In hindsight, it might be easier to rationalize Portland’s selection of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft by imagining the Chicago Bulls carrying out some CIA-style operation to kidnap Stu Inman, Portland’s GM at the time, and then locking him in a windowless, pitch-black room in which the only sound came from an overhead speaker that repeatedly played David Bowie’s masterful concept album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” so that after a week of hearing nothing but Starman and Suffragette City, Inman would be a disoriented, shuffling mess capable of only muttering just one name over and over again: “Bowie…Bowie…Bowie...”
While it is far more amusing to envision such an absurd scenario, it’s important to remember that even the Bulls weren’t exactly sold on Jordan -- they felt that a center was a more pressing need -- and were actually hard at work trying to trade away their pick in order to acquire Seattle’s Jack Sikma. In looking back at the 1984 NBA Draft, it’s only natural that the first thought to immediately come to mind is the mindboggling rationale that must have spurred the Portland Trail Blazers to pass on Jordan -- a once-in-a-lifetime player -- for the right to take Bowie, an injury plagued seven-footer out of the University of Kentucky.
The simple truth, however, is that the NBA was just a different league at the time, with most executives --including Inman -- believing that a dominant big man was necessary to compete for titles. After all, every team that had won the title up to that point in the 1980s included a gifted center to roam the paint: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1980 and 1982 with the Lakers), Robert Parish (1981 with the Celtics) and Moses Malone (1983 with the Sixers). Big men were simply viewed as being more valuable than perimeter players and this is why the Bulls actually explored a trade for Sikma, an All-Star center who had won a title with the Sonics in 1979, and it’s the same reason why the Blazers weren’t totally insane for evaluating Bowie the way they did.
In a redraft, the ripple effects of the countless "What if?" scenarios are always fascinating. If Portland -- home to three centers whose seemingly limitless potential was left largely untapped due to chronic injuries -- had taken Olajuwon in the 1984 Draft (assuming Jordan goes first to the Rockets), could he have also suffered a fate similar to that of Bowie, Bill Walton and Greg Oden? Could it be that Portland’s atmosphere contains a pollutant that drastically reduces bone density to avian levels but only affects seven footers and therefore has gone largely unnoticed by longtime residents? It’s highly unlikely, but it is pondering these sorts of scenarios that makes redrafting the 1984 draft class such an entertaining hypothetical exercise.
It’s certainly jarring to imagine Jordan soaring from the foul line in a Rockets uniform or Olajuwon perfecting his “Dream Shake” while wearing a Trail Blazers jersey, but the potential effect of a redraft for other players might be far more significant than just a change in laundry. For John Stockton and Charles Barkley, a redraft might mean a better shot at a title and a chance to avoid the stigma associated with being labeled as the “greatest players to never win an NBA championship.”
With a ring on his finger, it might also mean that Barkley’s co-hosts on Inside the NBA would have slightly less material for mocking Sir Charles during broadcasts. Of course, there are more than enough off-the-cuff fat jokes that Kenny, Ernie and Shaq (who is increasingly on the receiving end of these girth-related insults as well) will never be truly lacking in material for ridicule. Without being drawn further into the increasingly absurd possibilities and hypothetical scenarios, let’s get on with re-picking the 1984 NBA Draft, easily one of the greatest classes ever and one that included some of the game’s most celebrated players.
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20 Houston Rockets – Michael Jordan
Original Selection: Hakeem Olajuwon
In how many drafts would a team that wound up with Olajuwon -- an all-time great who led the Rockets to two NBA championships, won three MVP Awards (two Finals MVPs and an NBA MVP), two Defensive Player of the Year Awards and was a 12-time All-NBA selection during an era of dominant centers -- actually take someone else and not be totally bonkers for doing so? It's not often that a draft produces even one player of Olajuwon’s caliber, but 1984 was a very different draft class, and Michael Jordan was a very different player.
So, Jordan goes to Houston in a selection surprising to no one, pairing with a still-healthy and productive Ralph Sampson during his first few seasons in the league and making Houston an immediate contender with an unstoppable inside-out tandem in Jordan and Sampson. Instead of having to wait for reinforcements like Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson as he did with Chicago, Jordan immediately elevates an already-solid Rockets roster coached by Bill Fitch, a two-time Coach of the Year who led the Celtics to the 1981 championship.
