basketball sense for the Portland franchise in 1984.

  1. Redundancy:  Portland already had very good depth at shooting guard.  Led by Jim Paxson a 6’6 sharp shooter with just enough quickness to create his own shot.  The previous season Paxson played 33.2mpg and averaged 21.3ppg on 51.4% from the field.  In the 1983 draft the Trailblazers selected Clyde Drexler with the 14th pick.  Although Drexler was still a work in progress, he was considered a slashing, high-flying 2-guard from his days playing for the “Phi Slama Jama” basketball fraternity at University of Houston.  From a scouting perspective this was a very similar playing style to that of Jordan.
  2. Unpredictability: Nobody could have forecasted that Michael Jordan would become the famed “Air Jordan” and all the success and dominance that followed that nickname.  Not even his college coach Dean Smith.  Why?  At UNC the offensive system was not conducive to individual showcase of talent.  That is a large reason why Jordan only averaged 17.7ppg & 5rpg in college and only 16.5ppg in 10 NCAA tournament games.  In that sense the “real” Michael Jordan was hidden from Inman’s keen scouting ability.
  3. Due diligence: As part of the evaluation process Sam Bowie was put through a rigorous physical.  The doctors meticulously examined Bowie’s surgically repaired shin fracture that kept him out of two seasons at Kentucky.  He was cleared.  Therefore Inman and the Portland medical staff could not have known Bowie would quickly become the man made of glass.  I am willing to bet Portland’s ownership and fans are praying daily Greg Oden doesn’t suffer the same fate.
  4. 1977 NBA Champions:  Portland’s only NBA championship came in that 1977 season when they were led by “Big Red-Head” Bill Walton.  Inman believed the only way the franchise would reach the promise land again was behind another dominating player in the middle.
  5. Formula for success: Very good-to-great big men win championships.  History has shown this wasn’t just a philosophy but a requirement for winning a championship.  Look at the previous 5 NBA championship team’s big man: 
    • 1983: Moses Malone
    • 1982: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    • 1981: Robert Parish & Kevin McHale
    • 1980: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    • 1979: Jack Sikma (7-time NBA All-Star) 
      Add the Russell/Chamberlain days to that short list of Hall of Fame centers (excluding Sikma) and that is more than enough to cloud anyone’s judgment.

The big question Stu Inman and the rest of his scouting staff couldn’t overcome was, “Where’s [Jordan] going to play?”  It was clear Sam Bowie would anchor the middle on defense for Portland and provide the team with a decent scorer and excellent passer in Jack Ramsay’s intricate offensive system. 

Maybe the deciding factor for choosing Sam Bowie was his performance against Houston and Olajuwon where Bowie grabbed 18 boards and scored 8 points while holding Hakeem to 14 points & 12 rebounds before he fouled out.

Convincing enough argument for you?  No?  Yeah, me either.  But, those realities created a distorted view of Michael Jordan in Inman’s eyes when evaluating him as a player. 

In hindsight the correct move for Inman and the Trailblazers was to sign & trade Jim Paxson and Clyde Drexler for a center rather than pass on the greatest player in the history of the NBA. 

The sad part for the Portland franchise is that the 1984 NBA draft wasn’t the first major miscue on their part.  In 1972, Portland with the #1 pick selected LaRue Martin (who?) ahead of number 2 pick Bob McAdoo and Philadelphia’s own Julius Erving picked 12th! But hey, that’s why there are no geniuses in basketball.

Other 1984 NBA Draft Posts

Inspiration, quotes, excerpts & main source: TIP-OFF: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever by Filip Bondy


33 Responses

  1. […] Pete wrote a fantastic post today on “The Man Behind the Biggest Draft Blunder In NBA History”Here’s ONLY a quick extractOne of, if not the, biggest drafting blunders in NBA history belongs to the Portland Trailblazers. They selected the 7′1 Sam Bowie out of Kentucky ahead of Michael Jordan. Ok, everyone knows that already. But do you know who exactly was … […]

  2. […] post by Pete Bookmark and Share:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and […]

  3. “But hey, that’s why there are no geniuses in basketball.”

    Before he got ALS, Stephen Hawking had a pretty sweet J. No, no he didn’t.

  4. […] The Man Behind the Biggest Draft Blunder in NBA History […]

  5. very true…but its very hard to always be accurate in gauging talent and potential of college players making the transition to the pros.

