The 1977 NBA Draft Will Go Down as One of the Weirdest Days in Sports

There has never been a shortage of memorable events in the sports world. Remember when Villanova upset Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship? And who could forget the massive brawl between the Yankees and the Red Sox during Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS when, miraculously, not a single person was ejected? Still, nothing quite compares to the 1977 NBA draft.

Not exactly fit for a king

In the seventh round of the draft, the Kansas City Kings used its 139th pick to select Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn Jenner. At the time, Jenner had just won the gold medal in the men’s decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Although there have been several Olympians who won far more medals than Jenner, he was being touted then as the “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” He excelled in multiple sports and had beaten his previous personal best in seven of 10 decathlon events during the Olympic Games, plus set a world record for points.

While there’s no question that Jenner was an elite athlete, he hadn’t played basketball since high school. He was also at the top of his game, literally, in the decathlon world, so he politely declined to play with the Kings. 

Ladies first

Jenner wasn’t the first surprising draft pick in 1977. Just two picks before, the New Orleans Jazz drafted Lusia Harris, a 6-foot-3 woman from Delta State University. Harris declined to formally try out for the Jazz and it was later revealed that she was pregnant at the time, which would have disqualified her from attending training camp regardless.

Although she never played in the NBA, Harris did play in the Women’s Professional Basketball League. She also became the first woman in history to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. Seven years later in 1999, she was also one of the first women to be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Despite her accolades, Harris was actually not the first woman to have ever been drafted in the NBA. In 1969, the San Francisco Warriors selected Denise Long in the 13th round. The NBA voided the pick, so Harris is still the first woman to have been officially selected in the NBA.

The 1977 NBA draft or a circus?

The NBA draft is a notoriously well-oiled machine, but that wasn’t always the case. In 1977, the draft was capped at 10 rounds. Prior to that, there was no limit. Teams could, and sometimes did, continue drafting players until they grew tired of it. The 1960 draft went on for 21 rounds and the 1984 draft — when Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and John Stockton were all drafted — saw 228 players selected.

It was widely accepted that players selected after the second or third rounds never played a single game in the NBA, so teams often got creative with their later picks. That was the case in 1977 when the Boston Celtics drafted a water boy and the Los Angeles Lakers attempted to draft Scooby-Doo and a wooden chair. Think about that: Those were three draft picks by two of the most storied basketball teams in history.

Two will do

Today, the NBA draft has just two rounds. It was cut from 10 to three in 1988, and then down to two just a year later. The NBA conducts its drafts in a unique way, using a lottery system. Every May, the televised draft lottery takes place and the actual draft follows in June.

The 14 teams that did not make the playoffs get to select their picks before the 16 teams that did. Ping pong balls are used to determine who drafts first. This abbreviated draft style makes it one of the most exciting to watch in the sports world, attracting millions of viewers every year.