Is it possible that Jordan’s magnificent career could have actually been better had the Rockets taken him first in 1984? Would Phil Jackson head to Houston after Fitch departed in 1988 instead of staying in Chicago, and, if not, would the triangle offense still be in use today without Jordan as its central figure? The possibilities are endless, and even though it is hard to imagine that Jordan’s accomplishments could have been even more impressive, it is still entirely plausible that this may have been the case, particularly since the Rockets would have given him an early-career jumpstart on his NBA dominance.
19 Portland Trail Blazers – Hakeem Olajuwon
Original Selection: Sam Bowie
The Blazers still miss out on Jordan in this redraft, but they finally get the dominant center they so desperately coveted that they made the decision to pass on Jordan the first time around. In Olajuwon, the Blazers get one of the best two-way centers to ever play in the NBA and pair him with an excellent wing in Clyde Drexler, the two-guard that factored heavily in Portland’s decision to focus on a center in the 1984 NBA Draft. Olajuwon turned out to be everything Portland hoped Bowie would be, finally giving Portland a reliable (and healthy) center who altered the game with both his offense and his defense.
Incidentally, the Drexler-Olajuwon pairing won the second of Houston’s back-to-back NBA championships in 1995, but Drexler was already approaching the backside of his career when he joined Houston that season and the tandem would have been far more devastating with both players in their respective primes. With Jordan in Houston in this hypothetical NBA universe, the Western Conference would have been absolutely fascinating. Not only would the Showtime-era Lakers factor heavily in the West, but the playoffs could potentially feature a Houston-Portland matchup in which Sampson and Olajuwon face off in the middle while Jordan and Drexler go at it on the wing.
18 Chicago Bulls – Charles Barkley
Original Selection: Michael Jordan
The Bulls, on the advice of their advanced analytics department, seriously considered taking John Stockton over Barkley with the third pick in this redraft. The rationale the analytics department rep used to advise the front office was as follows:
Stockton produced more Win Shares than Barkley over his 19-year career (Stockton totaled 207.7 Win Shares to Barkley’s 177.2), and Stockton’s offensive rating per 100 possessions was actually better than Barkley’s (121 to 119). The all-time leader in assists and steals also had a defensive rating close enough to Barkley's (Barkley: 105; Stockton 104) that longevity and consistency made Stockton the more logical choice.
Just as Phil Jackson, not even an assistant with the Bulls in 1984 but knowing that he would eventually take over and install an offense that did not necessarily require a point guard of Stockton’s caliber to excel, was about to argue for Barkley, the door to the draft room was kicked off its hinges by an irate Barkley, leading to the following exchange:
Barkley: “You statheads are so absolutely terrible. You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Stockton? Gimme a break! Who’s he going to pass to? Is he gonna run pick-and-rolls with Sidney Green? Dave Corzine? I like them guys, but last I checked you don’t have Karl Malone on your roster.”
Analytics Rep: “Well, Charles, you see…”
Barkley: “Who’s the awful fool who told you to call me by my first name? You and your stupid numbers, making up stats to prove any idiotic opinion just for the sake of bein’ a contrarian. I got an analytic for you to use in making your choice. It’s 10.”
Analytics Rep: “10? 10 what? Charles, um, Mr. Barkley, what does 10 have to do with our draft pick?”
Barkley: “10’s the number of basketballs I’m gonna stuff down your throat if you pick Stockton over me. And it’ll be 11 if you call me Charles again!”
Barkley leaves, but not before grabbing two of the pizza boxes left on a table by the frame where the door used to be. After a brief silence, a smirking Phil Jackson says, “So, how about this Barkley guy? I think he’ll fit right in here in Chicago and in the triangle. I've heard he's something of a character too.”
17 Dallas Mavericks – John Stockton
Original Selection: Sam Perkins
Perhaps lost in the shuffle of the “Bowie over Jordan” conversation is the fact that the Mavs passed on Charles Barkley to take Perkins, a solid and talented player in his own right, but also one that was never near the level of Barkley. In this redraft, however, Barkley is already off to Chicago and Stockton is the best player remaining on the board. It’s a no-brainer for the Mavs to take Stockton, one of the greatest point guards to ever play in the game, and it is his constant presence that helps Dallas avoid the massive drop-off in performance that saw them go from a consistent playoff team in the 1980s to one of the worst teams in the league throughout the 1990s.
16 Philadelphia 76ers – Sam Perkins
Original Selection: Charles Barkley
No team is more adversely affected in this redraft than the 76ers, who have the fifth pick in a draft featuring four future Hall of Famers (Note: the 1984 NBA Draft actually had five future Hall of Famers if you include Oscar Schmidt, an international great who never played in the NBA but was drafted in the sixth round in 1984) who can at least make a strong case as the best to ever play at their respective positions.