  6. J – I agree. I think scouting and evaluating basketball talent/potential is a combination of due dilligence, experience which in turn develops a keen eye and maybe most important LUCK. No matter what you do that player still needs to adapt to the pro game and perform.

    And no one can really scout heart. Inman had a great quote, “We did a pretty goodjob with scouting, but we never measured what the inside of a champion looks like.”

  7. I seem to recall them going pretty far with Drexler- around the same time or even a little before Jordan’s bulls started winning. Plus Jordan just wasn’t expected to be that great. The blunder was more drafting Bowie than missing MJ, IMHO.

  8. John C. – I don’t know what you consider “going pretty far” but after the 1983 Drexler draft, in Portland’s first 6 seasons they only won a playoff series in 2 seasons and in both lost in the conference semifinals to the LAL 4-1 each time. They finally got over the hump in ’89-’90 getting to the finals where they lost 4-1 to Detroit. So they got to the finals once before Jordan and the Bulls. I am sure you know what happened after that.

    Regarding the actual draft pick, like the article explains there were legit reasons for choosing Bowie based on history and personnel philosophy in 1984. MJ changed that line of thinking in the draft to “draft the best available player and do what you must to make them fit.” The problem I have with the Bowie pick was that he was in no way shape or form the best or a reliable player. Jordan, Barkely and Perkins were clearly better players with no durability issues. And although no one could predict MJ would be the MJ we know – there were plenty of hints and coaches that suggested he would be VERY good. Whereas Bowie was inconsistent & pretty much unproven given his college career.

  9. Nice post. Most of the younger fans have heard that Bowie was a disaster, but didn’t really get the logic.

  10. Good article… interesting BUT the bottom line is… there was no reason for Inman to pick Micheal Jordan EXCEPT “due diligence” which would have had MJ workout for the Trailblazers as well. So I think your article actually perpetuates the MYTH behind “the biggest blunder in NBA history” by casting a shadow on Inman’s career with your ridiculous headline. I was an M.J. fan while he was in college but NO ONE (“NOT DEAN SMITH”) other than himself knew the hell that would be unleashed once Air Jordan entered the league!

  11. Mr. DJ – I could go through all of Inman’s very savvy personnel decision (like getting Jerome Kersey with the 46th pick in that same ’84 draft) and still not change people’s perception of Stu. But this post does more than anything else I have read on the internet about this draft pick which was give 5 very legit reasons for his decision rather then JUST bashing him. As far as due diligence by bringing MJ in for a workout – there was no need. Why? Because Inman personally watched MJ for 10 straight days at the Team U.S.A. trials playing against the best college basketball players that year all while going through Bobby Knight’s hellish workouts.

    My qualm as stated in my previous comment was Portland drafted an injury-prone, pretty good at best (13.4ppg 8.8rpg) college basketball player ahead of the consensus player of the year JUST to fit a convienent opening on the roster. Granted their decision was guided by historic precedence (win with great bigs) but Bowie was in no way great and at no time considered to progress into an exceptional player. Whereas no one could have predicted what MJ did he WAS the best college basketball player and everyone knew he would be an big time player in the NBA. Allen Iverson would NEVER have been drafted #1 if this draft didn’t change NBA personnel people’s philosophy about the draft. “Take the best available player when you are that high.” It simply minimizes your risk and chances of looking like a fool – even if that perception comes in hindsight.

    Oh and about the Title – I am in marketing and the title served it’s purpose perfectly. Which was get people to read the post all while giving a hint at the subject matter and creating intrigue. Your comment and the others says to me – mission accomplished.

  12. […] abdomen."9th: The Blowtorch. Denim does absolute wonders for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  10th: The Recliner GM. Profiling former Trail Blazer GM, the man who shot Kennedy chose Sam Bowie over Michael […]

  13. I’ll agree with John C. above…

    Looking back at the pecking order, I think the miscue was selecting Bowie over Barkley or Sam Perkins. Barkley had his issues, but he had a great Olympic Trials. ‘Big Smooth’ was not only a great shooter and svelte big man who would have fit well with that team, but also he was a great ‘team’ guy. That’s the bad call.

    Great post…And yes, give Inman credit. He built the Blazers with Ramsey in ’77 and with a healthy Walton, the ’78 team was dominating. To make build a great team, you have to take gambles and make moves.

