Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

1984

(I originally wrote this for Business Mirror but they never ran this. Bastards! Henry Liao couldn't use this for Tower Sports because someone had written about the draft previously. Fine. So it's here instead.)
1984
A Look Back at the Best NBA Draft Ever

by rick olivares
Part I A Whole New World
Twenty-four years ago… well, 24 is not a milestone number. But since it’s my story… let’s get on with it.
Twenty-two years ago, the NBA landscape was the sole domain of Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird. Julius Erving occasionally crashed the party, but for the most part, the Larry O’Brien trophy during those early 1980’s was like an exchange gift between the Los Angeles and Boston franchises.
Amidst the Orwellian anxiety of 1984, the world instead found itself under Reaganomics, wary of the strife in India what with the chemical leak at Bhopal and the assassination of Indira Gandhi, suspicious of Mikhail Gorbachev’s first steps towards glasnost, and excited about the nascent steps of ESPN and MTV. Pop culture was going to change the world and the National Basketball Association already riding on the crest of its troika of stars was smack in the middle of momentous change. And the change about to unfold would profoundly affect not only the NBA but basketball forever.
The Coin Flip
The rookie draft brings a new hope every year to all the NBA teams. The woebegone teams hope to snag that one rookie who would give the team a ticket out of lotteryville and if the basketball gods smiled upon them, maybe an NBA title run or so. The top tier teams hope to stumble upon a sleeper (since they tended to pick last unless they manufactured a trade to better their position) who would ensure the continued success of their team without having to undergo an overhaul.
But back in 1984, the right to pick first was between the two worst teams and was determined by the flip of the coin. The remaining teams would pick by the inverse order of their previous season’s records. Of the 19 drafts that used this method, the team that called either “heads” or “tails” first saw their dynastic dreams turn to horror 12 times. 1984 would be the last ever NBA draft to be decided by a coin flip yet its ramifications would be felt for a long time to come.
The Rockets had been in a patient rebuilding phase ever since they lost franchise center Moses Malone (who led them to the 1981 finals against Boston) to Philadelphia. In 1983, Houston called “heads” and the coin turned up right for them enabling the Rockets to nab highly coveted center Ralph Sampson out of Virginia. And they hoped that in 1984, good fortune would continue to smile on them as they began to lay the foundation of a winning team.
A Stern Draft
Coincidentally 1984 was the first year of David J. Stern, the league’s former General Counsel who had taken over from Larry O’Brien as Commissioner. And the visibly excited Stern would imprint his savvy on the league with his first act as commissioner.
Houston which began an era of prosperity under George Maloof (whose untimely death forced the family to sell the franchise in 1982) had lady luck on their side once more after Portland erroneously called “tails.” Without hesitation, the Rockets selected that young stud out of Phi Slamma Jamma of Houston, Akeem Olajuwon. They would have no idea at that time, but the Twin Towers combination with Olajuwon and Sampson would be the rage of the NBA as teams fielded skyscraper frontlines. But more importantly, the foundation for long-term success was in place and they would go on to have one of the NBA’s all-time greatest in Olajuwon.
The year before, Portland picked Clyde Drexler, Olajuwon’s high-flying teammate in the University of Houston. Team officials figured that since they already had Drexler and shooters in Jim Paxson and Fat Lever it was best to shore up their front line that only had Wayne Cooper and Mychal Thompson. There was no need for a Jordan in their line-up since they already had one in Eddie Jordan (coincidentally, Eddie Jordan would later join the Washington Wizards’ after Michael Jordan’s ill-fated tenure with Abe Pollin’s team). So they picked out a seven-foot center out of Kentucky named Sam Bowie. Bowie for all his promise missed two years of college ball because of nagging foot injuries. But he did play 34 games in his final year with the Wildcats and his foot problems seemed to be behind him.
Then-Chicago Bulls General Manager Rod Thorn prayed fervently that his sad-sack Bulls would get a chance to draft the sensational Michael Jordan out of the University of North Carolina. Months before, Jordan picked up a second Player of the Year Award in collegiate ball and had led the United States to Olympic Gold in the LA Summer Games. Thorn’s Bulls may not have the first pick (who didn’t want Olajuwon?) and his team was still smarting from 1979 when the coin toss went the Los Angeles Lakers’ way (LA took Magic Johnson while the Bulls picked out serviceable but not great center Sidney Greenwood). When David Stern called out Sam Bowie’s name as Portland’s pick, the knot in Thorn’s stomach dissipated. Jordan was theirs and a new era of Bulls basketball was about to begin.