With Jordan, Olajuwon, Barkley and Stockton all off the board, the 76ers take Big Smooth, a versatile and somewhat underrated big man who played for three different teams that made the NBA Finals (Lakers in 1991, Sonics in 1996 and Pacers in 2000). While certainly not on the level of Barkley, Perkins is actually a solid fit for a 76ers roster built for immediate contention, meshing well with Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney and Maurice Cheeks.
15 Washington Bullets – Alvin Robertson
Original Selection: Melvin Turpin
In the original draft, the Bullets picked Turpin, a center out of the University of Kentucky who came to be known as "Dinner Bell Mel" due to his frequent weight issues, and immediately sent him to Cleveland in a three-team deal that yielded Cliff Robinson and Gus Williams. In this redraft, we'll assume the Bullets instead hang on to their pick to take Robertson, a four-time All-Star and an excellent perimeter defender who was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1986. Back trouble cut Robertson’s career short, but the stretch of seven highly productive seasons from 1985-86 to 1991-92 makes him more than worthy of the sixth pick.
14 San Antonio Spurs – Otis Thorpe
Original Selection: Alvin Robertson
The Spurs originally went with a defensive-minded guard by selecting Robertson, but with two very solid big men on the board in Otis Thorpe and Kevin Willis, the Spurs take Thorpe, a 6-9 big man who was named to the 1992 NBA All-Star Game. During a 17-year NBA career, Thorpe totaled 17,600 points and played a key role for the Houston Rockets team that won the 1994 NBA Finals.
13 Los Angeles Clippers – Kevin Willis
Original Selection: Lancaster Gordon
In their very first draft as the Los Angeles Clippers after leaving San Diego, the team made a selection that would foreshadow their unparalleled draft ineptitude by selecting Lancaster Gordon, by all accounts a bust who was out of the NBA after averaging 5.6 points and 1.5 assists per game for the Clippers in just over three seasons.
By taking Willis, the Clippers land the last All-Star available in this loaded draft and benefit for years from an ageless wonder who somehow managed to appear in five games for the Mavericks at the tender age of 44. Over a career lasting more than 20 years, Willis was one of the league’s most consistent big men, racking up 17,253 points, 11,901 rebounds and winning a title with the Spurs in 2003.
12 Kansas City Kings – Jerome Kersey
Original Selection: Otis Thorpe
The Kings did well by snagging Thorpe with the ninth pick back in 1984, but they are still able to land an excellent perimeter player by taking Kersey, a key cog alongside Clyde Drexler in Portland’s run to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. A 6-7 small forward who eventually won a title as a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, Kersey was originally taken in the second round by the Trail Blazers and quickly became a fan favorite in Portland.
With the Kings, the same qualities that made him beloved in Portland certainly help the club as they make the transition from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985, but Kersey’s on-court skills are just not enough to elevate the talent on a roster that was so hapless that it could not manage to post a single winning season from 1983-84 to 1997-98.
11 Philadelphia 76ers – Michael Cage
Original Selection: Leon Wood
With a solid roster already in place, the 76ers go with the best available player in Michael Cage. A defensive standout, the 6-9 Cage gives the Sixers a solid pair of rookies after taking Perkins with the fifth pick in this redraft, thereby softening the blow of losing out on Barkley. Cage, who led the league in rebounding by averaging 13 per game in 1988, enjoyed a 15-year pro career and retired with over 8,500 rebounds while playing for five different teams.
10 Atlanta Hawks – Vern Fleming
Original Selection: Kevin Willis
The Hawks take Fleming here, pairing him with a young Doc Rivers in a backcourt whose main focus is to get Dominique Wilkins the ball early and often. Fleming was originally taken by the Pacers with the 18th pick, serving as their longtime point guard despite mostly playing the two while attending the University of Georgia. In his 12 NBA seasons, Fleming posted career averages of 11.3 points and 4.8 assists per game, though those assist numbers would likely rise due to playing alongside a phenomenal and dynamic scoring wing in Wilkins.
9 Cleveland Cavaliers – Jay Humphries
Original Selection: Tim McCormick
A guard originally taken by Phoenix with the 13th pick, Humphries moves up one spot and goes to the Cavs instead, giving them a solid passer who steadily improved his scoring output as his career progressed. Over an 11-year NBA career, Humphries put up averages of 11.1 points, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game, with his best season coming in 1990-91 while playing for Milwaukee, when he posted averages of 15.2 points and 6.7 assists per game.