    If you really want to bang on Inman, don’t talk about the Bowie trade. Talk about Moses Malone trade in ’77.

    Rip City,

  14. […] The Man Behind the Biggest Draft Blunder In NBA History […]

  15. Very fine article on a complex subject. But the supposition misses an obvious point. Does anyone really think, Jordan has his storybook (fairy tale) career if Portland drafts him instead of Bowie?
    Jordan entered the NBA at the perfect time and was drafted into the perfect situation. The NBA changed the defensive rules making it easier for individual performances to the detriment of sound fundamental team basketball. Thanks Stern for nothing.
    Jordan is simply the most overrated basketball player of all time (I won’t say athlete cause he proved he can only play one sport and he could only play with any efficiency on one team in one scheme).
    Had it not been for John Paxson and Steve Kerr, the unheralded heroes of the Bulls, they wouldn’t have won many (if any) of the championships they won.
    For all Jordan’s hype, he led the NBA in one offensive statistic only and that was scoring. I think he may have led the NBA in steals one or two years, but nothing else.
    The overlooked greatest basketball player of all time is and will always be Wilt Chamberlain. No other player has ever led the league in more categories than Wilt. And for those detractors who say it was only because of his height forget that he had one of the softest fade jumpers in basketball early in his career.
    Even Russell, the greatest defender the game has ever known, said if Wilt wanted to he could’ve scored 75 every night if all he wanted to do was hang around the basket .
    Wilt was an all around great athlete. He ran the 440 at Kansas, set an NCAA record in shot put and also high jumped.
    Had he not spent part of his early career with the Globetrotters, Wilt’s stats would have been untouchable.
    Wilt not only averaged more than 50 pts a game one season, he had 30 RPG as well. If that’s not enough to silence his critics he also led the NBA in assists one year. How many times did Jordan do that?
    If the NBA had kept blocked shots stats in those days, Wilt would have been the only player in history to average a triple double for his career.

  16. Doug – I edited your first comment and deleted your correction comment.

    You might be the only person in the world to call and honestly believe Michael Jordan was overrated. Your comment has some valid points as well as completely off-base and frankly ridiculous sentiments regarding MJ and his legacy. No one is disputing Wilt’s greatness at all here or even making a MJ vs. Wilt comparison which begs the question – why the rant about Chamberlain on a post about the 1984 NBA draft and Stu Inman?

    Secondly, there is no point being missed. In order for a “storybook” career to happen the requirements call for perfect circumstances along with exceptional talent. You can make that argument for most of the all-time greats who had tremendous championship success; Magic and Bird just to name two. Do those two have the heralded success and career if not on the two most storied franchises in pro basketball? Yet your only target here is MJ which suggest some sort of personal bias or vendetta. Especially considering how outlandish and extreme your comments are.

    The fact that you are implying because Jordan “tried” baseball at age 30 because his father passed and that dramatically impacted his life and played on one team (for the majority of his career) and in one style of play, he was some how only capable of that, almost makes me want to stop writing this because clearly I am talking to someone who has something against MJ for some reason and at least on the surface a little lack of understanding of the game of basketball or sports in general. You can’t infer from that MJ couldn’t have succeeded in another sport had he tried at a younger age. Or that he couldn’t adapt to another style of play had it come to that.

    To think the Bulls wouldn’t have won as many or at all without John Paxson and Steve Kerr’s place is completely laughable. They were robots essentially, meaning plug any shooter in and you get the same result. You don’t even know Steve Kerr or John Paxson if they didn’t play with MJ and Scottie on that Bulls team. Oh and they aren’t unheralded, they get the praise they deserve. They made uncontested shots when Jordan was doubled or Scottie created. Period, nothing more, nothing less.

    Clearly you don’t know a thing about MJ if you say he did nothing else but score. To correct you, he led the lead in steal 3 times and never finished less than 4th in the league between the 1984 and 1995 season. Oh and he is 2nd all-time in total steals and 3rd in SPG. Defensive player of the year in ’97-’88. Just to finish this unnecessary defense of Michael Jordan – in the last 61 NBA seasons only five times has a guard had more than 3,000 minutes played, 2,500 points, 440 rebounds, 425 assist, 220 steals, and 50 blocks in one season. By now I’m sure you guessed that MJ accounts for all 5 instances. Overrated – ha ha ha.

