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Why was Jordan not the number 1 pick?

The NBA Draft is a major part of any organization’s team planning, especially for teams who have been struggling and have the opportunity to grab the best young prospects that can turn the ship around. This process, however, is not as easy as it sounds; time and time again the prospects who are highly touted don’t always live up to the potential they joined the NBA with. While hindsight is always 20/20, NBA executives don’t have the luxury to take gambles, and have to be very calculated with the risks they take when they decide who to select with their picks on draft day. It is a highly complex process, but those who do it successfully can reap a far greater reward, and for those who don’t, they live with the ramifications of their choice for years to come.  

Why was Jordan not the number 1 pick? Michael Jordan was drafted with the 3rd overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls, and went on to become the greatest player in NBA history. Looking back it seems ludicrous that he was only drafted 3rd. Although at the time, there was some justification for it. The Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon with the 1st overall pick, the Center was considered the best player in college, and size was always seen as a safer gamble. With the 2nd pick the Portland Trail Blazers’ chose Center Sam Bowie. Bowie was a hot prospect coming out of college and his combination of height and skill were tantalizing. The decision to skip on Jordan was influenced by the fact  they drafted highly rated Shooting Guard Clyde Drexler the year before.

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How did Michael Jordan’s NBA career turn out?

Michael Jordan needs no introduction even for the most casual of NBA fans, but the sheer amount of trophies and awards he won mainly as the cornerstone of the 1990s Chicago Bulls dynasty is just incredible: 6 NBA titles, 6 NBA Finals MVP awards, 5 MVP awards, 1 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, 14 NBA All-Star Game selections, 10 All-NBA First Team honors, 9 NBA All-Defensive First Team honors, 10 scoring titles, and 3 steals titles, among other awards, have made Jordan the consensus greatest of all time NBA player for many people.

It is worth noting here that in 1984 ahead of the draft and more importantly “before Jordan” the NBA was a different place. Coaches’ plans were dominated by the belief that big men would bring championships. You couldn’t win a title without an elite big man, to score the ball and anchor the defense on the other end. 6ft6 Jordan was largely regarded as a flashy scorer and many believed he would struggle to make the impact he had in College at thepPro level.

It was almost ironic that it was Jordan himself who totally transformed this perception and created the thirst to have elite wing scorers on NBA rosters.

How did Hakeem Olajuwon’s career turn out?

After seeing Jordan’s impact and list of successes, it would be difficult to think that anyone could come even close within that draft class, but if there was one player, it was Hakeem Olajuwon. The #1 overall pick of the 1984 NBA Draft, Olajuwon did his part for the Houston Rockets, leading them to 2 NBA championships, alongside a host of other awards, including but not limited to, 2 NBA Finals MVP awards, 1 MVP award, 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards, 12 NBA All-Star Game selections, 6 All-NBA First Team honors, 5x NBA All-Defensive First Team, 2 rebounding titles, and 3 blocks titles. There is a sense that the Rockets did not grieve their decision not to draft Jordan, as Olajuwon brought them a great level of success as well.

Even looking back with hindsight it’s hard to criticize Houston for taking Olajuwon head of Jordan with the number 1 pick.

How did Sam Bowie’s career turn out?

Sam Bowie was a highly-recruited center while in college, and while many thought he was not as good a prospect as either Olajuwon or Jordan, the Portland Trail Blazers had a need at center, and they thought that the 7 ‘1 Bowie was who they needed. Bowie, however, was hit with a serious injury bug that hampered him nearly his whole career, mainly the broken tibias in both legs. When he was healthy, Bowie showed promise as a scorer, rebounder, and shot-blocker, but he could not stay healthy for long, and likewise his injuries harmed his performances. Bowie spent some time with the New Jersey Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers in his 10-year career, but did not live up to the potential he was drafted with, and the astronomic success of Jordan has only made the Trail Blazers’ draft pick all the worse.

Had Bowie stayed healthy, he would probably not have reached the heights of Jordan in the 80’s and 90’s, but he certainly had the talent to make the Portland pick look, if not justified, at least “not completely stupid”.

You say the name Hakeem Olajuwan to most casual NBA fans in 2023 and they will know who you mean and have some idea of his greatness. You say Sam Bowie and many are drawing a blank or only remembering his “failures”.

What were some other notable draft picks in the 1984 NBA Draft?

The 1984 NBA Draft is considered one of the best drafts in NBA history, featuring 4 Hall of Fame players taken in the 1st round, two of them being Jordan and Olajuwon. With the 5th overall pick, the Philadelphia 76ers chose Charles Barkley, who also spent time with the Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets later on in his career. Barkley was a ferocious rebounder despite being undersized, an incredible athlete despite playing overweight, and was also a great scorer, playmaker, and defender. While a championship eluded Barkley, his resume included 1 MVP, 11 NBA All-Star Game selections, and 5 All-NBA First Team honors, and 5 All-NBA Second Team honors, among other awards.

With the 16th overall pick of the 1984 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz selected point guard John Stockton, who went on to become the 4th Hall of Fame player drafted in the ‘84 draft. Stockton was the definition of longevity at a high level, and his ability as an elite floor general paired nicely with his long-time star teammate Karl Malone. Stockton, like Barkley, could not win a ring, thanks to Michael Jordan, but he achieved many things in his career: 10x All-Star Game selections, 2 All-NBA First Team selections, 6 All-NBA Second Team selections, 5 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections, 9 assist titles, and 2 steals titles. Stockton is also the career assists leader by a huge margin, and is also the career steals leader.

The aftermath of the 1984 NBA Draft was felt immediately, but the totality of its impact was felt throughout the 1990s, as some of the young stars blossomed into powerhouses for their respective franchises, while those who missed on their picks rued their decisions. Now, nearly 40 years after the draft, it is clear that Jordan was the best player of that draft, and it is easy to criticize just about every other team for not picking Jordan. But, as stated earlier, hindsight is 20/20, and making these decisions pre-draft is quite difficult. For some teams like the Rockets, having Hakeem help them win 2 championships allows them to sleep easier at night for passing up on Michael Jordan.