The Dallas Mavericks were stirring in the West. After years of being used as a doormat for the Western powers, they chalked up a winning season. Suddenly Dallas was a two-sport town what with the ever-popular Cowboys a perennial NFL power. They already had a solid core of Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre, Dale Ellis, Jay Vincent, and Brad Davis, but they had a doughnut hole in the middle of their defense. With Olajuwon and Bowie gone, they opted for Jordan’s teammate from UNC and the Olympic squad, Sam Perkins, a solid frontcourt player who could score from both inside and outside.
The Philadelphia 76er’s were unable to defend their crown the previous year and sought to find help for Moses Malone upfront. GM Pat Williams liked Charles Barkley, this healthy kid out of Auburn who for all his talent didn’t crack Bobby Knight’s Olympic team even if he was clearly one of the three best players during the try-outs (Knight would later say that as much as he was impressed with Barkley’s talent, he didn’t seem a fit for the team he was molding for the LA Olympics). Williams hoped that his infectious style of play would reinvigorate his team of aging stars. What they didn’t know was that Barkley would turn out to be a high-impact rookie and they would not draft another one until Allen Iverson more than a decade later.
The Cleveland Cavaliers would select Sam Bowie’s Kentucky teammate Mel Turpin next. The sporting scene in Cleveland was a mess. The glory days of the Indians and fireballing pitcher Bob Feller were long gone. The Browns were a year away from landing quarterback Bernie Kosar. And the Cavs were led by World B. Free whose glory days were in a 76ers tank top. They figured that Mel Turpin would provide them power up front instead he is perhaps best known as that Michael Jordan highlight in Come Fly With Me when a Utah Jazz fan yelled at Jordan to pick on someone his own size after he dunked on John Stockton. The next time down the floor, Jordan throws down one on seven-foot Mel Turpin to which Jordan asked the fan, “Was he big enough?”
The aging San Antonio Spurs had the seventh pick that year and they hoped to land a player whose youth and enthusiasm would give the former ABA-refugee an adrenaline shot. They selected the slam dunking Arkansas Razorback Alvin Robertson, the third Olympian picked in that draft. With George Gervin and Artis Gilmore handling the scoring chores, he perfectly complemented point guard John Lucas with his hellacious defense. He would become known in San Antonio circles as Sgt. Stuff for his power slams on bigger players. Robertson would make the All Star team four times, was the inaugural winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award and the Defensive Player of the Year Award both in 1986. And in his final playing year, he scored the first points ever in Toronto Raptors history when he hit a three-pointer
While Sam Bowie is unfairly lampooned in trivia games for being Portland’s pick instead of Michael Jordan (remember, The Trailblazers did not need another high-flying shooting guard when they already had Clyde Drexler firmly entrenched there for the next decade). Yet it should be noted that Bowie had decent stats in his 10-year tenure in the League. In fact, he posted lifetime averages of 10.9 and 7.5 rebounds. Many players can barely post that. The next pick – the eighth --- could very well be the worst pick of that draft. Not Bowie.
With the eighth pick of the 1st round, Lancaster Gordon was selected out of Louisville by Los Angeles. Gordon was never a high-impact player. Although he did play a respectable number of games, he was gone after four seasons where he averaged 5 points per outing. Oh yeah. He played for the Clippers.
Otis Thorpe, out of Providence would go next to the Kansas City Kings. He would go on to be a solid front court player and would later be an integral part of the Houston Rockets’ back-to-back champs of the mid-90s.
Leon Wood, the fourth Olympian to be picked, came out of Cal State Fullerton to join Barkley in Philadelphia. But Wood found it hard to get playing time with the talent-laden 76ers. After two years, he found himself without a team. He would sit one out before latching onto a pair of contracts with the Atlanta Hawks. By his fourth year, he was out of the league.
Kevin Willis was in high school when he saw Magic Johnson lead the Spartans to the NCAA title and that made a huge impression on him as he chose to go to Johnson’s alma mater Michigan State. That year, with the 11th pick, the Atlanta Hawks selected him to join what was becoming an exciting brash team. They had the Human Highlight Film Dominique Wilkins, Wayne “Tree” Rollins, Glen “Doc” Rivers, Randy Wittman, Dan Roundfield, and Scott Hastings. Willis with his height and penchant for hauling down rebounds was to figure nicely in Coach Mike Fratello’s line-up. But it would be years later where he served as a back up for Tim Duncan in San Antonio where he’d pick up that elusive championship ring.