  17. Wow, this dude Doug is out of his mind. You are clearly a Jordan hater and know absolutely nothing about what your writing. I can’t believe Dannie even wasted his time responding to you.

  18. […] selected LaRue Martin (who?) ahead of number 2 pick Bob McAdoo and Philadelphia’s own … credit : […]

  19. I said that years ago in defense of the Portland TrailBlazers making its selection in the 1984 draft. People forget in addition to drafting Clyde Drexler (its greatest player) the year before, Jim Paxson was Second-Team All-NBA in 1983-84. On top of that, the team just traded for Kiki Vandeweghe that summer.

    Also, the Western Conference was home to Los Angeles’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, San Antonio’s Artis Gilmore, Houston’s Ralph Sampson (and now adding Hakeem Olajuwon), Seattle’s Jack Sikma and Golden State’s Joe Barry Carroll. The Blazers were starting an undersized Mychal Thompson, who was really more like a power forward.

    Another thing to keep in mind: Chicago actually tried to trade the No. 3 overall pick because the Bulls also felt it needed a big man to become competitive. The Bulls offered the pick to Golden State (for Carroll), to Seattle (for Sikma) and tried to engineer a three-way trade with Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers. People like to retroactively act like picking Michael Jordan was a no-brainer, but at that time he was considered to have more of a Jerry Stackhouse-type upside.

    As regretful as it didn’t work out, the issue is more about picking Bowie (a great prospect if you ever saw him play, but one who developed leg problems) than not selecting Jordan. But even then, the Blazers franchise didn’t fall apart — they enjoyed nearly a two-decade run of making the playoffs.

  20. Dannie,

    I saw Sam Bowie play in college, and I have to say you’re wrong on some of your statements about him. Bowie was NOT an inconsistent player, nor was he “pretty good” at best. Bowie was good enough to be selected for the 1980 Olympic team (the one that boycotted Moscow) as a freshman. He was an all-American as a sophomore.

    Arguably, the best comparison to Bowie in terms of skill (for the younger members) would be Tim Duncan. He actually was considered more well rounded than classmate Ralph Sampson, who dominated college basketball while Bowie was injured.

    Bowie was a good scorer with range and could run the floor well, a solid rebounder, a standout shot-blocker and a very good passer for a big man. We all can agree about his injuries (he missed essentially two seasons at Kentucky), but he did play his fifth year as a senior and his left leg was cleared for that season and before the NBA draft.

    Ironically, Bowie started developing problems in his right leg and other parts of his left leg in the NBA. The injury that held him out at Kentucky wasn’t really the problem when he got to the Association.

    Oh, I forgot to mention that Chicago also offered the No. 3 pick in the ’84 draft to Atlanta in exchange for Tree Rollins — but thought the Hawks’ asking price was too high.

  21. […] abdomen.” 9th: The Blowtorch. Denim does absolute wonders for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 10th: The Recliner GM. Profiling former Trail Blazer GM, the man who shot Kennedy chose Sam Bowie over Michael […]

  22. Najee – Great points on a lot of stuff you said. One thing I can’t agree with is this statement. “Jerry Stackhouse type upside” which is equally if not even more ridiculous of a comparison as you are stating my “pretty good” comment about Sam Bowie was. MJ was two-time player of the year and clearly the best player in college basketball at the Olympic trials that year with the exception of maybe Charles Barkley at times during the tryouts. Also, considering Barkley, Joe Dumars, Karl Malone and John Stockton got cut from the Olympic team that year just speaks to the politics involved in player selection. Clearly it wasn’t just about who was the best player. So Sam Bowie getting selected says sure he has a solid rookie season (12.9ppg, 8.1rpg, 2.1bpg 53%FG) but that is not an indicator he was going to be a good or great pro or reason to select him over MJ. His Soph year was great (17.4ppg, 9rpg, 2.8bpg 52%FG) he should have left after that season which in my opinion would have been his peak – the typical he can only go down scenario. He called his mom and proposed that to her and she hung the phone up on him and that ended that going pro conversation at that point.