8 Phoenix Suns – Sam Bowie
Original Selection: Jay Humphries
Even though Bowie is rightly considered a bust as the second overall pick, the fact that he was the bust that just so happened to be taken before Michael Jordan has overshadowed the fact that the 7-1 center actually had several decent seasons despite being plagued by injury and contributing very little to the team that originally drafted him.
So the Suns take the oft-injured Bowie here, knowing that they’ll have a solid two-way center who can give them decent -- albeit inconsistent -- production while showing occasional flashes of the talent that enticed Portland to take him second overall. After all, Bowie did enjoy a three-year stretch from 1989-90 to 1991-92 in which he averaged 14.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while playing for the New Jersey Nets.
7 Los Angeles Clippers – Ron Anderson
Original Selection: Michael Cage
Though the Clips took a bust in Lancaster Gordon with the 8th pick of this draft, Los Angeles made up for it by grabbing Cage with the 14th pick. With Cage already off the board in this redraft, the Clippers go with Ron Anderson, a 6-7 small forward who wasn’t taken until the second round in 1984 and didn’t get much of an opportunity until joining Philadelphia in 1988. In five seasons with the 76ers, Anderson averaged 13.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, and it’s likely Anderson would have benefited from an expanded role earlier in his career had he been taken by the Clippers instead.
6 Dallas Mavericks – Tony Campbell
Original Selection: Terence Stansbury
The Mavs take a shot on Tony Campbell here, hoping that by giving him the expanded role he didn’t have early in his career would lead to the kind of production he provided in Minnesota when he joined the expansion franchise in 1989. In his three seasons with the Timberwolves, Campbell averaged 20.6 points per game, benefiting from playing close to 36 minutes per game, essentially a threefold increase in playing time when compared to his time with the Pistons and Lakers.
5 Utah Jazz – Terence Stansbury
Original Selection: John Stockton
The Jazz were unbelievably fortunate to land Stockton with this pick back in 1984, selecting the Gonzaga product after four players who would be out of the league in six years or less. With no chance of landing a player of Stockton’s caliber, the Jazz adopt an interesting strategy by taking Stansbury, one of the players taken before Stockton who was out of the league after just three seasons.
The forward-thinking Jazz remember that Stansbury, while best known for his dunk-contest prowess, also went on to enjoy a lengthy standout career in Europe and believe putting him in the right situation would allow him to flourish in the NBA. After all, Stansbury went on to be inducted into the French Basketball Hall of Fame, so perhaps the Jazz are onto something by taking the athletic shooting guard.
4 New Jersey Nets – Tim McCormick
Original Selection: Jeff Turner
The Nets took a big man in Turner with their original choice, so this redraft has them taking a 6-11 center in McCormick. During an eight-year career in the NBA, McCormick’s best years came during a two-year stretch from 1986-87 to 1987-88 in which he averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. New Jersey had plenty of centers on their roster at the time, but McCormick represents the best player available at number 17 overall.
3 Indiana Pacers – Danny Young
Original Selection: Vern Fleming
The Pacers took Fleming with this pick in 1984 and mostly utilized him at the point, but with Fleming already off the board, Indiana goes with the best point guard remaining in Young. A second-round pick in 1984, Young instead goes to a Pacers team battling irrelevance in the years before the arrival of Reggie Miller, while Indiana gets a point guard who played a total of 10 NBA seasons spent mostly in a supporting role coming off the bench.
2 Portland Trail Blazers – Steve Colter
Original Selection: Bernard Thompson
The Blazers actually wound up with Colter in 1984, but they were able to snag the point guard out of New Mexico State in the second round of this draft instead of the first. In the redraft, however, the Blazers take Colter with the 19th pick instead, knowing that his best seasons as a pro came in a Blazers uniform. Between his rookie and sophomore seasons with Portland, Colter started 73 games and averaged 7.9 points, 3.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
1 Detroit Pistons – Jim Petersen
Original Selection: Tony Campbell
With Tony Campbell off the board, the Pistons opt for a big man and take Petersen over “Dinner Bell Mel,” who falls out of the top 20 picks after being taken sixth overall in 1984. Petersen, a 6-10 post player who gave Houston several solid and productive seasons in the 1980s, enjoyed an eight-year career in which he averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
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