The 1978 NBA draft is one of the most memorable events in the history of the NBA – Larry Bird came to the league, selected by the Boston Celtics. He was the fifth pick and from today’s perspective, it is strange that he was not the first choice.
Which players were drafted ahead of Larry Bird? Mychal Thompson, Phil Ford, Rick Robey, Micheal Ray Richardson and Purvis Short were the players that other teams preferred to choose over Larry Bird. Of course, none of them managed to leave the same impact on the NBA as Bird.
After Larry Bird came to the NBA, he has become one of the most memorable figures not only for the Boston Celtics but the whole league as well. We will talk more about the players mentioned above in our article.
Mychal Thomspon was selected as the first overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers. He is most notably known for his success with the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers that was a dominant force from 1979 to 1991. With the Lakers, Mychal Thomspon managed to win 2 championship titles in 1987 and 1988. Throughout his career, he was never the first choice but had decent statistics. After retiring, he had 12,810 points and 6,951 rebounds. His best season was in the 1981-1982 season when he averaged 20.8 points and 11.7 rebounds.
Compared to Larry Bird, his stats were moderate – especially when we talk about the player who was the first pick. Besides the Blazers and the Lakers, he also played for the San Antonio Spurs during the 1986-1987 season.
Mychal Thomspon is the father of Klay Thompson – one of the best shooters in the league and 3-time NBA champion. The Thompsons are the only tandem in the NBA to win championship titles in two consecutive years.
Phil Ford was the second overall pick, selected by the Kansas City Kings (now Sacramento Kings). In 1979 he became the Rookie of the Year – getting ahead of Larry Bird even. During his initial season, Ford averaged 15.9 points and 8.6 assists. However, he did not quite live up to the expectations that were given to him. Ford spent 8 seasons in the NBA and retired at the age of 29. He also played for the New Jersey Nets, the Houston Rockets and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Ford had an excellent ability to handle the ball effectively. With his free-throw shooting – especially in the final minutes of the game, he was a clutch player. Ford was also one of the pioneers to master the 360-degree spinning layup.
He finished his short-term NBA career with 5,594 points and 3,083 assists. Ford was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2012 and at the national team level, became the gold medal owner at the 1976 Olympics.
Rick Robey was the third overall pick, selected by the Indiana Pacers. He played in the NBA from 1978 to 1986. Playing at a center position, it is interesting that Robey became an NBA champion with the same Larry Bird in 1981 when the Boston Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets 4-2. His third team was the Phoenix Suns. He scored 3,723 points and had 2,301 rebounds after retiring from the NBA.
Rick Robey was an aggressive and attacking player during his collegiate career. However, when he came to the NBA, he did not manage to accomplish the same, retiring relatively quickly at the age of 30. Robey was also a member of the US national team that won gold at the 1975 Pan American Games.
Micheal Ray Richardson
Michael Ray Richardson was selected by the New York Knicks as the fourth overall pick. Playing for 8 years in the NBA between 1978-1986, he was a member of the Golden State Warriors and the New Jersey Nets, besides the New York Knicks. Richardson was the assists leader once in 1980 and steals leader 3 times in 1980, 1983 and 1985. He had 8,253 points and 3,899 assists after retiring from the NBA.
In 1986 Richardson received a lifetime ban from the NBA, due to the violation of the league’s drug policy. David Stern – an NBA Commissioner, personally banned him. However, in 1988, he was free from the ban and got the right to return to the league, but pursued a career in Europe. The decision from the league to ban Richardson sparked controversy, as he noted that being black was one of the main reasons he was treated so harshly and the NBA was using double standards.
The fifth player to have been drafted ahead of Larry Bird was Purvis Short, selected by the Golden State Warriors. During his rookie season, he averaged 10.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. He had the best season in 1984-1985, having 28.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per season. His role at the beginning of his playing career included the sixth man. As soon as he left the NBA in 1990, he played one year of basketball in Israel with Hapoel Tel Aviv. He had 14,607 points and 3,625 points after retiring from the NBA.
One of the main landmarks during his career was reaching the playoffs alongside the Golden State Warriors, which Short remembers as one of the most memorable ones for his team. Right now, he is the director of the Department of Player Programs.