    The fact that the Bulls attempted to trade the #3 (rights to MJ) pick for good-to-mediocre big men (Tree Rollins is a complete joke) just emphasizes the flaw in thinking by basketball decision makers during that time. Too much weight was placed on size, and it made a lot of ppl overlook/place less value on better smaller players. I also think psychologically it led to overvaluing big men to justify picks or trades, essentially being too optimistic. In that day in age a player like Allen Iverson would never be picked #1 even if he was clearly the superior player of the lot. I have and will also agree that championships are largely won by teams with a “Very very good-to-great” big man. Not just good big men and certainly not big men as marginal as Tree Rollins. Sam Bowie in my opinion doesn’t fall in the great big man category. He was good, and like all college basketball players had his fair share of sub-par performances. But in no way should he have been picked over MJ. Portland should have drafted Jordan the superior talent and used the redundant players (Paxson/Drexler) as trade bait to bring in a quality big man. But that type of thinking rarely entered people’s minds until after the Bowie draft blunder became painfully apparent.

    Obviously player evaluations have a lot of subjectivity to them coupled with the factual stats. But I didn’t think Bowie was considered a dominant center or PF. He was a big with skills that fit well in the right system. For example, a player like Hakeem was much more raw than Bowie, but he still was considered to have much more upside and potential to be a franchise leading center. Whereas in my opinion and the opinion’s of a lot of other analyst, coaches and basketball ppl I have read about on the subject Bowie wasn’t leading any team to a championship rather he would be a nice piece of a championships caliber team. Big difference.

  23. Dannie,

    Are you asking for people to give their perspectives in an objective discussion or is your agenda to hear only what you say and attack others who seemingly don’t agree? Virtually every comment that you see as another perspective than “Portland was stupid not to take Michael Jordan” has been short of a personal attack.

    I’m sorry, but saying Jordan was seen as having a Jerry Stackhouse-type upside is not an insult to Jordan by any means. Stackhouse was also an all-American as a sophomore at North Carolina and has had a good NBA career. Jordan wasn’t perceived as some LeBron James-type, Shaquille O’Neal-type immediate impact player. If Jordan put up Stackhouse-like rookie numbers (19.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.9 rebounds per game) that would have been considered a more than reasonable expectation and a very successful initial campaign.

    I mentioned Chicago tried to trade the No. 3 overall pick to prove a point — no one (not even Chicago) thought Jordan was going to be what he became right off the bat. You’re playing hindsight here, to the point if I wonder if you even have the experience of being alive/following the NBA at that time.

    Another example of your hindsight is this rather ridiculous proposal of trading Jim Paxson and Clyde Drexler for a big man. Paxson was second-team all-NBA and Drexler was a player who was seen as having similar upside as Jordan. Unless it was seen that Jordan was seen as being what he became AT THAT TIME (and it wasn’t), then that’s a trade that would not have made sense. Portland was a veteran 48-win team that had the luxury of having the No. 2 pick.

    Hell, if hindsight was 20/20 Jordan would have been the FIRST pick (it’s not like Houston needed to pick Hakeem Olajuwon, since it already had Ralph Sampson in tow). So why aren’t you hammering Houston for not taking Jordan if it was such a slam dunk? That’s right, hindsight.

    And sorry, but Sam Bowie wasn’t “a marginal big man” by any means. He was a very talented big man who unfortunately suffered a series of leg injuries. A marginal big man would be Darko Milicic, whose ability was questioned coming into the 2003 draft (that is more of an example of a draft blunder, IMO).

  24. P.S. Dannie

    Michael Jordan was NOT a two-time college basketball player of the year (at least, not consensus). Jordan was I believe the Sporting News player of the year in 1982-83 but Ralph Sampson took all the major hardware that season. Jordan was the consensus player of the year in 1983-84.

  25. Najee – #1 why are you being so sensitive. I apologize if you misinterpreted any of my comments as an attack on anything other than your own comments. In my entire response I didn’t say a thing about you personally (I don’t even know you) so where does the personal attack come from, direct or just short of? You said your peace and I responded, therefore open discussion. If I disagree with you that is my perspective and my opinion just as you disagreed and brought your own points to refute my statements. Say what you want, but don’t accuse me of something I didn’t say or do.

    And I quote from the post if you even read it “In hindsight the correct move for Inman and the Trailblazers was to sign & trade Jim Paxson and Clyde Drexler for a center rather than pass on the greatest player in the history of the NBA.” Therefore I acknowledged it was hindsight accurately reiterating the same “ridiculous proposal” made by a major party involved Coach Ramsay.

