Today, it’s one of the great rites of passage for an NBA-bound player. After hearing their name called at the NBA draft, a player walks onto the stage, exchanges a hug with the commissioner, dons the hat of the team that drafted him (even if he’ll never wear that team’s uniform, a debate for a different day), and joins the fraternity. But it wasn’t always that way. One of the greatest players in recent NBA history never walked across the stage after the commissioner called his name. But for Michael Jordan, his reason for skipping the draft was classic Jordan.
The 1984 NBA Draft was not a made-for-primetime event. Instead, the 37th annual selection of players in the league’s history was a daytime event. It aired on USA Network, a cable channel that was available in dozens of American homes. Given the hoopla that now surrounds the draft, it’s a reminder of how far the NBA has come in just a few decades.
When the Chicago Bulls took Michael Jordan, all we heard was the name
The 1984 NBA Draft has several historical niches. It was the last draft in which a coin flip determined the top pick. The NBA introduced the draft lottery in 1985.
That’s because, in 1984, the Houston Rockets tanked hard to get to the bottom of the Western Conference again. Houston got the first overall pick for the second consecutive year. They won the coin flip from the Portland Trail Blazers, owners of the Indiana Pacers first-round pick three years earlier because of trading basketball legend (checks notes) Tom Owens.
The Rockets went big again after taking the best big man available in 1983. They drafted Virginia superstar Ralph Sampson in 1983 and stayed close to home in 1984. Houston selected University of Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon. Thus, the Twin Towers were born.
Portland, with the second pick, also went for a big man. They took Sam Bowie out of Kentucky, a talented big man with fragile legs; he needed six years to complete four seasons of eligibility for the Wildcats.
With the third pick, the Chicago Bulls took Michael Jordan. The rest is history, as in six championships, five NBA MVP awards, a Rookie of the Year trophy, 10 scoring titles, and the honorary title from many observers as the best that ever played.
Jordan skipped the draft for a completely Jordan-esque reason
At the Felt Forum inside New York’s Madison Square Garden, Olajuwon held up a catsup-and-mustard-colored Rockets jacket while wearing a black tuxedo with a bright red bow tie.
But Michael Jordan was nowhere to be found at the Felt Forum or anywhere else in New York.
He was busy with other business. On June 19, 1984, the day of the draft, Jordan was in Bloomington, Indiana, preparing for the U.S. Olympic basketball trials.
Per Sean Devaney of The Sporting News, Jordan and some other players went to a TV studio in Bloomington to see a remote feed. Assistant coach George Raveling took the group to McDonald’s before heading back to the Indiana University campus for practice.
Yes, the first thing Jordan did after learning his draft fate was order food at a Bloomington McDonald’s. He was living the high life.
Jordan led Team USA to a gold medal at the Los Angeles Games on a team that included future Hall of Famers Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing. Besides Jordan, four other 1984 first-round picks were on the squad: Leon Wood, Sam Perkins, Vern Fleming, and Jeff Turner.
Michael Jordan turned out to be the best of the bunch
Michael Jordan signed with the Chicago Bulls after the Olympics and put together a distinguished career. So did Olajuwon, another Hall of Famer from the 1984 NBA Draft. Things didn’t go as well for Bowie, who broke his leg (again) in his second season while putting together a solid, but not spectacular, NBA career.
Besides Jordan and Olajuwon, Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and John Stockton went in the first round. Brazilian legend Oscar Schmidt, who never played in the NBA, is an international inductee in the Hall and was taken in the sixth round by the New Jersey Nets, bringing the total of Springfield honorees in that draft to five.
Michael Jordan never got to hear his name called and greet the commissioner upon being drafted. In typically Jordan fashion, he was busy with basketball and didn’t have time for the pomp and circumstance.
Draft information courtesy of Basketball Reference.