Tim McCormick, Jay Humphries, Terence Stansfield, and Michael Cage would all go next in the 12-15th picks. Of the four, Humphries and Cage would have good NBA careers with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Clippers later on. In hindsight, there would be two sleepers of that ‘84 draft. The 16th pick was another player cut by Bobby Knight on that Olympic team -- John Stockton out of tiny Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington. He would lead the Utah Jazz to two NBA Finals appearances and finish his career with the League’s all-time best assist record. He would pick up a Gold Medal in the Barcelona Olympics as part of the one and only American Dream Team.
The other sleeper was none other than Jerome Kersey out of Longwood College. Kersey was a virtual unknown but he would go on to help lead the Trailblazers to two Finals appearances in 1990 and 1992. He would bring his bruising power game to the San Antonio Spurs where he wrapped up his career with a title during the strike-shortened season of 1998-99.
The 1984 draft signaled the arrival of Michael Jordan and the dawning of a new era in basketball. His flair and basketball skills coupled with his high marketability would be greatly seized upon by both Nike and ESPN forever bringing to sports high-profile endorsements and the sports highlight that would go on to be a staple of modern television programming. With that, the league began to expand first domestically and ultimately, internationally. From 23 teams during the 1984-85 season, there are now 29 teams. And more than ever, the league has seen an influx of foreign talent like no other.
Part II Draft Oddities
PBA Imports
There were two players in that 1984 draft who would ply their trade as imports in the Philippine Basketball Association:
  • Michael Young, the 24th pick of the 1st round from the University of Houston selected by the Boston Celtics led Manila Beer to the 1986 Finals vs. the Ginebra San Miguel team led by Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett.
  • Bobby Parks, the 58th pick of the 3rd round from Memphis State by the Atlanta Hawks led Shell to numerous championships and as an import on loan, led Ginebra San Miguel to an Invitational Championship.
Charles Barkley’s Philadelphia 76ers teammates
There were six players from the draft who would go on to be Charles Barkley’s teammates in Philadelphia:
  • Leon Wood 10th pick 1st round from Cal State Fullerton by Philadelphia
  • Tim McCormick 12th pick 1st round from Michigan by Seattle
  • Ron Anderson 27th pick 2nd round from Fresno State by Cleveland
  • Steve Colter 33rd pick 2nd round from New Mexico State by Portland
  • Ben Coleman 37th pick 2nd round from Maryland by Chicago
  • Michael Young 24th pick 1st round from Houston by the Boston Celtics
A seventh player, Tom Sewell, the 22nd pick in the1st round from Lamar by the 76er’s would not be signed by the team.
Familiar Names but Who Never Played
  • Michael Jordan’s buddy on the Tar Heels, Mr. Basketball in North Carolina, Matt Doherty was selected as the 120th pick in the 7th round by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • Brazilian hotshot Oscar Schmidt was chosen by the New Jersey Nets as the 131st pick of the 7th round, but Schmidt opted to play in Europe.
  • Another Olympic Gold Medalist, but in track and field, Carl Lewis was selected as the 208th pick of the 10th round out of the University of Houston by the Chicago Bulls. But rather than run with the Bulls, Lewis decided to stay with running in the Olympics where he would continue to win more medals.
See here, I’ve got myself a Championship Ring
Five players in the 1984 NBA draft would win a total of 12 championships:
  • Akeem Olajuwon won 2 titles with Houston 1993-95
  • Otis Thorpe won 2 titles with Houston 1993-95
  • Michael Jordan won 6 titles with Chicago 1991-93; 1996-98 with Chicago
  • Jerome Kersey won 1 title 1998-99 with San Antonio Spurs
  • Kevin Willis won 1 title 2002-03 with San Antonio
Deck the Halls with the Legends of the Game
And four members of the draft will surely go down as first balloters on their way to Springfield:
  • Akeem Olajuwon
  • Michael Jordan
  • Charles Barkley
  • John Stockton
Best Pick: Michael Jordan. Enuff said.