    And like I said, the Chicago attempts to trade the #3 pick not only suggests that people didn’t expect Jordan to be Jordan, it also serves as evidence of the drafting and player philosophy that teams had back then which in my opinion put a bit too much weight on big men. Tree Rollins at no point in his career was of equal value of a #3, whether you were drafting Jordan, Perkins, Barkley or Stockton.

    Don’t mistake my comments about Bowie being “pretty good” or “marginal” as me believing he was a bad player. Darko, isn’t very good at all and not even worth mentioning in the same conversation as Bowie. My point is he was a good college player for 2 years. After the injury whether he was cleared by doctors or not his risk factors went up. And I am less convinced of his potential to be a great NBA big man than you are. We can simply agree to disagree.

    So basically yes Jordan was player of the year twice like I said. I know the difference and that is why I didn’t included consensus designation in that reply to you, I did in a previous comment above referring only to ’84. But the point still remains, why pass on the consensus best player in college basketball the season before that draft for a player coming off a leg injury – that was at best considered of equal caliber with MJ? No need to answer, I gave 5 good reasons in the post which was the point of it.

    Also, I agree it would be impossible to predict a college player to be considered one of the greatest ever, but I also think around the league and especially in the Bulls camp they believe Jordan would be an impact, franchise changing player immediately. I will pull some quotes that reinforce this thought. I know they passed on a trade from Dallas for All-Star Mark Aguirre (29ppg, 6 boards in ’83-’84) valuing Jordan more than the proven scoring commodity Aguirre. That says a lot to me about the expectations Rob Thorn and the Dallas organization had for Michael Jordan.

    Also, the Bulls wanted no part of Sam Bowie and would have been devastated if Portland snatched Jordan and left Bowie for the Bulls. And I wonder other than Portland, who else was high on Bowie? If Portland doesn’t take Bowie, how far does he drop?

  26. “Also, I agree it would be impossible to predict a college player to be considered one of the greatest ever, but I also think around the league and especially in the Bulls camp they believe Jordan would be an impact, franchise changing player immediately. I will pull some quotes that reinforce this thought. I know they passed on a trade from Dallas for All-Star Mark Aguirre (29ppg, 6 boards in ‘83-’84) valuing Jordan more than the proven scoring commodity Aguirre. ”

    That’s incorrect. Chicago INITIATED the trade talks between the three-way deal involving the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas. In the proposed deal, Chicago would have gotten Terry Cummings and James Donaldson (Mark Aguirre wasn’t even part of the discussion) while Dallas would have given up Rolando Blackman and Jay Vincent to the Clippers. It would have been the Mavs who got the No. 3 overall pick.

    “Also, the Bulls wanted no part of Sam Bowie and would have been devastated if Portland snatched Jordan and left Bowie for the Bulls. And I wonder other than Portland, who else was high on Bowie? If Portland doesn’t take Bowie, how far does he drop?”

    Again, incorrect. Chicago wanted one of the two top big men in the draft, in this case Bowie or Hakeem Olajuwon. The fact the Bulls didn’t get one of the first two picks in the ’84 draft is the reason the Bulls were entertaining offers from the likes of Seattle (Jack Sikma), Golden State (Joe Barry Carroll), Atlanta (Tree Rollins) and the three-way deal with the Clippers.

    Here is an article dealing with the same topic (that also uses quotes from the Chicago Tribune discussing the Bulls’ trade options):


  27. Mavs GM at the time on the deal for Aguirre I mentioned:
    “[Rick] Sund dangled Mark Aguirre, a physical forward in the Barkley mode. Aguirre had finished second in the NBA in scoring race during 1983-84 with a 29.5 point average, leading the Mavericks to their best season ever. He was a proven commodity. Even better, he was from Chicago. Aguirre would have been a homecoming present to the fans, a magnet to fill those empty seats.” “Rod said, ‘That’s more than a fair offer, but I got a special feeling on Michael Jordan.’ “”Sund said. Twenty-some years later, I credit Rod Thorn with foresight, insight…I thought we made a helluva offer. Aguirre packed them in at DePaul, he had that great second year with us, and he would have been very popular in Chicago. But Rod didn’t even waver. He knew.” Source: Tip-Off by Filip Bondy

    #1 I never questioned the deals you proposed to me. Those deals are entirely different proposals then the one I am referring to. Just because you never heard of this deal doesn’t mean it wasn’t something that happened, there has to be hundreds of deals that get proposed during a NBA season that we don’t hear about because we aren’t insiders.

