Portland Trailblazers general manager Stu Inman went to the right guy. He just didn’t listen.
Inman’s trusted friend Bob Knight was spending a substantial amount of time coaching and evaluating North Carolina guard Michael Jordan in connection with the 1984 Olympics trials in Bloomington. Knight had also scouted and coached against Jordan weeks earlier in the 1984 NCAA Tournament.
The 1984 NBA draft was held on June 19, just days before Knight made the final cuts to 12 players (from 16) for the U.S. Olympic squad.
Ever the perfectionist, Knight saw plenty of shortcomings in Jordan’s game during the trials, including these 3 of his 24 criticisms:
“1. Loses sight of ball – Doesn’t help on post.
“8. No stance – poor post defense – foolish foul.
“21. Drifts into occupied post instead of popping out to wing for spacing.”
With Portland sitting in the No. 2 spot in the draft, Inman and Knight spoke regularly about Jordan, and the former Indiana coach no doubt shared with his friend his views on how Jordan needed to improve.
But when push came to shove, Knight’s assessment could not have been more on point.
Have gave this evaluation of Jordan at a press conference in 1984.
“The kid is just an absolutely, great kid. If were going to pick the three or four best athletes I’ve ever seen play basketball, he’d be one of them. I think he’s the best athlete I’ve ever seen play basketball, bar none. If I were going to pick people with the best ability I’ve ever seen play the game, he’d be one of them. If I were going to pick the best competitors that I’ve ever seen play, he’d be one of them.
So in the categories of competitiveness, ability, skill and then athletic ability, he’s the best athlete, he’s one of the best competitors, he’s one of the most skilled players. That to me makes him the best basketball player that I’ve ever seen play.”
Those comments were made by Knight about Jordan before he had played in a minute in the NBA.
But Inman had reservations about selecting Jordan because he already had another star shooting guard on his team — Clyde Drexler. Instead, Inman had his sights on a center during a time when big men were often the centerpiece of NBA franchises.
Dumbfounded that his friend might pass on a player as gifted as Jordan, Knight pleaded with Inman to not make a big mistake.
“Play him [Jordan] at center, and he will be the best center in the league,” Knight told Inman.
Instead, Inman and the Blazers chose 7-foot-1 Kentucky center Sam Bowie in 1984.
Portland’s selection of Bowie is widely regarded as the biggest NBA Draft mistake ever.
Drexler did have a strong NBA career, but he only made the Finals once with Portland.
In 1992, Jordan and the Chicago Bulls defeated Portland and Drexler in six games, clinching their second of six NBA titles.
Bowie didn’t play in the 1992 or any other Finals. The Blazers traded him to New Jersey in 1989.
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