Worst Pick: When you pass on the greatest player of all-time, it's hard to rationalize, but Hakeem Olajuwon won Houston two titles and Portland already had Clyde Drexler entrenched at shooting guard. Instead, I’ll take to task the Los Angeles Clippers who were long purveyors of NBA incompetence for selecting Lancaster Gordon with the eight pick.
Most Pivotal Pick: Hindsight is 20/20 and no one knew at the time that Sam Perkins had peaked as a junior at UNC, but Dallas missed out on a franchise player and perhaps a few NBA titles when they chose Perkins instead of Charles Barkley.
Biggest Disappointment: Sam Bowie. A great talent whose career was riddled with foot injuries that limited him to 511 games in 10 seasons.
Biggest Sleeper: John Stockton. Like who knew?
Biggest Steal: Portland arguably dropped the ball with Bowie, but they atoned for it somewhat by grabbing Jerome Kersey with the second-to-last pick of the Second Round. Kersey was a critical piece in Portland's two Finals teams, notching 20.7 points per game and 8.3 rebounds in the 1990 Playoffs and 16.2 points and 7.7 boards in the 1992 Playoff run. Not bad for a guy from Longwood College.
Best Draft: Chicago Bulls. Say no more.
Worst Draft: Dallas missed out on not one but two franchise players: Barkley and Stockton. The starting unit of Stockton, Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre, Barkley and your brother at center could've won an NBA title.
The 1984 NBA Rookie Draft
1. Houston - Akeem Olajuwon (Houston)
2. Portland - Sam Bowie (Kentucky)
3. Chicago - Michael Jordan (North Carolina)
4. Dallas - Sam Perkins (North Carolina)
5. Philadelphia - Charles Barkley (Auburn)
6. Cleveland - Mel Turpin (Kentucky)
7. San Antonio - Alvin Robertson (Arkansas)
8. LA Clippers - Lancaster Gordon (Louisville)
9. Kansas City - Otis Thorpe (Providence)
10. Philadelphia - Leon Wood (Cal State Fullerton)
11. Atlanta - Kevin Willis (Michigan State)
12. Seattle - Tim McCormick (Michigan)
13. Phoenix - Jay Humphries (Colorado)
14. LA Clippers - Michael Cage (San Diego State)
15. Dallas - Terence Stansbury (Temple)
16. Utah - John Stockton (Gonzaga)
17. New Jersey - Jeff Turner (Vanderbilt)
18. Indiana - Vern Fleming (Georgia)
19. Portland - Bernard Thompson (Fresno State)
20. Detroit - Tony Campbell (Ohio State)
21. Milwaukee - Kenny Fields (UCLA)
22. Philadelphia - Tom Sewell (Lamar)
23. LA Lakers - Earl Jones (District of Columbia)
24. Boston - Michael Young (Houston)
Part III The Aftermath
Back in the mid-80’s, one could walk up to the ticket office and buy a ticket to a Bulls game. The Kings of the City of the Big Shoulders lay in the broad frames of Richard Dent, William “the Refrigerator” Perry, Mike Singletary, and Jim McMahon. The Monsters of the Midway were back and the hottest seat in the house was at Soldier Field. But it was clear even then, that something special was brewing over at the Chicago Stadium were Michael Jordan’s air raids routinely thrilled crowds and made the news.
It was becoming increasingly clear more so by 1988, that the wave of the NBA’s future lay not in the ground attack of the Showtime Lakers or the carefully pre-meditated offense of the Celtics. The fate of the Larry O’Brien trophy depended on who had air supremacy.
Jordan and later on the pieces to the championship puzzle in Scottie Pippen, John Paxson, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright and a few years later on --: Toni Kukoc, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, and Luc Longley rudely snuffed out the championship dreams of many a great team including that of Jordan’s fellow draft and Olympic mates.
There were the New York Knicks of Patrick Ewing.
The Miami Heat that had Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.
The Indiana Pacers that had Reggie Miller and Jordan’s Olympic teammate Chris Mullin.
The Cleveland Cavaliers who were shattered time and again in the play-offs by Jordan.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns of Charles Barkley.
The Utah Jazz of John Stockton and Karl Malone.
And the Portland Trailblazers of Clyde Drexler and Jerome Kersey.
It wouldn’t be until Jordan’s sabbaticals from the game that Olajuwon’s Rockets would win and Kersey and Willis would latch on to other teams.

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