    Rod Thorn after meeting with Mel Turbin and Bowie:
    “Bowie was very sharp, thorn said. Turbin was not quite as sharp.” “Past experience, and a sudden surge of caution, greatly benefited Thorn. Despite the fine impression that Bowie had made, Thorn wanted no part of him because of what happened to the injury-prone Lester….In Thorn’s mind, the choice was really between Jordan and Perkins, and Thorn just wasn’t all that impressed with Perkins.” Source: Tip-Off by Filip Bondy (The other major point of these post was to highlight this book with is fantastic. It is 100% about this draft, the players and parties involved and gives a subjective and factual account by an insider present during the 1984 draft.)

    #2 I never said the Bulls didn’t want a big man. In fact since the day Thorn arrived in Chicago he preached the “big men win championships” mantra from day 1. The two bigs Chi and the rest of the league really cared about where Hakeem and Ewing (who stayed in school) Had Ewing declared who knows how far Bowie would have dropped. Portland had to sell themselves on Bowie once the coin flip didn’t fall in their favor because they were dying for Hakeem, not Bowie. Oh and Portland loved Jordan, but like I already said history and their current situation dictated they take Bowie (again the point of the post was to make that known). The trade talks for Sikma, Carroll and Rollins all support that the fact that Chi wanted a big man. But don’t mistake that as them having a real interest in Bowie, they wanted Hakeem or Ewing. In fact, once the Bulls were set on Jordan Thorn went to Stu Inman to make sure Portland was taking Bowie because if they changed their mind and took Jordan the Bulls had no back-up plan. They didn’t want Bowie or Perkins, and even more so than Jordan, NO ONE could have known what Charles Barkley was getting ready to do in the NBA.

    The fact that these other deals didn’t go down and Thorn ended up keeping the #3 pick supports another line of thinking for me. 1. If these other teams were entertaining and proposing trades to move their centerpiece big men for Jordan what does that say about Jordan’s perceived value? Like I said it’s impossible to predict what he went on to do, but to me that sounds like genuine belief he was an impact, franchise changing player that would help a team win right away. 2. A large reason Thorn didn’t go forward with these trades was because just about the entire NBA, if not the entire league, loved Jordan in this draft and Thorn felt that in the months and weeks leading up to the draft. He thought if people are willing to make these deals and are so high on Jordan he must be the right pick and just strengthened their choice to take him. Oh and this choice to take Jordan was made fairly early, the trade talks came after, obviously nothing developed which suggest no deal was close enough to being done or good enough to make it happen.

    Oh also on your Houston point above. Houston loved Jordan as well. There was a little known rumor in the Texas papers that Houston’s coach Bill Fitch (who talked to Dean Smith at length about MJ and praised Jordan generously in the media) was trying to get Houston to offer Ralph Sampson to Chicago for Jordan. This basically would have created Shaq and Kobe, before Shaq and Kobe. Rod Thorn caught wind of this and would have made that deal without blinking, Sampson was ROY how could he not. Phone calls were never made either way and the deal fizzled away in history, but the deal made more sense than having two 7-footers playing at the same time. Again proof people were obsessed with size back then.

    Interesting article from the Kentucky faithful. We can go at this forever and I really have little interest in doing so. Agree to disagree.

  28. Dannie,

    Point 1: About the Mark Aguirre trade, I assume there is more to that proposal because no reasonable GM would trade a 24-year-old Aguirre straight-up for the No. 3 pick in the draft. Still, it doesn’t negate the fact that Chicago entertained and solicited several offers to trade the pick — and given that Michael Jordan was considered a given choice at No. 3 overall, Chicago also didn’t consider Jordan the slam-dunk pick you want him to be.

    Your Point 2 about the Patrick Ewing angle makes no sense, because he declared he was staying at Georgetown way before the ’84 draft was held. Portland and Chicago knew quite some time in advance where they were going to pick and (in the case of Portland) who they were going to pick.

    Also, if Rod Thorn was so sure about selecting Jordan was the No. 3 overall pick, why entertain offers from several teams for the same pick? Especially if Jordan was expected to be such a huge impact player?

    Point 3: “There was a little known rumor in the Texas papers that Houston’s coach Bill Fitch (who talked to Dean Smith at length about MJ and praised Jordan generously in the media) was trying to get Houston to offer Ralph Sampson to Chicago for Jordan.”

    Again, this doesn’t make one bit of sense. Why would Houston offer to make a trade (Sampson for the rights to Jordan) WHEN THE TEAM COULD HAVE PICKED JORDAN OUTRIGHT with the No. 1 overall pick?!? Let me guess — your hindsight allows you to see that Sampson would develop knee problems that would destroy his career.

    This is what kills your arguments — because you have no appreciation or insight of following the NBA during the 1980s that allowed you to see what was going on as it unfolded, you’re relying purely on hindsight. Sampson was a much more polished product than Hakeem Olajuwon was at that point. If Houston wanted Jordan, it could have drafted Jordan and paired him with Sampson (at that time, Sampson was more polished and considered to have an even higher upside than Olajuwon). Without that appreciation of context, I really cannot see how anyone can make an argument about something with which they have no appreciation.

    Portland drafting Sam Bowie wasn’t seen as a blunder in 1984 and it didn’t become a topic of discussion until some Mike Greenberg-type casual fans started these comments years later. Detroit drafting Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony was a blunder, IMO, because there were questions about Milicic’s playing ability before the draft and immediately afterwards.

    People didn’t blast drafting Bowie then or immediately until the out-of-context casual fans started in. Moreover, it wasn’t anything that came close to wrecking Portland’s franchise (unless you call 19 straight playoff appearances, four Western Conference finals appearances and two NBA Finals appearances since 1984 “wrecking a franchise”).

  29. Again I never said it was a slam dunk, I said MJ was considered to be a player that would immediately help Chi win. There were of course a lot of players in the league at the time that could do the same thing. The simple fact that Thorn “entertained” trade proposals to me sounds like they were just doing their job. It’s the NBA teams bring deals to you all the time, the fact that nothing happened says Chicago didn’t feel they were offered enough value for the pick. That is beside the point right now…

    Najee just read the book. Apparently you are a bit confused about my responses to you. The points I proposed which are in QUOTES come from people either involved or who covered the league at that time. Therefore not hindsight. Some of my interpretation of those thoughts and quotes are hindsight which I acknowledged, but certainly not all or the majority of them. I gave who said the quote and the source to support my arguments therefore it’s something you can check it out. All you have done was given your opinion (i.e. “at that time, Sampson was more polished and considered to have an even higher upside than Olajuwon” whereas I have read a considerable amount from NBA people that refutes the 2nd part of this statement) all you do is fall back on “I was alive at the time.” Sorry that’s not enough credibility for me to just take your word for it without sources. Who are you? You say you followed the NBA – Where you directly involved with the NBA in 1984? Sportswriter? Reporter? NBA scout or executive? The information I provided comes directly from someone “alive” and on the inside of the NBA during that time. The quotes I provided are from executives making the decisions leading up to that draft. I will take their word for it over the casual fan which includes both YOU (I am assuming since you haven’t said otherwise) and I.

    All you have effectively done was claim your points as fact and mine being incorrect when yours have been merely opinion with very little if any support
    (A Kentucky website with an obvious bias). I never claimed my interpretation of the book Tip-Off and quotes provided have been anything but that, my interpretation and opinion. I have also entertained your arguments and agreed with many of them. But, at this point it’s getting a bit tired hearing you claim authority just because you were old enough to follow the NBA as a fan in the 80’s. Maybe if you read the book you will see where I am coming from (or not), but until then let’s not waste either of our time anymore.

    Thank you for all the comments!

  30. […] abdomen."9th: TheBlowtorch. Denim does absolute wonders for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 10th: TheRecliner GM. Profiling former Trail Blazer GM, the man who shot Kennedychose Sam Bowie over Michael […]

  31. First, it’s funny how the same people who claim Jordan was so overwhelmingly the obvious choice don’t claim he should have been picked in front of Olajuwon – clearly that would be ridiculous.

    With the benefit of hindsight, what the TrailBlazers should have done is:

    1 – Pick Barkley, not Jordan
    2 – Get Sabonis to join the team earlier

    That would have been optimal.

  32. […] The Man Behind the Biggest Draft Blunder in NBA History […]

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